As a 28-year-old reporter about to cover Africa in 2002, I was sent to rural Virginia to attend hostile-environment training, where former British Royal Marines taught journalists such survival techniques as how to filter your own urine if you are dehydrated in a desert and how to drag a wounded 200-pound colleague through a field studded with land mines.
Interesting stuff, but luckily I never had to put those skills into use. Female correspondents deployed to countries such as Egypt, Pakistan or India might be better served by instruction in handling less extreme but more pervasive challenges: what to do if a stranger grabs your buttocks while you are reporting on the street, or if a male hotel worker enters your room while you are showering. How to deflect the chai wallah who insists on clicking photos of you to show his friends, or the flirtatious fixer who wants a good-night kiss.
Follow how events are unfolding in Libya.
Foreign female journalists face challenges most often in parts of the world where protections for women are weak even in peacetime — in societies where men and women lead highly segregated lives and often don’t have sex before marriage. In these countries, men often say they view Western women as the sexual equivalent of junk food: fast and cheap.
Even highly placed sources can behave inappropriately. Kim Barker, who was the South Asia bureau chief with the Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2008, was offered an iPhone by former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. But that phone would not really have been free: His pickup line was, “I’m fat and old. But I would still like to be your friend,” she writes in her book, “The Taliban Shuffle.”
These dangers increase exponentially when countries are in the midst of revolution and lawlessness, when war is essentially a workplace. The sexual attacks on CBS News’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Lara Logan, in Egypt and the treatment of photojournalist Lynsey Addario in Libya have brought the issue into sharp focus. (The Libyan military reportedly captured four reporters this week — one of whom is Clare Morgana Gillis, a U.S. citizen and freelancer for TheAtlantic.com and USA Today.)
Logan was hospitalized after she was assaulted on Feb. 11 in Egypt, according to a network statement. The incident took place as Logan was covering celebrations in Tahrir Square for “60 Minutes” shortly after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. “In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew,” the statement said. “She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”
While reporting on the unfolding revolution turned civil war in Libya, Addario, a close friend of mine, was kidnapped by Gaddafi loyalists in Libya with three other New York Times journalists — Tyler Hicks, Stephen Farrell and Anthony Shadid. They were held for six days last month before being released. First the captors bound the feet and hands of Addario and her colleagues. They then began grabbing Addario’s breasts and buttocks. When she cried, they punched her in the face, again and again.