The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A reporter went to cover an execution. She was told her skirt was too short.

Alabama journalist Ivana Hrynkiw said she was embarrassed; her editor slammed prison officials’ behavior as ‘sexist’

The William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama. (Sharon Steinmann/
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When Ivana Hrynkiw got dressed for work on Thursday, she selected a skirt she’d worn to report on several other executions.

But when the Alabama journalist arrived at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, a prison official told her she couldn’t watch convicted murderer Joe Nathan James Jr.’s lethal injection — her skirt was too short and violated the prison’s dress code, the reporter and managing producer wrote in a statement she posted online.

Hrynkiw was confused. She’d worn that exact skirt to several of the half-dozen executions she’d reported on, all without a problem. Still, Hrynkiw pulled the skirt down to comply with the dress code. It was not good enough, an official told her.

“This was an uncomfortable situation,” Hrynkiw wrote in her post, “and I felt embarrassed to have my body and my clothes questioned in front of a room of people I mostly had never met.”

With no change of clothes and a reporting assignment at hand, Hrynkiw accepted a photographer’s offer to let her wear his rain gear — waterproof fisherman’s waders. The prison official approved that outfit.

But Hrynkiw’s wardrobe problems weren’t over. After she put on the man’s waders, strapping on the suspenders under her shirt, she was told that her open-toed heels were “too revealing.” Hrynkiw retreated to her car, where she’d stowed a new pair of tennis shoes.

“Despite wearing a pair of waders from a man I have never met and casual tennis shoes, I continued to do my job,” Hrynkiw wrote, adding, “I sat down, tried to stop blushing, and did my work.

“As women often have to do.”

The state said an execution happened ‘without complication.’ Reporters in the room had a different story.

Hrynkiw, who did not immediately reply to a request for comment, wrote that she believes her skirt was appropriate. Her boss — Kelly Ann Scott, editor in chief and vice president of content for Alabama Media Group — said what happened to Hrynkiw was “wrong.” filed a formal complaint with the Alabama Department of Corrections. The Associated Press, whose reporter was also subject to the newly enforced dress code, sent a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey (R) urging her to “ensure such behavior is not tolerated and does not occur again.”

“Ivana is always, always professional — and despite how she was treated, she focused first on covering an execution,” Scott tweeted. She also told that the incident was “sexist and an egregious breach of professional conduct” that “should not happen to any other reporter again.”

In a July 29 letter that the AP sent to The Washington Post, Executive Editor Julie Pace said that singling out “female reporters for arbitrary clothing inspections is humiliating, discriminatory and simply unacceptable behavior toward professional journalists trying to cover one of the most serious events they are called upon to witness.”

Siblings didn’t want mother’s killer executed. It happened anyway.

The Alabama Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post early Monday. But reported that prison officials have not enforced a dress code in the previous decade that Hrynkiw and other reporters have covered executions. The prison official who confronted Hrynkiw about her skirt, corrections spokeswoman Kelly Betts, told reporters that the new warden at the Holman prison, Terry Raybon, had decided to invoke the dress code policy, which had long been dormant.

Kim Chandler’s clothing was also scrutinized when she got to the Holman prison on Thursday night to cover the execution for the AP. Chandler said she first reported on an execution in 2002 and has “covered many” in the 20 years since. “This was the first time I had to stand in the media room to have the length of my attire checked,” she wrote on Twitter.

After news of Hrynkiw’s wardrobe woes got out, Betts called her to apologize for the sudden enforcement of the dress code and for embarrassing Hrynkiw, according to She then released a statement saying that the department would send out reminders about the dress code to journalists covering future events at corrections facilities.

“We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this regulation may have caused,” the statement said, reported. “We hope by including it in future media advisories, we can avoid this kind of situation.”

A women’s handball team wore shorts instead of skimpy bikini-bottom uniforms. The league fined them over $1,700.

Gender-specific dress codes have come under fire in recent years. An uproar ensued after a Norwegian beach handball team defied its sport’s governing body by wearing form-fitting athletic shorts instead of the mandated bikini bottoms — and got slapped with a 1,500-euro fine as a result, The Post reported. Students and parents accused a school district in North Texas of unfairly targeting girls after officials said they were implementing a new dress code to improve students’ “future workforce skills,” one that banned dresses, skirts and hoodies, according to The Post. And for the past seven years, a North Carolina school district tried to make its students wear gender-specific uniforms — for girls that meant skirts, skorts or jumpers — until a federal appeals court earlier this year ruled the dress code unconstitutional, noting in its opinion that it was “difficult to imagine a clearer example of a rationale based on impermissible gender stereotypes,” The Post reported.

Hrynkiw, who had been covering the lead-up to the execution, kept reporting throughout the night. About three hours after she and other reporters were bused from the media center to the prison, Hrynkiw broke the news that James had been executed.

Chandler, the AP reporter who passed the dress-code inspection, later praised her colleague’s reporting.

“Hrynkiw is [an] admirable and professional journalist,” Chandler wrote in a tweet, “even in waders.”