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Tuesday 25 November: UN day to eliminate violence against women

25 November 2014

A message from the NUJ's equality officer Lena Calvert:

Once again the NUJ is reminding members that today, Tuesday 25 November, is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. Unfortunately every day, hour and second is a time of violence for women across the world, regardless of wealth, race and culture.
Violence inflicts immediate and long-term physical, sexual and mental consequences for women and girls including disability and death. For a long time violence against women, particularly domestic violence was left off the human rights agenda and even now we have to fight for online violence against women to be taken seriously. 
Thankfully, in the UK, we have started to see police prosecute online 'trolls'for threats of sick, depraved sexual violence sent on Twitter and other social media. Such online threats have been sent to women just because they have expressed a view or who have written about women's issues and this, of course, includes women journalists, many of whom are members of the NUJ. 
The NUJ has produced guidelines and supported individual members who have been dealing with this latest variation of violence against women including legal advice and support for those who have taken such threats to the police.
The UK crime survey and Home Office statistics demonstrates that violence against women is rife. For example, at least 80,000 women suffer rape every year and two women a week, on average, are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner. This constitutes a staggering 40 per cent of all female murder victims. Nearly half of all women in the UK, 45 per cent, have experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. As at the time of writing, not one person has been convicted in the UK for the crime of female genital mutilation.
Globally at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or abused by a partner in the course of her lifetime and women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, war and malaria. Several global surveys suggest that half of all women who die from murder are killed by their current or ex-husband or partner.
As the largest trade union of journalists in the UK and Ireland, we know that women journalists suffer violence at work, online and in their domestic and personal lives. We do our best to support our members at work and the union's welfare fund – NUJ Extra – has supported women members who have suffered domestic violence. 
As a union of journalists we also know that we have a duty to make sure that cases of violence are reported as ethically as possible and are acutely aware that the way women are represented in the media contributes towards the discrimination against women which may lead to women experiencing violence and hate crime. 
It is important to report these crimes and the media is a powerful force in making sure that society does not ignore violence against women so it is vitally important that journalists recognise the need to follow our guidelines on reporting violence against women.
Please take the time to read through the 'reporting on violence against women' guidelines we have produced, in co-operation with women's groups dealing with the consequences of such violence, to make sure your copy is as ethically appropriate as it can be and does not contribute to further hurt to the woman or women involved. 
The NUJ provides a hotline for ethical advice for members and all members should abide by the NUJ's code of conduct.

A message from the co-chair of the IFJ gender council, Mindy Ran:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) gender council hears of some truly horrifying events happening to female journalists the world over. Sadly, we have not yet heard of a place on this planet that women and girls are not, at times, subjected to assaults on their psychological, emotional or bodily integrity. Female journalists are no different to any other women in terms of the sort of violence suffered, including domestic violence, but can also be at additional risk due to their job.

A 'tool' to silence -

There was a lot of media coverage of international female journalists being assaulted during the 'Arab spring', but as the IFJ has repeatedly reported, it is always local media personnel at greatest risk. These are often, also, considered to be drastically under-reported, especially when assaults are sexual in nature. Depending on the cultural context, there can be a wide range of reasons why assaults go unreported and harmful consequences to those who report them.

One example where the crime was reported occurred last month (October 2014), when three female journalists were abducted in the capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. They were taken, along with a staff bus from the National Broadcasting Corporation, after armed men had boarded the bus and ordered all men off the vehicle. Of the three women left on the bus, which then drove off, one escaped unharmed. The other two women were subjected to severe sexual assault, requiring hospitalisation.

That they were targeted is clear, as it was a staff bus, and unusually the employers in this case are supporting all those involved, including counselling. However, the larger consequences of such attacks are less clear, as we do not know how many voices are silenced as a result of the very real fear created by: online trolling, threats (including death and rape threats), harassment, violence and sexual assault. At a time when we are encouraging more and more women into the field to ensure that women's voices are heard, any act that threatens them, also threatens a free and independent media.

In the workplace -

In March 2014, INSI released 'Violence and harassment against women in the news media: a global picture', a report on a survey taken by 1000 female journalists. While sadly, the survey had only been available in English and surveyed mostly Western media outlets, it still has a story to tell. It was also the first attempt to give a 'global' picture.

Key findings included:

"Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said they had experienced some form of intimidation, threats or abuse in relation to their work... The majority of threats, intimidation, and abuse directed toward respondents occurred in the workplace, and was perpetrated most often by male bosses, supervisors and co-workers."

The report continued to say that most of these incidents were never reported. As mentioned above, standing up against these clear violations of human rights and (often) national laws (depending on cultural context) can incur further danger.

This was discovered by Somali journalist Faduma Abdulkadir. She was raped in the newsroom at her workplace, reported it and was then arrested, tried and given a 6 month suspended sentence for an unspecified crime. Thanks to the Italian Journalists union (FNSI), she was offered political asylum in Italy. According to the head of the Somali Journalists Union (NUSOJ), Omar Faruk Osman:

"The same persecuting authorities tried to stop her from going to Italy and have declared her a 'traitor'. Those who have victimised her are enjoying full impunity."

Reporting on trauma -

In some cultures there are support mechanisms for women who have survived violence, no matter what the form. However, for those of us who specialise in reporting (and research) on what can only be termed as crimes against the person and a violation of human rights, we know how frightening it can be to come forward in the aftermath of trauma. Hense the under-reporting.

We also know how damaging it can be if treated with a lack of respect or if met with judgement and the real and lasting harm that can be caused by having to relive the trauma in a prurient way. As journalists it is up to us to educate ourselves, and tools like the Dart Center guidelines are an excellent place to start to understand the impact of trauma, and that each of us responds in an entirely different way.

The NUJ code of conduct and reporting guidelines on reporting sexual violence have been presented at many international meetings and met with great enthusiasm and inform debate. They are recognised as great tools to begin to challenge societal norms that still punish women for coming forward, that still rationalise or ignore violence against women, or allow the impunity of those who perpetrate these crimes.

So spare a thought today, on Tuesday 25 November 2014, for all those women who have been forced from their jobs or their lives forever changed in the aftermath of violence, and say no to the silencing of our voices, no matter where on the planet.

NUJ guidelines: reporting violence against women

NUJ guide to online safety and harassment

Sexual harassment - a guide for members

Sexual harassment - a guide for union representatives

NUJ workplace policy on domestic violence

NUJ guidance on safety for women journalists

Tags: , women, women in the nuj, women's rights, violence, violence against women, un, guidelines, ethics, safety, harassment, domestic abuse