The survey defined intimidation, threats and abuse with the following acts (numbers indicate frequency of reported incidents)1:
Almost two-thirds (64.8%/597) of 921 respondents answered “yes” to the question “have you experienced intimidation, threats or abuse in relation to your work?”
The most frequently reported acts were classified as “abuse of power or authority,” “verbal, written and/or physical intimidation including threats to you,” and “attempts/threats to damage your reputation or honour.”
Most reported acts of intimidation, threats or abuse took place in the office. These acts included “abuse of power or authority” (70.8%/153 of 216), “verbal, written and or/physical intimidation including threats” (47.5%/69 of 202), and “attempts/threats to damage your reputation or honour” (34.2%/85 of 179).
Other reported incidents of “intimidation, threats and abuse” took place in the field (when reporting outside the office), at home, in the street (covering protests, mobs, rallies, etc.) and online.
According to respondents, most acts committed in the office were perpetrated by a boss (31.7%/597 of 1882 incidents where perpetrators were cited) or supervisor (13.2%/260 of 1882).
One example came from a U.S.-based journalist, who said “I was slapped, regularly insulted and called demeaning names, not given certain assignments that were given to male co-workers instead, and forced to work overtime without being paid for it.”
Other perpetrators included co-workers, police, government officials, and subordinates. A respondent from India said “general discrimination is a major problem,” but especially for her, as a manager. “No one likes [a] female boss,” she said, “especially in the media field.”
Dozens of respondents from several different regions said their supervisors or co-workers had used public criticism of their work, personality or general competence as a humiliation and intimidation tactic. This kind of abuse largely occurred in the office, in front of other newsroom staff. Examples given ranged from “character assassination” to direct insults, including one woman who was routinely berated by her boss for resembling the boss’ ex-wife.
Interviewees were also reported perpetrators. A journalist from the Philippines said she was threatened by an interviewee after publishing a story about the subject’s abuse of a home staff member. The same woman said she had been “shouted at and intimidated a number of times by male reporters from different media outlets” in the course of her work.
An American journalist working in the Middle East recalled entering an Orthodox Jewish community to report and being told to leave or face stoning.
When perpetrators were members of the government or officials, reported incidents typically included threats of imprisonment or detention, blackmail and public defamation. One Mexican journalist said that a prison director attempted to discredit her, telling other reporters that she paid inmates at his prison for information about drug sales.
Some respondents said they were forced by state officials to sign pledges promising not to write critically about the government. Other acts of “intimidation, threats and abuse” by public officials include surveillance of journalists, written and verbal intimidation and withdrawal of press passes or accreditation. One journalist said:
“I was forced to leave my country, Zimbabwe, in 1985 after years of threats and intimidation and scary surveillance by intelligence officers because of my reporting. At the time I was the only Zimbabwean working for the foreign media. Three times my accreditation was withdrawn, making it very difficult for me to do my job. I finally left when I was threatened with imprisonment if I wrote another story unfavourable to the government.”
A number of respondents reported threats against their family members in retaliation for their work. These included threats to harm or kidnap their children and threats to harm their spouses, parents and siblings.
A respondent from Pakistan said she repeatedly received death threats and threats against her family members.
Reporting Intimidation, Threats and Abuse
Respondents were asked if they reported any acts of “intimidation, threats and abuse” to their employers, police or another authority (selecting multiple options was possible). More than half (58.4%/188 of 322) of respondents said they reported such acts to their employers, fewer than one in five (17.5%/43 of 246) said they reported to the police and less than a quarter (23.5%/57 of 242) reported to another authority.
When asked “what was the outcome of reporting the intimidation, threats and abuse?” a small number of the 238 qualitative responses indicated a positive outcome for the respondent. But the overwhelming majority of responses alluded to a climate of impunity, such as a Pakistani journalist who said there was “no justice for female[s] in her country,” a British journalist who said she was told to “stop complaining” and an Indian journalist who said “my boss didn’t believe me and said I was over-reacting and told me to grow up.”
One journalist from Cameroon said, “I never reported it. To whom should I report? The same person who intimidated me is the same person to whom under normal circumstances, I was to report. “
One journalist from the United States said, “I was too freaked out to report my situation (this was my first job right out of college), and the person I was working for who was causing the abuse was/is a very well-known figure in this industry. It would have been my word against his, and I felt completely powerless. I also felt that it would be career suicide to bring something like this against this guy.”
When respondents did report acts of “intimidation, threats and abuse,” results ranged from nothing changing to being forced out of a job. Some said they regretted reporting abuse, as negative responses from supervisors, colleagues and authorities made the situation worse.
An American journalist wrote: “After reporting…harassment and intimidation, I was the one sent home and removed from my normal responsibilities. Quickly the investigation turned on me. Embarrassing details about my personal life were dragged out and discussed by my supervisors. The HR department ruled against me based on incorrect factual information, and I appealed the decision. After the appeal, which also caused me extreme emotional duress and panic, my harasser was let go with a very generous severance package, though the institution still did not acknowledge wrongdoing. I never really recovered from the stress of reporting, and am not sure if I should have done it.”
Several respondents said their news organisations were more supportive of the perpetrator than the complainant.
Though not in the majority, some respondents said they experienced positive outcomes to reporting abuse. Incidents were cited when authorities took complaints seriously, leading to those responsible being convicted or sent to jail. When acts of intimidation or abuse took place in the office, some reported that perpetrators were dismissed from their jobs or reprimanded.
Impact of Intimidation, Threats and Abuse
When asked to describe the effect of “intimidation, threats and abuse,” respondents said they were concerned for their personal security and in some instances became depressed and experienced psychological trauma.
Some women said they started using pseudonyms or pen names after receiving threats. Others decided to stop reporting from specific regions, while a few were forced to permanently relocate. One respondent from Bahrain said, “I had to leave the country fearing for my safety…I have been living in the United Stated since then (more than 2 years now).”
A number of the women explained how they were forced to give up journalism entirely, while others left their jobs – either of their own accord or after being fired, as this Australian journalist described:
“I was sacked from my job – the management made it clear that they would not discipline the perpetrator.”
Many stayed at their jobs but were no longer able to cover certain beats, or were discouraged from reporting specific stories by their editors.
Other journalists dropped stories because they feared for their own security, such as this journalist from South Africa: “I was too scared to publish their article as they also send me threats, that I must not even think of publishing that article, I pulled the story for my safety instead.”
Some respondents reported suffering repercussions in the workplace after receiving threats from external sources. Some said their salaries were cut, while others reported being demoted and subjected to gossip and unwelcome comments.
One Cameroonian journalist described what happened when she reported threats: “I was ostracised by other colleagues. No one wanted to be seen with me. I was removed from my office and asked to stop all work but continue reporting to the office. My salary was slashed.”
A number of respondents said they became accustomed to harassment and threats or chose to ignore them, though many of these still reported a psychological effect.
1 Respondents were able to select all acts relevant to their experiences. For this reason, the sum of the responses equals more than the total number of respondents to this question.
2 Law’s Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment, Danielle Keats Citron, Michigan Law Review, Vol. 108: 373. P. 378; 390.
Intimidation, Threats, and Abuse