Worldwide we are experiencing a decline in press freedom and a drop in the number of countries where journalists can work safely. Security concerns can be particularly prevalent for women journalists who face the double burden of being attacked both for being journalists and women. In extreme cases, harassment and attacks can lead to self-censorship or prompt women to withdraw from the public sphere. Pluralism of media, and thereby democracy as a whole, is at risk if fewer women’s voices are being heard due to compromised safety. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge that the safety of women journalists is at the intersection of both safety and gender.
On average, women journalists do not just face more risks than their male counterparts, but also different types of risks. Women journalists are more likely to be the target of sexual harassment, which can include gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion. In a survey of 2014, it was found that the majority of threats, intimidation and abuse directed towards respondents occurred in the workplace and was perpetrated by male bosses, supervisors and co-workers. It also found that most incidents of harassment and violence were never reported, even though the majority of women who experienced them said they were psychologically affected.
The International Women’s Media Foundation and Trollbusters published a report on attacks and harassment against women journalists, based on a survey of almost 600 women journalists. Survey respondents stated that online attacks have become more visible and coordinated in the past five years. The survey found that:
- 63 percent of respondents indicated they had been threatened or harassed online
- 58 percent indicated they had been threatened or harassed in person
- 26 percent said they had been physically attacked
- One in 10 respondents had experienced a death threat in the past year
- 29 percent of all respondents indicated the threats and attacks they received made them think about getting out of the profession
- 37 percent avoided certain stories because of the threats and attacks
- Freelancers expressed more concern about their physical safety
Online violence against women is defined by the UN as ‘any act of gender-based violence against women that is committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of ICT, such as mobile phones and smartphones, the internet, social media platforms or email, against a woman because she is a woman, or affects women disproportionately’. A study by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that online harassment is the biggest safety concern for female journalists in the United States and Canada.
There is no clear data about whether women are more often the targets of abuse, but research shows they are often subject to more severe forms of online harassment. Women are also more likely than men to experience certain behaviors as harassment and to be worried or scared as a result of online harassment. Furthermore, online harassment against women is more often of a misogynist or sexual nature and refers to the gender of the receiver. While anonymity contributes to online harassment, it is also often perpetrated by someone known to the target.
The International Federation of Journalists distinguishes three different categories of attacks directed at women on the internet: personal attacks, campaigns to demean women as a group, and reflexive misogyny (people expressing themselves in a misogynistic way without the intent of being misogynist).
Even though journalists of all genders face online harassment, it is important to consider the gendered aspects of the phenomenon. As stated by the International Federation of Journalists: ‘The virtual world is an extension of daily reality, with its discrimination, inequities and marginalization. Women tend to be subjected to similar treatment in the digital space, where too they have to struggle for access and to exercise their right to freedom of expression.’
Learn moreWhat Online Harassment Tells Us About Our Newsrooms: From Individuals to Institutions, report by Women’s Media Centre
Safety training for women journalists
Below you can find an overview of safety training resources that are specifically for women journalists.
Know your trolls – International Women’s Media Foundation
An online course on online harassment developed by the International Women’s Media Foundation, digital security experts, journalists, and online education experts. The goal of this course is to help journalists identify the abuse they are receiving online and who may be behind it as well as offer some key strategies that may help journalists to be better prepared.
Digital Hygiene Course – TrollBusters
This online course by Trollbusters contains 16 lessons on how to combat online harassment, which each take 5-10 minutes to complete.
HEFAT Training – International Women’s Media Foundation & ACOS Alliance
This training covers emergency first aid, digital security, self defense, hotel security/personal security, civil unrest/demonstrations, situational awareness, emotional care, kidnapping/navigating checkpoints, and reaction under gunfire.
- Organisation: International Women’s Media Foundation & ACOS Alliance
- When: 2014 – present (ongoing)
- Duration: 4 days
- Target group: Women journalists (over 480 journalists have participated so far)
- More information
Female Safety Training – International News Safety Institute
Tailored courses on working in hostile environments to address the specific challenges faced by women journalists in their own countries.
Helplines and support networks
HeartMob by Hollaback! is an online community with the goal of reducing trauma for people being harassed online by giving them the immediate support they need. HeartMob users can document their harassment and make it public if desired, and then choose how they want bystanders to support them, take action, or intervene.
Vita Activa works as a helpline and a solutions laboratory for women journalists, activists and women’s rights defenders who are facing online violence and want to change the ways they face and combat perpetrators and attacks. Responders trained in psychological first aid, conflict resolution and strategic thinking work with women journalists who have faced harassment to build solutions tailored to their cases.
In Pakistan, the Digital Rights Foundation started a safety network for women journalists, as well as an anti-harassment hotline. Their campaign Hamara Internet aims to empower women and girls to thrive in digital spaces and learn to defend themselves in an increasingly Internet-connected world.
The Coalition for Women in Journalism documents targeting or attacks on women journalists worldwide.
JSafe is an app created by The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute to help female and other marginalized journalists fight against harassment, bullying and assault. Users can document incidents by uploading the attacker’s email or social media handles. The journalists can also request a follow up for resources from the Coalition for Women in Journalism.
ECPMF’s Women’s Reporting Point aims to deepen a gender-specific aspect of the safety of journalists and encourages female media workers to report it if they are subjected to harassment or they witness it in their journalistic work. Reports received are given priority, treated confidentially and are only handled by women staff.
Practical tools and resources
|What If…? Safety Handbook for Women Journalists (International Association of Women in Radio and Television)||2017||This handbook is specifically addressed to women journalists working in war and conflict. It contains advice and recommendations on security and safety and includes sections on, amongst others, risk assessment, online harassment and travel safety.||English|
|Let's Talk: Personal Boundaries, Safety & Women in Journalism (Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma)||2017||This tip sheet offers strategies for how to recognise, mitigate or address sexual harassment and other predatory behavior encountered while reporting.||English|
|If You're Being Harassed: 12-Step Approach (Press Forward)||2018||This article presents 12 steps that women can take whenever they are faced with sexual harassment in the workplace.||English|
|Sexual Harassment in the Media (Women in News)||2018||This toolkit, aimed at both media employers and employees, discusses how to deal with and prevent sexual harassment in media organisations. It contains a practical guide, a sample sexual harassment policy and a sample sexual harassment survey.||English|
|OnlineSOS Action Center (OnlineSOS)||n.d.||This website provides easy-to-use checklists, expert-authored guides, and additional resources and recommendations, all related to the topic of online harassment.||English|
|Online Harassment Field Manual (PEN America)||n.d.||This manual contains effective strategies and resources that writers, journalists, their allies, and their employers can use to defend against cyber hate and online abuse.||English|
|Safety of Female Journalists Online (OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media)||n.d.||This website provides a number of resources on online harassment of women journalists, amongst others on digital safety and trauma.||English|
|Measures for Newsrooms and Journalists to Address Online Harassment (International Press Institute)||n.d.||This website offers comprehensive resources for newsrooms to combat online harassment against journalists and its effects on press freedom. It includes measures in four principal areas: 1) pre- and post-moderation for both on-site comments and social media posts; 2) newsroom structures and mechanisms designed to promote a culture of safety around online abuse; 3) protocols for assessing and responding to attacks; 4) the roles and responsibilities of newsroom actors involved in these areas.|
The platform also contains specific resources related to women journalists.
|DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity (HACK*BLOSSOM)||n.d.||This guide is a comprehensive and accessible introduction to valuable cyber security tools.||English, Spanish|
|Emergency Checklist for Digital Security (Hamara Internet)||n.d.||This checklist considers what one can do to reclaim one’s space online in case of an emergency.||English, Arabic|
|Take Control of Technology to End Gender-Based Violence: Be Safe (Take Back the Tech)||n.d.||As part of a larger campaign, these guides contain strategies specific to a certain type of online violence, namely cyberstalking, extortion and hate speech.||English, French, Spanish|
|Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself from Online Harassment (Feminist Frequency)||2015||This guide details best security practices for social media, email, online gaming, website platforms, ensuring privacy of personal information online, and the documentation and reporting of harassment. It is designed especially for women, people of color, trans and gender-queer people.||English, Spanish, Arabic|
|Safe Sisters Guide (Internews & Defend Defenders)||2018||This booklet contains common sense strategies for digital safety, aimed at women and girls.||English, Kiswahili, Burmese|
|The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women (vpnMentor)||2018||This guide aims to empower women to navigate the internet without fear and gives tips and advice on how to stand up to (sexual) harassment, both online and offline.||English|
|The Complete Guide to Understanding and Dealing with Online Trolls (Ragen Chaistain)||2018||In this article Ragen Chastain shares her experiences with trolls and harassers, and how she deals with them.||English|
|Psychological Safety: Online Harassment and How to Protect Your Mental Health (Committee to Protect Journalists)||2019||This toolkit contains advice on how to protect oneself against online harassment, what steps to take during online harassment or an attack, and how to take care of one’s emotional wellness.||English|
|Are women at higher risk to online scams? Online harassment statistics (Comparitech)||2020||This article provides statistics on online harassment and practical advice to protect yourself from online scams.||English|
Footnotes Reporters Without Borders, 2020 World Press Freedom Index
 Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, Journalists and Harassment
 International Women’s Media Foundation & International News Safety Institute, Violence and Harassment Against Women in the News Media: A Global Picture
 International Women’s Media Foundation & TrollBusters, Attacks and Harassment: The Impact on Female Journalists and their Reporting
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences on Online Violence Against Women and Girls from a Human Rights Perspective
 Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalist Safety in the US, Canada (Safety Survey September 2019)
 Data and Society Research Institute, Online Harassment, Digital Abuse and Cyber Stalking in America
 International Federation of Journalists, Spotlight: Online Abuse of Women Journalists
 International Federation of Journalists, New Fronts, Brave Voices: Press Freedom in South Asia 2016-2017