Abuja, Nigeria – On September 22, 2020, while busy, the original Guatemalan journalist Andrea Ixchíu Hernández was attacked shortly after she reported illegal loggers operating in the Totonicapán forest.
“One hit me in the head, the other on my chest and on my knee,” she tells CNN, recounting the incident from her home in Totonicapán in the western highlands of Guatemala.
“Luckily, when one of these attackers tried to hit me with his machete, one of the rangers managed to push her away, and that’s how I got away. Basically, he saved my life.”
Ixchíu Hernández’s rib was broken and she was bedridden for two months. She has also suffered injuries to her spine. “I̵
The physical attack she suffered that day may not have been premeditated, but it was not unthinkable either. Ixchíu Hernández had already been the victim of years of online threats – attempts to humiliate and silence her.
“I have faced this since 2012. I have a long history of different ways and times in Guatemala where I have been exposed to digital threats,” she says, before further explaining: “I have faced situations where people attacked me on Twitter and Facebook, [and sharing] misinformation [about me] on Whatsapp. Once in my hometown, one of these men printed a meme with rumors against me and my family and propagated it in the public square and in the local market. “
The Maltese investigative journalist had come forward internationally for her reporting that revealed that her island’s elites benefited from offshore tax havens as part of the leaks in the Panama Papers.
On October 17, 2017, just half an hour after she published a blog post alleging corruption at the core of the Maltese government, the 53-year-old was killed by a car bomb in a small town called Bidnija.
“In the early years, she received threats by phone. Later, this became a coordinated campaign of harassment offline and online. My father and my brothers and I were targeted in an attempt to silence her. Our dogs were killed, our homes were set. alight … Unprotected by Malta’s institutions, including the police force and the courts, it was not only desirable to kill her, but conceivable. ”
Unfortunately, both women’s stories – about online harassment culminating in offline violence – are not unusual.
The report, based on a global survey of 901 journalists in 125 countries, a further 173 interviews and two big data case studies analyzing 2.5 million Facebook and Twitter posts, concludes that “female journalists are both the primary targets of online violence and first responders to it. “In addition, a journalist’s race, sexual orientation and religion expose her to” even more frequent and contagious attacks “.
Referring to its respondents compared to 64% of white female journalists, 81% of female journalists who identified as blacks, 86% identified as natives, and 88% of Jewish-identifying female journalists reported online violence, which the report defines as “misogynistic. harassment, abuse and threats, digital privacy and security breaches that increase the physical risks associated with online violence, and coordinated misinformation campaigns that exploit misogyny and other forms of hate speech “.
The authors add: “A similar pattern can be seen when analyzing survey data through a sexual orientation lens: While 72% of heterosexual women indicated that they had been targeted in online attacks, the exposure rate of those who identified as lesbian and bisexual women was very higher – stands at 88% and 85% respectively. “
At the individual level, violence takes not only a physical toll, but also a psychological and emotional one. In addition to issues of individual security, the ICFJ and UNESCO study finds that attacks on female journalists reveal a persistent misogyny that seeps down from the most powerful in society – political leaders – and that threatens democracy itself.
Again from the report: “Another important piece of evidence is the role that political actors – including presidents and elected representatives, party officials and members – play in encouraging and promoting online violence against women journalists.”
“Online violence against women journalists is designed to: belittle, humiliate and shame; evoke fear, silence and retreat; discredit them professionally, undermine journalism accountability and trust in facts; and cool their active participation … in public debate. to an attack on democratic consideration and media freedom … It cannot afford to be normalized or tolerated as an inevitable aspect of online discourse. ”
So what does regress look like? At the individual level, Sherry Ricchiardi-Folwell, director of the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma Affiliate Program at Indiana University, who has worked as a media coach from Pakistan to Ethiopia, talks about the need to create spaces for female journalists to talk about their experiences. .
Ricchiardi-Folwell explains that because of the often sexualized nature of the attack, women remain silent about their harassment, leading them to believe that they are alone. Speaking helps counteract the feeling of isolation.
Then there is a role for media employers in ensuring that their journalists are secure on their platforms and recognizing how exposure to online or offline attacks can affect a woman’s confidence.
Folajaiye Kareem, a clinical psychologist in Abuja, Nigeria, points out that when they feel excluded and afraid of further attacks, female journalists can avoid reporting on the very stories they consider important and be afraid to take leadership positions.
“If you look at this, it is synonymous with traumatic reactions, such that they are anxious and expect to be harassed over a story. This can make them let go of themselves,” he says.
The ICFJ / UNESCO report presents a total of 28 recommendations, including “making social media firms more accountable for combating online violence against women journalists” and “recognizing and working to address the role of officials in facilitating and orchestrating large-scale and continuous online attacks on women journalists.”
For Ixchíu Hernández, support networks have been invaluable to her recovery and resilience as she continues to report on the destruction of biodiversity in Guatemala. “Caring for my family, the support of my neighbors and the original authorities in my community gives me the strength to keep going,” she says.
“But editors need to understand that women are great explorers, researchers and interviewers, precisely because most of those who have a lot of power still tend to be male – who is better than women to understand and find out? “What are these men really doing?” she asks.
“We are less likely to apologize to them precisely because we are not in the traditional clubs for old boys.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this story or audio statement, seek help – you are not alone. An overview of resources and international hotlines is provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. You can also contact Befrienders Worldwide.
Edited by Eliza Anyangwe. Audio files edited by Corinne Chin. Design and development by Peter Robertson and Byron Manley.
Side image, top left: Aida Alami / Ferial Haffajee / Jessikka Aro by Laura Pohjavirta, Finnish radio / TV company / Maria Ressa by Franz Lopez, rapper. Bottom left: Andrea Ixchíu / Natalia Żaba / Nana Ama Agyemang Asante / Zaina Erhaim.