Abuja, Nigeria – On September 22, 2020, Indigenous Guatemalan journalist Andrea Ixchíu Hernández was attacked while filming, shortly after she reported illegal loggers working in the forest of Totonicapán.
“One of them hit me on the head and the other hit my chest and knee,” she told CNN, describing the incident in her home in Totonicapán in the western highlands of Guatemala.
“Fortunately, when one of those attackers tried to hit me with their machete, one of the rangers managed to push her away, and that’s how I escaped. Basically, he saved my life.”
Ixchíu Hernández’s ribs were broken and she was bedridden for two months. She also sustained injuries to her spine. “I’m still recovering from it. It was really terrible and very violent,” she says in a strained voice as she recounts the incident. “As I talk about it, I realize again how dangerous it was.”
The physical attack she suffered that day may not have been premeditated, but it was also not unimaginable. Ixchíu Hernández had been the victim of years of online threats – attempts to humiliate and silence them.
“I’ve faced this since 2012. I have a long record in Guatemala of different ways and times I’ve been exposed to digital threats,” she says, before going on to explain, “I’ve faced situations where people point to me Attacked Twitter and Facebook. [and sharing] Misinformation [about me] on whatsapp. One time, one of these men in my hometown printed a rumored meme against me and my family and promoted it in the public square and local market. “
Ixchíu Hernández is one of the lucky ones, shaken by the violence, but still alive. Daphne Caruana Galizia wasn’t so lucky.
The Maltese investigative journalist became internationally known for her coverage of the island’s elites benefiting from offshore tax havens as part of the leaks in the Panama Papers.
On October 17, 2017, just half an hour after posting a blog post about corruption at the core of the Maltese government, the 53-year-old was killed by a car bomb in a small town called Bidnija.
Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council the year after her death, Andrew Caruana Galizia, the son of Caruana Galizia, said: “Because of her work to expose corruption at the highest level, my mother was dehumanized and branded a witch in the media and by politicians. “
“In the early years, she received phone threats. It later became a concerted campaign of offline and online harassment. My father, brothers, and I were targeted to silence her. Our dogs were killed, our homes were set up.” . ” Alighting … Unprotected by Malta’s institutions, including the police and the courts, not only was it desirable to kill them, but it became possible. ”
Unfortunately, both stories of women – online harassment culminating in offline violence – are no exception.
A new report released in April by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the UNESCO Agency of the United Nations said: “Online attacks on women journalists seem to be increasing significantly, as this study particularly shows in the context of The ‘Shadow pandemic’ of violence against women during COVID-19. The pandemic has changed the working conditions of journalists and made them even more dependent on digital communication services and social media channels. “
The report, based on a global survey of 901 journalists in 125 countries, an additional 173 interviews and two big data case studies analyzing 2.5 million Facebook and Twitter posts, concludes that “women journalists Both the primary targets of online violence and the first responders to it. “A journalist’s race, sexual orientation, and religion also expose her to” more frequent and more vitriolic attacks. ”
In terms of respondents, compared to 64% of white female journalists, 81% of female journalists who identified themselves as black, 86% who identified themselves as indigenous, and 88% of journalists who identified themselves as Jewish said online – Having experienced violence, which the report defines as “misogynist” harassment, abuse and threats, digital privacy and security breaches that increase the physical risks associated with online violence, and coordinated disinformation campaigns that use misogyny and other forms of hate speech. ”
The authors add, “A similar pattern emerges when analyzing survey data through a sexual orientation lens: while 72% of heterosexual women reported involvement in online attacks, exposure rates were for those who identified themselves as lesbian and bisexual women identified much higher – at 88% and 85%, respectively. “
At the individual level, violence takes not only a physical, but also a psychological and emotional toll. Aside from questions of individual safety, the ICFJ and UNESCO studies find that attacks on journalists reveal an ongoing misogyny that emanates from the most powerful in society – political leaders – and threatens democracy itself.
Again from the report: “Another important issue is the role of political actors – including presidents and elected officials, party officials and members – in initiating and promoting online violence against journalists.”
“Online violence against female journalists aims to: belittle, humiliate and shame, provoke fear, silence and withdrawal, professionally discredit them, undermine journalism’s accountability and trust in facts, and cool their active participation … in public debates poses an attack democratic considerations and freedom of the media … It cannot afford to be normalized or tolerated as an inevitable aspect of online discourse. ”
What does the recourse look like? On an individual level, Sherry Ricchiardi-Folwell, Director of the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma Partner at Indiana University and as a media trainer from Pakistan to Ethiopia, speaks about the need to create spaces for women journalists to speak about their experiences.
Ricchiardi-Folwell explains that because of the often sexualized nature of the attacks, women remain silent about their harassment, which leads them to believe they are alone. Speaking helps counteract the feeling of isolation.
Then media employers play a role in making sure their journalists are safe on their platforms and realizing how exposure to online or offline attacks can affect a woman’s trust.
Folajaiye Kareem, a clinical psychologist in Abuja, Nigeria, points out that journalists who feel ostracized and fearful of further attack may avoid covering the stories they think are important and are concerned about To take up leadership positions.
“If you look at this, it is synonymous with traumatic reactions, making them fearful and expecting to be bothered about a story. This can lead them to defend themselves,” he says.
The ICFJ / UNESCO report contains a total of 28 recommendations, including “To clarify the responsibility of social media companies to combat online violence against women journalists” and “To recognize and combat the role of civil servants in facilitating and orchestrating of large-scale and coordinated measures are active “continuous online attacks on journalists. “
For Ixchíu Hernández, support networks have been invaluable to her recovery and resilience as she continues to report on the destruction of Guatemala’s biodiversity. “The care of my family, the support of my neighbors and the indigenous authorities in my community give me the strength to move on,” she says.
“But the editors should understand that women are great explorers, researchers, and interviewers, precisely because most of those who have a lot of power are still male – who better than women to understand and figure out what these men are really up to?” She asks.
“We’re less likely to excuse them precisely because we’re not in the traditional old boys’ clubs.”
Read more from the As Equals series
If you have any of the issues mentioned in this story or the audio testimonials seek help – you are not alone. A directory 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. Designed and developed by Peter Robertson and Byron Manley.
Photo credit from top left: Aida Alami / Ferial Haffajee / Jessikka Aro by Laura Pohjavirta, Finnish Broadcasting Company / Maria Ressa by Franz Lopez, Rappler. From bottom left: Andrea Ixchíu / Natalia Żaba / Nana Ama Agyemang Asante / Zaina Erhaim.