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Sexual harassment should be taken more seriously


South African women marked Women's Month by turning the policing of gender based violence and harassment on its head.

Law enforcement officials are taught that sexual offences like rape have two sites, the violated person's body and the actual location of the incident, but this month women marched to key institutions declaring "My body -- Not your crime scene!"

The August 1 2018 #TotalShutdown saw thousands of women converge on South Africa's major cities. At the the Union Buildings lawns in Pretoria they refused to leave until President Cyril Ramaphosa receives their memorandum.

The reality is that female journalists are not immune to the gender based violence and the harassment experienced by women generally.

The frayintermedia pilot study which involved 307 journalists from 36 African countries found that while African journalists are enjoying the liberating benefits of social media in their work, harassment has followed them online.

The sexual harassment female journalists are exposed to is disproportionately higher than their male colleagues. Compared to only 2% of the harassment male journalists experience on social media identified as of a sexual nature, for female journalists this amounts to 19% of the cases.

Why generic press freedom reports miss sexual harassment

Gender based violence and harassment of female journalists in press freedom is often overlooked. Media freedom indices only focus on narrow aspects of freedom of expression. Reports mainly focus on institutional actors or broader issues such as the legal environment.

An additional sexual harassment overview will help female journalist to make an assessment of how harassment is handled in media sectors of different countries. This is useful since they have a vested interest in their own safety and wellbeing.

How to get a fuller picture?

It helps to search for reports that specifically focus on Gender Based Violence or sexual harassment. These can reveal aspects about gender relations in a country, particularly the extent of rape culture.

In South Africa these can be found in the Victims of Crime Survey by Statistics South Africa. Stats SA also has additional reports that look at how women experience crime and their perceptions about safety.

The Crime Against Women Survey for the first quarter of 2018 shows that whereas 56,2% of females are satisfied with the service they receive when reporting general assaults, only 20,5% are satisfied with how sexual offences against them are handled.

For countries like Kenya statistics related to sexual violence are in the Crimes Against Morality category in the annual crime reports issued by the National Police Service.

Institutional Mechanisms

Legally, South African women supposedly guaranteed full protection against harassment by section 6 of the Employment Equity Act which prohibits harassment.

The Act is not explicit about sexual harassment, hence National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) supplemented it with the Code of Good Practice on the Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases.

For the sake of avoiding bias the code suggests the person handling sexual harassment cases and designated to offer advice should be outside of line management.

One of the two approaches it suggests is conciliatory and offers the victim an opportunity to confront the perpetrator and explain why their conduct is not welcome. This is not usually possible for journalists experiencing harassment from interviewees or members of the public when they are out on the field.

The code offers the option of formal proceedings which include investigations and timeframes. It does however explicitly point out that victims of sexual harassment have the right to press criminal or civil charges against alleged perpetrators. The code does not take away that option.

Understanding the meaning of the "harm" resulting from harassment

Another layer of protection against harassment in the South African legal system is the Protection From Harassment Act whose aims are to “afford victims of harassment an effective remedy”.

The act defines harassment comprehensively. In the act harm is defined as “any mental, psychological, physical or economic harm”.

For female journalists the chaos caused by harassment does not only involve a possible loss of income. The trauma could add to professional disillusionment about the sector and the role of journalism in society.

Dealing with state agencies

In South Africa people who have been violated sexually can open cases at any police station. After a docket is opened the case will be transferred to a station near the person's home.

The full details of how sexual assault cases should be handled by police officers are outlined in the department of justice's policy guidelines.

The guidelines have important information, including that a medical examination takes priority over the taking of a statement. Medical evidence plays a crucial role in sexual assault cases. They also adds that the first officer attending to someone laying a complaint must not leave until an investigating officer arrives.

Combating harassment at an organisational level

What role can media organisations play in preventing a culture of silence for female journalists?

The WAN-IFRA Sexual Harassment Handbook encourages media organisation to strive for gender balance, specifically they should increase the number of women. Female journalists might be forced to silence in a male dominated work environment.

In South Africa between 2001 and 2017 the percentage of female top managers has only grown from 13% to 22,9%. In the same period the number of professionally qualified females that have joined the workforce has increased from 38% to 46,6%, almost nearly half of the workforce.

This fact is reflected in employment trends in big publications in the media sector. Despite the fact that there is almost a balanced number of editorial staff in these publications, the gender demographics of the editors are skewed.

The State of the Newsroom Report shows that only 8 out of forty editors in South African big publications are female.


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