What Journalism Might Learn from the Lara Logan Story

| Tue Feb. 15, 2011 9:08 PM EST

On Tuesday CBS released the horrifying news that correspondent Lara Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating" while on assignment in Egypt last week. First: Mad props to Logan for so bravely going public, and our thoughts are, insistently, with her. Second: Let us in the face of this high-profile tragedy acknowledge, finally, that too many journalists have suffered similar horrors.

For many journalists sexual assault is, as Ann Friedman puts it at Feministing, "a risk that comes with the job." (That's why I've gotten up at six in the morning the last couple weekends in a row to drag my ass to a dojo to drill through attack simulations.) But as Judith Matloff, who worked as a foreign correspondent for two decades and teaches a course at Columbia University on journalist safety, explained to me a couple of months ago, there are "no sections on sexual harassment and assault in the leading handbooks on journalistic safety, by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists." In a 2007 article, Matloff argued that sexual assault of female correspondents is all but ignored in the industry. Sometimes, it's even made light of, as when NYU Center on Law and Security fellow (and MoJo contributing writer) Nir Rosen completely lost his mind today and forgot that "joking" about rape falls into the category of NOT EVER FUNNY. (Update: Rosen has since resigned from his fellowship.)

This afternoon, I asked the Committee to Protect Journalists (an organization that does great work, hence its winning last month's Sidney Award for outstanding journalism) why its safety handbook ignores the issue of sexual assault. (It contains, for example, tips for other important but probably less common problems, like keeping your spirits up while you're hiding in a basement from Sierra Leonean rebels who want to kill you.) The response from CPJ's communications director was encouraging:

The CPJ Journalist Safety Guide was published in 2002. I am not aware of what the discussions were at the time regarding a section on sexual harassment and assault, but we could look into this. Nonetheless, the guide is undergoing a broad revision and the new edition is due to be published towards the end of this year. It will include a section on sexual assault and we will work with reporters globally (the handbook will be available in different languages as the current one is) to promote implementation of these safety measures.

It's about damn time. Hopefully that inclusion and today's headlines will lead to a broader push by the Fourth Estate to protect correspondents against assault. Because that's its obvious responsibility. And because it will protect, too, the crucial stories—including those about sexual violence—that reporters are dispatched to cover.