Abuja, Nigeria – On September 22, 2020, while filming, Guatemala native journalist Andrea Ixchíu Hernández was attacked shortly after she reported that an illegal logger was operating in the Totonicapán forest.
“One hit me on the head, the other in the chest and on my knees,” she told CNN, recounting the incident at her home in Totonicapán in the western Guatemala highlands.
“Fortunately, one of these attackers tried to hit me with her kitchen knife, one of the rangers was able to push her away, and that’s how I escaped. Basically, he saved my life.”
Ixchíu Hernández’s rib was broken, and she lay in bed for two months. She also sustained an injury to her spine. “I was still recovering from that incident, it was really terrible and severe,”; she said. “As I was talking about it, I realized once again how dangerous it is.”
The physical abuse she received that day may not have been pre-contemplated. But it is not impossible either. Ixchíu Hernández has been a victim of online threats for years – trying to humiliate and silence her.
“I have been dealing with this since 2012. I have a long history of different approaches and different times in Guatemala where I face digital threats,” she said, before further elaborating: “I face. With situations people attack me on Twitter and Facebook. [and sharing] Wrong information [about me] On Whatsapp, once in my hometown, one of these men printed memes rumored about me and my family and published them in public squares and in local markets. ”
The Maltese investigative journalist has gained international popularity with her reports revealing that the elite of her island benefited from offshore taxation as part of the Panama document spill.
On Oct. 17, 2017, just half an hour after she published a blog post about alleged corruption at the core of the Maltese government, the 53-year-old was bombed with a car in a small town called Bidnija.
“Earlier this year, she received a phone threat, then became a joint campaign of offline and online harassment. My father and brother and I were targeted in an attempt to silence her dogs. Our pets were killed, our homes were set down … the unprotected Malta institutions included police forces and courts. But is only wanted But also possible ”
Unfortunately, the stories of both women dealing with online harassment, the culmination of offline violence, are not special.
The report, which is based on a global survey of 901 journalists in 125 countries, 173 interviews and two big data case studies analyzing 2.5 million Facebook and Twitter posts, conclude: “Women journalists are both the primary target of online violence and First responders, “In addition, the journalist’s race, sexual orientation, and religion earned her. “The attacks are more frequent and acidic.”
Citing respondents compared to 64% of white women journalists, 81% of female journalists identified as black, 86% identified as indigenous and 88% of female journalists identified as Jews reported experiencing online violence. The report states that it is “Women who hate women Harassment, abuse and threats, breaches of privacy and digital security that increase the physical risks associated with online violence, and disinformation campaigns that take advantage of misogyny and speech. Other forms of hate
The authors added: “A similar pattern can be seen when analyzing survey data through the sexual orientation lens, while 72% of heterosexual women indicated that they were a target of online attacks. Those who identified as lesbian and bisexual women were much higher – standing at 88% and 85%, respectively. “
On a personal level, not only violence But affects the body But also mentally and emotionally In addition to questions about individual safety, the ICFJ and UNESCO studies found that attacks on female journalists revealed persistent hatred women who flowed down from the most powerful people in society – the leaders. Politics – and a threat to democracy
Again, from the report: “Another key point in the premise is the role of political actors, including the president and his elected representatives, party officials and members, in inciting and encouraging a campaign of political violence”. Online against female journalists “
“Violence against women journalists online is designed for: belittling, shameful and humiliating, evoking fear, silence and professional retreats, undermining responsible journalism and trusting the facts.” And make their active participation … in this public debate It is an attack on considerations of democracy and freedom of the press … it cannot be standardized or tolerated as the inevitable subject of the online discourse. ”
So what does asking for help look like? On a personal level, Sherry Ricchiardi-Folwell DART Center for Journalism and Trauma Affiliate Program at Indiana University and previously worked as a media coach from Pakistan to Ethiopia spoke about the need to create a space for female journalists. To talk about their experiences
Ricchiardi-Folwell Explain that because of the frequent nature of sexual assault, women are so indifferent to the harassment that leads them to believe that they are alone. Talking helps counter feelings of loneliness.
It then plays a role for media employers in making sure their journalists are safe on their platforms and recognizing how exposing online or offline attacks might affect women’s confidence.
Folajaiye Kareem, a clinical psychologist in Abuja, Nigeria, points out that feeling excluded and fearful of the next attack, female journalists may avoid reporting stories they deem important and worry about. Take a leadership position
“If you look at this, it is synonymous with a traumatic response, for example, they’re anxious and expecting them to be threatened by this story, potentially making them surrender to defend themselves,” he said.
The ICFJ / UNESCO report offers a total of 28 recommendations, including “making social media companies more explicit responsibility to combat online violence against women journalists” and “recognize and work to combat online violence against women journalists”. The role of staff involved in large-scale facilitation and organization Continued attacking female journalists online. “
For Ixchíu Hernández, the support network is invaluable to her recovery and resilience as she continues to report on the destruction of biodiversity in Guatemala. Mine gives me the strength to keep going, ”she said.
“But editors should understand that women can precisely make great explorers, researchers and interviewers, because the vast majority of powerful people are men – who can understand better than women and discover what these men are doing. Stay, ”she asked.
“We are less likely to excuse them precisely because we are not in the traditional boys’ club.”
If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in this story or a cry for help – you are not alone. A directory of resources and an international hotline powered by International Association for Suicide Prevention, you can also turn to Befrienders Worldwide.
Edited by Eliza Anyangwe.Audio file edited by Corinne Chin.Designed and developed by Peter Robertson and Byron Manley.
Top left image credit: 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.