Global study confirms sexual harassment in newsrooms

The survey says 1 in 5 reports for sexual harassment at the workplace

A release by Wan-Ifra Women in News says that around 40% of women in newsrooms are facing the issue of sexual harassment
A release by Wan-Ifra Women in News says that around 40% of women in newsrooms are facing the issue of sexual harassment Photo: Wan-Ifra

New data from a global study analyzing sexual harassment in 20 countries finds that, on average, 40% of women media professionals have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Women and gender non-conforming media professionals are almost three and a half times more likely to experience harassment than men. 

The international study documenting the extent of sexual harassment in newsrooms has been released by Wan-Ifra Women in News in partnership with the City, University of London. The study is the largest of its kind to focus on men, women, and gender non-conforming media professionals in 20 countries throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, Eurasia (Russia), the Arab Region, and select countries in Central America.

The study, carried out from November 2020 to September 2021, surveyed more than 2,000 individuals and included interviews with 85 senior executives.

Global Results for sexual harassment 

Global Results for sexual harassment 
Global Results for sexual harassment  Photo: Wan-Ifra

Results show that, on average, 41% of women media professionals have experienced verbal and/or physical sexual harassment in the workplace. Yet only 1 in 5 reported the incident. Though less prevalent, men have not been spared, with an average of 12% experiencing verbal and/or physical harassment. 30% of all media professionals surveyed experienced verbal and/or physical harassment.

“Women and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately affected by sexual harassment in the media sector. While we have known this anecdotally, the findings from this research show that sexual harassment is an endemic problem in the industry – irrespective of geography,” says Melanie Walker, executive director, Women in News at Wan-Ifra. “It is up to the industry to address this problem by being unequivocal in the stance against sexual harassment and having the policies and tools to manage incidents when they occur to protect their staff and create a safe environment for all.”

Majority of cases of sexual harassment go unreported

80% of sexual harassment cases are unreported. This is mainly due to fear of negative impact, fear of losing their job, fear of not being believed, and fear of retaliation. In addition, on average, one in four respondents said they did not report their experience of harassment because their organization lacked the mechanism to do so and/or did not know. Only 11% of respondents reported knowing whether their organizations had a sexual harassment policy. 

Management response is weak

Of the few reported cases, action taken by the organization is only half of the cases and is most commonly limited to warning the perpetrator (41%). 

Research numbers also show that experiences of sexual abuse were overwhelmingly perpetrated by fellow employees (39%) or management (19% direct supervisor and 18.9% higher management).

Gap between perception and reality

85 executives, including 51 women, from media organizations in the five regions, were interviewed for the qualitative research. 43.5% acknowledged that they themselves experienced sexual harassment, similar to the findings reported by women media professionals. Yet only 27% of these same executives believe that it is still an issue in the industry.

“It was remarkable to notice the gap in perspective between journalists who participated in the survey and the management of media organizations. This shows that when clear and effective reporting mechanisms are not present, management is unaware of the problem of sexual harassment in their organizations,” said Lindsey Brumell, lead researcher and senior lecturer, City University, London.

This research is the first of its kind to be conducted. It builds on research carried out by Women in News in 2018, which identified a lack of available data on sexual abuse in media, specifically from countries in these regions. This research is needed to measure the scale of the problem and design responses to end it. 

The research is now available online through an interactive site that allows users to break data down by region, country, gender, type of harassment, and management response. Additional data sets, including the type of media, seniority of the respondent, and third-party observation of harassment, will be added over the next few weeks. The website is available in nine languages and is the first to present data on sexual abuse in this way.

“Our aim is to make the data around trends in sexual harassment more accessible and to better inform our media partners about the very real issue of sexual harassment in their newsrooms. For many years we have provided the tools and resources to our partners as part of our training and sensitization efforts. We believe this data will help our collective effort to establish the mechanisms and bring about the culture change necessary, to root out sexual harassment for good”, said Walker.

A snapshot of findings in the Arab region, South East Asia, Central America, Africa, and Russia is available here.


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