Let's Talk: Personal Boundaries, Safety & Women in Journalism

Sexual harassment is at the top of the news agenda, and every industry - from politics to arts and entertainment to journalism - is being called to account. Like so many of their counterparts in other fields, women journalists contend with unwanted presumptions and the threat of gender-based violence. The Dart Center asked nine leading women in journalism to share their experiences and to reflect on their own best practices.

For journalists on every beat, managing personal boundaries and safety - with sources and colleagues alike - can pose difficult choices and challenges. Women journalists in particular contend with unwanted presumptions, sexual harassment and the threat of gender-based violence. 

In October 2017, following the murder of Swedish freelance reporter Kim Wall and the sweeping #MeToo reckoning with sexual harassment, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma asked nine leading women in journalism to talk about the impact of these challenges on their work, and to reflect on their own best practices. This 12-minute video is the result:

Featured journalists: Christiane Amanpour, June Cross, Marcela Gaviria, May Jeong, Azmat Khan, Judith Matloff, Jina Moore, Alexis Okeowo and Sarah Stillman.

Interviewers: Ann Cooper, June Cross, Kerry Donahue, Marcela Gaviria and Sarah Stillman.

Scroll down for excerpts from our conversations and click the article sections to the right to read full interview transcripts. And click here for a tip sheet on maintaining boundaries with colleagues, sources and supervisors.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF international correspondent, CNN

Sometimes people think, "Well you know, it's not really ... I don't feel so good about it, but I'm going to do it. I have to get the story." My advice would be if there's anything that messes with your internal radar, listen to your internal radar. 

Read the full interview here.


Men are men all over the world. And I think, ultimately, when you're talking about sexual harassment or sexual violence against women, it's not about the sex. It's about men exerting power over women when [men] feel powerless.

I don't think that's ever going to go away. Whether you're in Denmark or North Dakota, it's a problem of the human condition.

Read the full interview here.


These things happen when somebody thinks they have power over you and you won't tell anybody because you're afraid of losing your job. Or you're afraid of not getting the job.

I think men should talk about how they feel putting women in that situation.

Read the full interview here.


If you're an older man, and you're the source and I'm the reporter, be aware that I am working right now. And, to a certain extent my job is to charm you to get access. So don't conflate that with something else. And then, don't ask me out for drinks on a Friday, pretty late. When I downgrade that to coffee, understand that's where I'm coming from.

And from male editors' perspectives, the fact that women face particular challenges should not be a reason not to give women opportunities. 

Read the full interview here.


You start to think about why me? Am I being too sensitive? Am I an easy target? Is there something about me that invites this? These are the thoughts that can go through your mind, and they're all ridiculous. Those thoughts are completely understandable, but they're dangerous.

Read the full interview here.


Women have another problem, which is we're socially conditioned to please people. I think we sometimes don't work on our instincts. "This doesn't really feel right, but I don't want to insult him." 

We just have to remind ourselves that we have a right to be really, really assertive.

Read the full interview here.


Every brilliant woman, and every brilliant female reporter I know, has spent too much of their lives second-guessing their first feeling about whether this is a big deal or not. As soon as the question enters your head, it's a big deal.

And the time you spend litigating it is time you were distracted from figuring out how to deal with what your system, whether your brain has caught up or not, has identified as a risk.

Read the full interview here.


You know we keep learning ways to protect ourselves more, but I mean how much, how much self protection do we need to learn before we address what is causing us to feel afraid or feel nervous or feel like we're not safe?

Read the full interview here.


What's really heartbreaking are the times when you feel it's shaping and informing the kinds of stories that you can tell, or that you feel you can't tell simply because you feel like you don't want to take the risk of going into a scenario that feels really uncomfortable. So there're times when you do give up an incredibly critical source because they've been insistently, consistently sexualizing you and not listening to the messages you're clearly articulating, that you need them to stop.

Tip Sheet: Maintaining Boundaries with Sources, Colleagues & Supervisors

Tip Sheet: Maintaining Boundaries with Sources, Colleagues & Supervisors

Journalists work by building trusting, professional relationships with sources and colleagues alike. Sometimes sources or colleagues may challenge those boundaries with aggressions small and large, ranging from annoyance to assault, including unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment or sexual violence. 

Under U.S. law and the laws of many other nations, sexual harassment includes unwanted verbal or physical attention or advances of a sexual nature; requests or pressure for sexual favors or quid pro quo; and derogatory, demeaning, or hostile talk about a person’s gender.  Given the gendered nature of society’s power dynamics, men have typically been the harassers, while historically marginalized groups — women, people of color, sexual and gender minorities — are the most commonly harassed. But sexual harassment and other boundary violations can happen to any news professional, regardless of gender or background.

This tip sheet, compiled by Professor Ruth Padawer of Columbia Journalism School drawing on interviews with nine leading women in journalism and other sources (see below), offers strategies for how to recognize, mitigate or address sexual harassment and other predatory behavior encountered while reporting. It is not exhaustive, and is not a substitute for discussing challenging situations with colleagues.


* Choose safe meeting places. When you’re meeting a source you don’t know, consider opting for a public place, like a restaurant, even if a home or in a private location might seem more attractive for an interview. Avoid situations that the source may interpret as falling outside professional bounds, in terms of location or timing. For example, if pressed to meet over evening drinks, you can say you’re on deadline and suggest breakfast or lunch instead. That’s not only a safer setting - it also signals that you’re setting boundaries.

* Avoid being alone with any individual you don’t know or trust. Avoid inviting sources – or your fixer, translator or driver – to your hotel room, and don’t go to their places unless you know and trust them. If necessary, have a colleague or friend accompany you under the pretense of being a photographer or a note taker. Having another “journalist” present makes clear this is a work meeting. If that’s not an option, ask friends or colleagues to call you every 20-30 minutes; when you answer, you can say, “Sorry, I’m conducting the interview I told you about.” It may interrupt the flow, but will also signal that others are aware of your whereabouts. If you must meet in a hotel room, ask room service to stop by every 20 minutes, to replenish your tea or water or to bring in fresh coffee, so your source understands he is not really alone with you.

* If you’re going to a remote or private place to report, alert friends/colleagues. Let them know where you’re going, whom you’re meeting or interviewing, and what time you expect to return.

* Use technology. If you’re going to be in a place that feels sketchy, or meet alone with a source who makes you uneasy, use location-tracking mobile apps (such as Find My Friends on IOS and Trusted Contacts on Android) that allow your friends to keep an eye on your whereabouts. Many phone systems now include emergency SOS messaging – know how to use it and make sure yours is activated. Journalists staying in dangerous settings sometimes use the Burglar Alarm app, where a cell phone is placed in front of the bedroom door. If the phone is moved, an alarm blares.

* Dress and act neutrally and professionally. Especially when meeting a source for the first time, many journalists choose to dress conservatively or androgynously. Set boundaries right at the beginning, through your words, tone, body language, and clothing. Maintain a professional distance in relationships with sources – friendly but serious, and not too chummy.

* Clarify intent early on. To avoid any potential misconceptions, especially if you’re reporting in a culture where you are unfamiliar with social signals and cues, be explicit at the outset that this is a work appointment – that you’re looking for X information for Y reason. Because of a cultural divide, you may have to underscore that message several times.

* Network. Tap into or build a community of women in journalism, and trusted colleagues generally. Share information about colleagues and sources who are predatory, have poor social boundaries, or make sexist or sexual comments. Seek and provide emotional support.

* Be an active bystander. Stand up for those you see being harassed, report these behaviors to supervisors, and press others – including men – to speak up when they see/hear sexist comments or harassment.

* Evaluate risks versus benefits. If you have reason to think you could be in danger and you can’t find ways to sufficiently mitigate that risk, seriously consider whether this particular story or interview is worth it. Look hard for alternate ways to get the information: interview other sources, or when possible, rely on phone or video calls instead of in-person meetings. Err on the side of safety.



How you respond depends on how you assess the harassment. Are you contending with low-level comments and/or come-ons from an individual who’s unaware that he’s crossed the line? Or is this overt sexual predation?

Your response also depends on what you’re comfortable saying and doing, and/or on how much you need a particular source. Whether the harassment is intentional or not, try to shut it down early while still maintaining a professional relationship. Trust your instincts – there’s no right or wrong approach.

Here are strategies some journalists have used:

* Be direct. Keep phrases of this kind in mind: “I appreciate you agreeing to be interviewed, but I’m not comfortable with [describe the offensive behavior], so please stop.” Or go for the simpler “I want to be clear: I’m here only to report on this story.” If you want one line to remember that could apply in many situations, consider: “That’s not going to work for me.”  If he’s moving too close to you, put your hand up and say: “Please don’t crowd me.” If the harassment is more insistent, give a simple, determined, “No” or “Cut it out.” Whatever you say, once you’ve succinctly made your point, move right back to the interview, so the conversation doesn’t become a debate about the concerning behavior.

* Be indirect. Some journalists worry that being direct will rile the source, making the situation increasingly tense or potentially dangerous. They opt for deflection, like referencing a husband or boyfriend (even if none exists), and are both relieved and infuriated when that works. Others try a nonverbal approach, like smiling less or moving a bit farther away.

* Ignore the behavior. Some journalists, when harassed but not endangered, choose to act as if they never heard the comment. Some men, after noticing their efforts are being ignored, give up – if not the first time, then soon after. Important: If the situation feels dangerous, ignoring it altogether is not the right response. 

* Be unyielding. If a source or colleague touches you in any unwanted way, such as a hand on your shoulder or knee, don't freeze: instead brush the hand away and continue professionally if it feels safe to do so. If you’re being followed, turn and look directly at the person, even point at them and say in a deep, loud voice, “Can I help you?” or “Stop following me!” This may throw off the harasser, and get them to leave you alone.

* Try humor. Some journalists use humor in response to sexist or sexualized words/behavior, figuring it avoids confrontation but shows a line has been crossed. Just be mindful that your humor isn’t taken as a flirty rebuttal.

* Cut the interview short: If you feel endangered or uncomfortable enough that you want out, get out. You can be blunt about why you’re leaving, or you can find an excuse: You have a headache, you have to meet someone else, etc. You also can always end an interview by calmly and professionally stating, “We have to stop now.”



If you’ve experienced harassment but decide you need to maintain the source, here are some options:

* Email him. Dispassionately tell him that you value his insights or information and would like to keep him as a source – but only if he stops doing [briefly describe offensive behavior]. Email is typically more effective than talking, because you can craft your words carefully, and he’ll know you have written proof of the exchange and attempted to address it directly, should you ever need it.

* Ask an intermediary. If you’re not comfortable addressing the harasser directly, ask someone who knows you both to relay your discomfort, and reinforce the reasonableness of your stance.

If you are unconcerned about maintaining your contact with the source, you could:

* Drop the source. Even if he’s articulate and plugged-in, find replacements, even if they’re not as good.

* Report him. If your source is speaking as a company or government official or employee, write to his superior (though you might choose to wait until after you file your story). If his emails, texts or voicemails are inappropriate, send those along, too.



* Email the harasser. Let them know you find their conduct offensive and outline why. Perhaps they didn’t realize they were being offensive or making you uneasy. But if they did, calling them out – especially in an email you can forward to supervisors – might lead them to conclude their continued behavior isn’t worth the risk.

* Create a paper trail. Every time the harasser makes an inappropriate comment/gesture, note the date, time, location, specific behavior/comment, and any witnesses. Even if you don’t want to expose him now, keep a diary in case things escalate, he retaliates or you change your mind. If you confront him verbally, include that in your documentation. If you feel your harasser is mistreating you after you told him to stop harassing you, document that, too. Save pertinent emails, texts, voicemails, social media interactions, or other notes to/from him.

* Document your productivity. If the situation becomes litigious, you may need to show detailed evidence of a change – or no change – in your work performance or productivity before and after the harassment began. If you are nominally fired for a reason such as “low performance,” for example, you’ll want to show that your work quality did not suffer as a result of the harassment and that firing you is instead retribution for speaking up.

* Protect your evidence. Keep your documentation somewhere your employer can’t reach. Don’t keep it on your work computer or in your office desk: If you’re fired, you might not be able to access it. Take screenshots of texts, social media interactions, and other messages so you don’t lose them if your phone crashes or is lost.

* Be on the lookout for other victims of this harasser. If you witness sexualized or sexist comments/behaviors towards others, document them, because it will be harder for him, or for the company, to dismiss more than one accuser.

* Learn your rights. Read your company’s sexual harassment policies and your state’s laws on sexual harassment to understand your rights and protections against retaliation.

* Report the behavior. Find a supervisor you trust and tell her/him about the inappropriate behavior, the steps you’ve taken to address it, and how that behavior has affected your ability to do your work. If you feel uncomfortable going to your direct supervisor, find another senior colleague.

* Contact Human Resources (HR), preferably in writing. Be specific, based on the documentation you’ve collected. Indicate that you’ve read the law and the company policy, and state that this behavior violates that policy and/or the law. Be clear: You want the behavior to stop immediately so you can work in a safe environment. If you report it verbally, follow up with a written letter reiterating the information, starting with something like: “This documents our conversation on X date when I reported sexual harassment by Y person. I reported the following instances to you [list them].” If they verbally agreed to investigate and address this behavior, reiterate that in your letter.

* Prepare for your meeting with HR. When you meet with HR, you can bring along a colleague or supervisor you trust. Write down what the HR representative tells you, not just for your records. You’ll want them to know you’re actively documenting their response. Let them know you expect them to conduct a full investigation. Ask HR what their next steps will be. If you feel resistance, say that if you’re not satisfied, you will begin looking for an attorney.

* Contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If your employer doesn’t intervene and succeed at stopping the harasser’s behavior, call the agency tasked with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. EEOC can provide resources and assistance even if you decide not to file an EEOC complaint. If you do want to file a complaint, you must do so within 180 days of the date of the discriminatory activity.

* Anticipate potential consequences. Know that although retaliation is illegal, you can still be blackballed or fired under another pretext. Try, to the extent possible, to anticipate what the harasser or the company might do to protect itself.



Cultural differences with regard to personal boundaries, women’s right to public space, and acceptable forms of male/female interaction complicate a journalist’s determination of what constitutes intentional harassment and what can be chalked up to a cultural disconnect. Here are a few things to consider:

* Choose a fixer, translator and driver who’s been vetted by other journalists (including, when possible, women journalists).

* If a person you hired is crossing boundaries or engaging in harassing behavior, you can say: “I don’t like how you’re [behavior here]. If you want to work with me, you need to stop.”

* Educate yourself about local gender norms so you don’t inadvertently do something that’s viewed as inappropriate or offensive, which could unintentionally fuel animosity and endanger your safety.

* Consider if/when you want to address or ignore sexist comments in a culture that’s not your own. Some journalists conclude that if a comment or behavior doesn’t feel risky or interfere with their reporting, they ignore it because the fight is too big and the implications are too complicated, and their task is often both urgent and time-limited.


Additional Sources & Resources:

9 to 5: Sexual Harassment Fact Sheet

9 to 5: Resources to Combat Sexual Harassment

9 to 5: Real Talk & Resources on Sexual Harassment

AAUW: Know Your Rights at Work

CJR: Analysis of Sexual Harassment in Newsrooms

CJR: Tips for Dealing with Sexual Harassment

Dart Center: Journalists & Harassment Fact Sheet

Fast Company: Dealing with Harassment at Work

Find a Law: Defining Sexual Harassment at Work

Forbes: Dealing with Harassment at Work

Independent: Stories of Sexual Harassment at Work

IWMF: Sexual Harassment Survey

Journalist's Resource: Internet Harassment & Online ThreatsJournalist's Resource: Who Suffers & How?

Newsweek: Stories of Sexual Harassment at Work

Nieman Lab: Defining a Sexual Assault Problem in the News Industry

Christiane Amanpour: Interview Transcript


June Cross: So you said you'd never had the situation come up where a man did anything inappropriate or a woman did anything inappropriate with you?

Christiane Amanpour: Not really and I can't figure out why in retrospect because obviously I have heard about people in all sorts of compromising positions, women in compromising positions. Whether it was during the Arab Spring, wherever it might be. It's not just in foreign lands. I don't really know why it hasn't happened to me. I think I've been quite fortunate. I've never had any overt, violent aggression whether sexual harassment or sexual aggression or any sort of area where I've felt incredibly unsafe.

Once I do remember when I was covering the Islamic uprising in Algeria in 1992 after the election there. The FIS won these elections and then the election process was stopped and there was a huge military crackdown. I remember covering it for CNN. I was a very young foreign correspondent at the time and we were taken, a group of us, into the police headquarters. And I was concerned there. I was concerned that something might happen to me because, you know, you hear of all these, you know, prison situations where you've got figures of authority who can do whatever to you and it happens today in many part of the world to men and women, but particularly the sexual violence often towards women in certain parts of the world.

So I remember feeling very, very nervous that I might be sexually abused, be raped or whatever and nobody would know about it. And certainly, that does follow me around, that thought, that fear, that I'm always on guard and on the lookout for that kind of thing because you see that it happens to people in ordinary society. And you know that often in places where we go where they don't want the lights, the oxygen of lights shone upon them, the disinfectant light, the transparency, they can lash out. And to women it can be in a sexual, aggressive, violent, criminal manner. Men are not immune from this either, but in general women have to really fear that situation.

I'm very fortunate that it hasn't actually happened to me. I have had people make lewd suggestions, lewd comments, maybe try to come on to me or whatever. But my way of dealing with it is to completely and utterly freeze it out. And I just don't respond physically. Verbally I'm very clear that they need to move away. And as I say I'm very fortunate that I haven't suffered that kind of aggression and that kind of violence.

June Cross: What advice would you give to young women starting out today in an environment where they're less likely to be staff members, they're most likely to be working as freelancers?

Christiane Amanpour: I think things have changed so much since I started in this business. And of course because I work in television, it generally means I work in a group. I'm the correspondent, but I'm not the camera person. I'm not the sound person. I'm not the producer. And therefore, there is safety in numbers. I do genuinely believe that.

And I would always give the advice, sometimes it's difficult to follow this advice 'cause you have to sometimes go on your own to meet a source or you have to, if you're doing some undercover work or whatever it might be, sometimes you have to be alone. My advice is don't be alone. If there's any fear or any suspicion that something might happen to you, don't be alone. Make up some excuse, some reason. Because what can you do if you're alone? What can you do? You're at the mercy of one person who may be stronger than you or maybe a group of people who together are stronger than you. You don't know what is out there.

And I would also say don't go to remote places. Don't go to places where you're completely cut off from the rest of the world. It was a tragedy what happened to Kim Wall. I mean the fact that she went to a submarine, who can get to you in a submarine? And it's tough because clearly, clearly journalists are fighting for their survival in this environment. As you say, there are so many people who have to be one-man-bands. People don't have the luxury of being able to travel in teams.

Many people don't have the resources like we do at CNN and many other big organizations. We hire professionals to teach us combat skills or combat survival skills. Skills to protect us against aggression, whether it's in an actual combat situation or some individual who wants to do us harm. How to recognize who may or may not be, looking for a fight.

June Cross: How do you recognize it?

Christiane Amanpour:  I think it's instinct. But then again it's never foolproof. It's never 100 percent. Otherwise, so many people wouldn't be in so much trouble. I think one of the things that is very scary is the flash mob factor, which is different from a single individual cornering you and wishing you harm and doing harm to you. But flash mobs on streets, in squares. You're covering something and all of a sudden a crowd develops.

That happened to me in Sudan a long, long time ago. I was actually covering the famine after the first Gulf War. So this was 1991 and it was kind of politically motivated. They, I guess they just didn't want white western journalists looking into their situation there. And I do remember my team and myself being surrounded by very angry and very hostile people. And at one point they start to rock the car. And then all bets are off. You have no idea what's going to happen. That may or may not be sexual violence but it was potentially very violent. And I don't even remember how we stopped them from going over the top and rolling the car and, and the crowd sort of falling on top of you.

And I remember another time this happened and it was very scary. This was during the Arab Spring. We were all in Egypt and I was actually going from Downtown Cairo to a secret destination. I'd been told I was going to go meet, the person who took over for Hosni Mubarak. At the time, he was the acting president and he had been the intelligence chief. But it was all sort of secret locations and so they hadn't really told us where we were going. And we were in two cars, but very quickly in a location quite close to where we were going, the cars got separated and a huge crowd developed around my car.

And if I remember correctly, I was in a car with a driver, a man. There may have been another man in the car, but definitely my producer and I were in the back and she was a woman like me and that was very scary. I was very, very scared. I didn't know how we were going to get out of this situation. Because already there was quite a lot of violence by one side or the other against the press there. You know, when people believe that the press are there to harm them or take sides that will, that will harm them ...

June Cross: Is this before or after Lara Logan's?

Christiane Amanpour:  It was before.

June Cross: Before.

Christiane Amanpour:  Yeah. Same time frame, but it was before. And we were surrounded. And I remember talking people down and just kept talking. Kept talking and fortunately at some point, I kept saying the names where we were going and fortunately at some point, they just parted and off we went. But that was very touch and go. And again we were out of the town. We were not in phone contact with the base. We didn't know where we were going because they hadn't told us.

So we couldn't actually say, "We are here, come and rescue us." There was none of that to be had. So we had to use our wits and keep as calm as we could and persuade people that we were just journalists doing our job and tell them as much as we could about what we were doing and very fortunately, it diffused the situation.

June Cross: How do you define sexual harassment?

Christiane Amanpour:  Well, there are obviously degrees but everything unwanted is harassment. It's about boundaries and it's about consent. We all are taught about consent. Unwanted approaches breach our right to consent and, if we don't consent, then people shouldn't invade our space.

The problem with that is, it's all very well to be taught that in a nice Western university and in our Western homes and in our Democratic environments. But when you go out into the field in places where there is no respect for women's rights, there is the patriarchy. There is the politics. There is the religion. Whatever it might be that is fundamentally anti-women. And I have spent a lot of my time in those kinds of situations. And while I haven't faced sexual harassment in a way that I found dangerous or compromising, I've definitely faced the anti-female vibe whereby just to do your work you have to really be firm that you are not a female or a man, you are a journalist and they have to let you through and they have to respect you as such.

But, sexual harassment comes in every kind of form, whether it's verbal, whether it's pinching your butt, whether it's giving you a little pinch on the cheek, whether it looks like it's friendly. But if it's not welcome it's not welcome and it's not friendly. You just have to be prepared for everything. Keep your cool as much as you can. Do not play their game. Do not enter a sort of flirty kind of, mistakenly believing that you can sort of play them at their own game and get out of the situation. You have to be very clear about your boundaries, very tough and not give an inch.

And I think sometimes potentially some people think that maybe, oh, there's a cultural thing that I'm not understanding or perhaps I can smile and wiggle my way out of it. You have to be very clear about what you're not going to tolerate. And of course it doesn't always work. I mean, there are criminals out there. There are violent people out there who can be very dangerous.

I guess you must always tell your team, your friends or whoever it is where you are at all times. These days, it's slightly easier than it was in the past. You have phones where you can be tracked. You have sat navs on cars. You have the ability to communicate and you must make very good use of that. But, you know, I work with many female organizations, many women's journalist NGOs and organizations, and we hear stories all the time in various different parts of the world how difficult it is for women to do their jobs in safety. And so, it's an ongoing process.

June Cross: Do you feel it's gotten worse?

Christiane Amanpour:  Not particularly. I think it's always been there. It's always been difficult.

June Cross: Just don't put out the vibe?

Christiane Amanpour:  Yeah. I think you have to be very clear about who you are, what you'll tolerate, and what, and what you won't. And don't be so eager for a story. And don't believe that your life or death depends on that story. And trust your instincts.

You know, sometimes people think, "Well you know, it's not really ... I don't feel so good about it, but I'm going to do it. I have to get the story." My advice would be if there's anything that messes with your internal radar, listen to your internal radar. Don't be brave. Don't be foolhardy. Don’t go with people who you really know nothing about.


June Cross: Interview Transcript


Ann Cooper: So you may recall that a few years ago, Lara Logan was attacked in Egypt. Lynsey Addario was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in Libya, and there was this huge public discussion, or at least amongst journalists, a lot of discussion about the vulnerabilities of female correspondents.

There were reports and checklists and tips and everything was put out and then that sort of died down. But here we are again, after the death of Kim Wall, discussing this again. And I guess the new element here, and the thing that some people found very shocking is she died in a western democracy, in Denmark. How could this happen to a female western correspondent in a western country? Should we really be surprised by that?

June Cross: No.

Ann Cooper:  Why not?

June Cross: Because men are men, all over the world. And I think, ultimately, when you're talking about sexual harassment or sexual violence against women, it's not about the sex. It's about men exerting power over women when [men] feel powerless.

And I don't think that's ever going to go away. Whether you're in Denmark or North Dakota, it's a problem of the human condition, I think. It's one of the things that people do, try to make people feel less than, I think is just something that people who feel powerless and want to lash out do.

Ann Cooper: Even though we as journalists always hope that things will be fixed if they are exposed.

June Cross: True. Well, Christiane Amanpour yesterday said that journalists, she doesn't think of herself as a he or a she. She's a journalist.

I think when I was a young journalist I tried to adhere to that very closely. I wore my hair very, very short, like buzzsaw short. And I think I, basically, was oblivious to things. A lot of things that were said or done that I just acted as if I had blinders on. I just didn't notice it.

But it is still a problem. It is definitely still a problem. It's not going to go away.

Ann Cooper: Well, we probably went into newsrooms at roughly the same time. There were very few women, and at my first job there were zero African American women. And you said you thought of yourself as a journalist. That's what you like to think when you're going in.

But take us back to some of your early newsrooms. How did they think of you? Were you always a hyphenated something?

June Cross: Yeah, actually, when I think back to times when I had to deal with sexual harassment, like my first job out of college, which was not in a newsroom, I actually never had to deal with anything in newsrooms. I'm very grateful for that. And I don't have any stories to tell from that period.

But from that period I was working as a freelancer, and needed to augment my income, as many freelancers do. And I took a job working with a business association. And my boss liked to take me out for drinks or dinner and tell me, he had told me rape stories of women who had gone out with men that they thought were safe and then ended up raped.

And he had a whole, I don't know if he went home at night and read these things in a book somewhere, or what. There were variations on a theme. And I think I lasted in that job about four or five months and then I was like, I can't do this anymore. This is just too weird. And I quit. I should add, now that I’m thinking about this, that by then I had been date raped twice in college, and raped once while hitchhiking; and I’d developed an instinct for weird guys. As a reporter, I turned off my inner feminine.  And my inner defense mechanisms became very highly developed.

Ann Cooper: Why do you think he was telling you those stories?

June Cross: I have no idea. And I decided that I wasn't going to keep sticking around to find out, because very often I would be the last ... I was the secretary, so I would be the last one there alone with him. And I just, nah. Time. Out of here.

But that's the only one. As I go through my career, I don't recall other instances; but I worked in television. And we had crews. Perhaps it was the safety of working in collaboration which drew me to television. Very rarely was I alone. Or if I was working alone, I had a fixer. And I could trust that person. It was very often a man. But I never really felt endangered.

I think times have changed now. By the time I got to the point where I was going overseas, I had been in the business about 20 years or so. I had a fair amount of life experience. I had a situation in Haiti after covering the attempt to return President Aristide, the first time. I had actually learned Creole, and I got my hair straightened, and did the whole thing. And had pretty much convinced the anti-Aristide people who were working there that I was one of them.

And I was filming from inside while they were having a huge demonstration. There was a U.S. gunboat. And there was a huge demonstration they were having. And I was in the middle of it. Then somehow or another, I don't know what happened. Somebody figured out that I actually wasn't Haitian. That I was news media. And at that point, the crowd turned. And I got surrounded. And I was separated from my crew, much like Lara Logan was in Egypt. It doesn’t take but an instant. I looked up from my camera eyepiece, and they were on the other side of the crowd in a jeep. And the crowd was attacking the jeep.

And finally our fixer came and grabbed me by the arm and just pulled me out of there. And gave me hell for risking my life and getting separated, because he hadn't wanted me to go into the middle of that crowd in in the first place. But I wanted to get the shot. And I got the shot. And I don't think I realized at that time how much danger I had put all of us in until we got back, and not only him, but my cameraman read me the riot act for going in there like that. That's the diciest situation I've ever been in.

Ann Cooper: Did he read you the riot act because you were a female going in there? Did they?

June Cross: Yeah, I think all of that. I was female. I was stupid. It was just an immature thing to do. And I put all of them in danger, really, because the crowd had baseball bats. And they went after our headlights. And they were getting ready to go after the windshield. We were able to get away. The driver just stepped on the gas.

But you know, they had to come get me. So having somebody have to get out of the car to come get me was, in hindsight, not the smartest thing. It was a very crazy time. Four of the people that I interviewed for that film, three of them were assassinated before I had even left the country. So it was one of the harder films I've done.

Ann Cooper: The crews that you were working with, were they usually male?

June Cross: Oh yeah, always.

Ann Cooper: How did they treat you?

June Cross: I don't know. It never came up.

Ann Cooper: Yeah?

June Cross: It just never came up. They usually had wives, or girlfriends, or something and we'd talk about that. When we were together, it was like we were a clique. We'd all share stories. I was dating some guy that I ultimately married. I would tell stories about how he was driving me crazy. I would hear stories about how their wives were driving them crazy. I was not ... A lot of reporters end up, TV people especially end up in affairs with their camera persons. I was never one of those people, but I heard about it a lot. I just wasn't one of those people.

I think, as I said, I just acted as if I wasn't female. You know, I was not. And I think being black, wearing short hair, actually, sort of helped in that way because I didn't have that sort of blonde, blue-eyed sort of look that was very, is very popular. I wore very baggy clothes.  So I sort of felt protected by that in a way. I'm not somebody that they're going to ... I didn't feel like I was desirable as a woman in that environment. And I didn't carry myself that way.

Ann Cooper: So we had a panel here a couple of years ago with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which did a book about gender and press freedom. And Kim Barker was one of the panelists and she started out by saying, "So when they called me up to say will you be on this panel? My first reaction was, really? Do we still have to talk about this?"

June Cross: Yeah.

Ann Cooper:  And then for the next hour and a half these…

June Cross: She talked about it.

Ann Cooper: Talked about being propositioned and groped. You know, harassed in all kinds of ways. Being afraid to turn down an assignment, because I'm a woman and they're going to go, "Oh, she's a wuss. So we're never going to offer her this kind of assignment again." And by the end of the evening, I'm kind of thinking, has anything really changed?

June Cross: I don't think so. I was talking to a recent graduate a couple days ago about this very topic. And she's working as a freelance camera person for CNN. I told Christiane about this yesterday. She's working as a freelance camera person for CNN and she told me about when covering Trump supporters she was, at one point, a woman came up to her with long fingernails and just dragged her nails down her arm. And a guy had come up and kissed her. Given her a big sloppy kiss on the neck. She freezes. She said, "I just froze. I didn't know what to do," which is usually the reaction that I hear from women who have gone through these things. It’s what I did in college; and what I learned not to do.

And I think it is worse now, because television people don't have crews. I can't imagine myself two years out of graduate school, or whatever, 27, 28 years old, being alone with a camera in a hostile situation, with no backup. And that's new. And I think that that puts younger women ... It's not just because they're women, but because they're younger and they don't quite yet have the life experience to know how to deal with it.

And it's not that it can't happen to you if you're older, but you sort of develop, you begin to develop defenses. You begin to develop coping mechanisms to tell guys to go take a hike, in stronger terms.

Kim, that's a great story about Kim Barker where she talks about being in Afghanistan and she gets out of the car and all these guys are groping her. And she turns around and just punches one of them in the mouth. And they're still at it, and she's just punching and kicking for everything she's worth.

Ann Cooper: That's a coping mechanism.

June Cross: That's one kind of coping mechanism. And she did manage to get away. She managed to get back in the car and keep going. I think it's different now. I think women in thinking that we're invincible, and by and large we are, in the United States, I mean, not totally invincible but as journalists we're allowed to practice professionally. Then when we take that overseas, we're in a different culture, different mores, we represent more than who we are. And I think that power thing I talked about comes into play. You're not just a journalist, you're a representative of the American news media and everything that that stands for. And I think, in some ways, that makes us lightening rods.

Ann Cooper: That happens now at Trump rallies, too.

June Cross: It does. Katie Tur has talked about this. Kim Barker talked about it. My student talked about it. My former student.

Ann Cooper: So the panel that you moderated recently about Charlottesville, so in both cases, both of those reporters were female. What did you think as you were listening to, of course, we didn't have the VICE reporter here, but we had the team.

June Cross: Tracy was alone with that crazy guy with all those guns in a hotel room. And she didn't realize it until after he started pulling all of the guns out.

Ann Cooper: But what did you think, talking with them, what did-

June Cross: I did have a ‘nothing has changed’ moment. I actually did have a nothing has changed moment. One of my first assignments, I had to go to southern Georgia in 1979 to cover a rally. God what was the name of that little town. Smyrna, Georgia? To cover a rally. African Americans in the town were having a protest in order to get hired as garbage men. They had no black civil servants in this little town.

Civil rights lawyer Millard Farmer was leading the demonstration. Anyway, there was a Klan counter rally as the African Americans were doing this rally. But again, I had a crew. I was there by myself for about the first seven or eight hours. And it was sort of weird. I did not cross to go talk to the Klan until the crew arrived, with my correspondent. And then, at that point, I had to go across and talk to the Klan people, and get them to agree to go talk. So there's a double thing. I'm female and I'm this black woman having to cross the street to go talk to Klan members and get them to agree to be interviewed on the PBS News Hour. And I did. And that was my first assignment.

So I was listening to Ilia and Tracy as they were talking about doing this assignment and thinking that in many ways, this has been a strain, this neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, alt-right, whatever you want to call it, has been a strain in American politics since 1865. So it's not going away. And we're in a moment where it's sort of bubbling up. And I think this happens periodically, in the history of the country.

Ann Cooper:  So we have, I think it's 75% of student body now is female.

June Cross: Oh my gosh. No wonder there's always a line in the ladies room.

Ann Cooper: Our responsibility is to teach them to be journalists, how to report, how to write, how to do good interviewing and whatnot. What do we tell them about being a female journalist today?

June Cross: You know, I really hate to do this, but I always want to say, do not go out wearing short dresses. Don't make yourself up like you're going out on Saturday night. You just want to be as neutral as possible.  I bought my pants at Lands End, and my shirts like at Polo. I was not at all trying to be, I was trying to be neutral. As close to a neutral gender, androgynous human being as I could be, I think, in those early days.

I don't know that I would tell women to do that now. That was my coping mechanism.

Ann Cooper: But why wouldn't you? Wouldn't that still be a good coping mechanism?

June Cross: It might be. I don't know. It just feels so draconian.

Ann Cooper: Or does it feel like you're ...

June Cross: Do you have to hide yourself in order to do your job? It feels sort of awful to have to say that. But at the time I entered this business I was a walking wounded person. I did what I had to do to defend myself. It doesn't apply in all instances, but if I was walking into ... If somebody sent me to southern Georgia, I'm still going to be wearing my khakis and my blousy tee shirt to go down there, just because for a number of reasons. But anyway ... Yeah, I just urge them to be neutral and classily dressed, as opposed to the way you would go out on Saturday night or Friday to a party.

Or even here, after a day of classes and going into a bar in New York. When you go anywhere outside of the coast, into the interior of the country, into the southern parts of the country, it's helpful to be as neutral ... Neutral in your dresses, neutral in your presentation and your language. You want to be a blank slate so that you can reflect the people that you're interviewing.

Ann Cooper: What do you mean by that?

June Cross: But actually, this never comes up in my class, oddly enough.

Ann Cooper: And you don't specifically?

June Cross: We have conversations about safety and how do you handle it. And I usually say, don't go into strange people's homes. If you're in a sketchy neighborhood, get out before dark. But on the other hand we've had students, I had this one East Indian student. She was about 4' 11" and she ended up lost somewhere in the Bronx one night. And she was sitting on a bench crying, and somebody came to help her and he turned out to be like the mayor of the neighborhood. And that was her source for the rest of her year here.

So I'm leery about giving people, never, don't do this or don't do that. Or never do this, because you never know where that lightning is going to strike. And that's the story you'll have. So I don't know. I have no words of wisdom.

Ann Cooper:  Do you see female journalists doing stories or in situations that you wouldn't do?

June Cross: Well, I'm over 60 years old now. So there's a lot of things that I wouldn't do.

Ann Cooper: Would you have done the VICE piece?

June Cross: Yeah, I would have done the VICE piece, they were with a crew. There were two cars. I think I might have let somebody know, and I might have gone with a satellite phone. I'm talking about Ilia and the Univision crew.

I think more about would I have gotten on that submarine? I don't think I would have. And this is not to blame Kim in any way, because she was an amazing reporter, and she had done amazing work. And she had absolutely no reason to think that this was the crazy guy. But you never know when you're going to find the crazy guy. I’d already had an experience with the crazy guy, and I managed to survive. So I’m speaking from a hindsight she was not fortunate enough to develop.

I wouldn't have gone by myself. I would have tried to go with somebody. And that's without saying ... She's not to blame for what happened to her in any way. But, what's the word, judicious. There's another word that I'm looking for.

Ann Cooper: Prudent? Easier in hindsight in other words.

June Cross: It's easier in hindsight. Yeah. I mean, given all the places that she had been. She survived the Congo. She survived Syria. She survived, and then to meet it like that is just like, what are the chances? It's just bullshit, yeah.

Ann Cooper: What about Trump rallies? When you say Trump rally, would you be in there?

June Cross: I actually know, there is a black woman. She won Emerging Journalist of the Year at NABJ. God, what was her name? I think it's Candace Smith, at NBC. She was a producer for NBC. And she did a lot of the Trump rallies.

Here's what I think about alt-right, white nationalists, all those people. They look at you, they will come to like you as a human being and separate you from all those other black people. That was sort of the way I approached being female, as well. Yeah, I'm a woman. And I'm talking to you. And I'm separate from all those other women.

And my experience has been, I've spent a lot of time in South Carolina talking to people who are on the tea party side, and on Trump's side. And my experience has been, I can develop a relationship with anybody. And then there's a moment where they're just like, well, you're not like all those other blacks. You're not like all those other journalists. You're not like all those whatevers. But that's what my job is as a journalist is to get them to establish that trust.

Yeah. I thought this was about women. Why are we talking about black people?

Ann Cooper: We are talking about women.

June Cross: Okay.

Ann Cooper: I just said, you know, in the '70s there were three women and white about zero.

June Cross: Yeah, I had to cover, I researched a story on this even when I was at CBS. I think that was in the late '80s. I feel like this thing is cyclical, you know. You go through ... Have you ever covered white nationalism?

Ann Cooper: No.

June Cross: That's right, you were in Russia. So you were in the heart of the belly of the beast, so to speak.

Ann Cooper: Washington.

June Cross: In the belly of the beast.

Ann Cooper: It's definitely nationalistic.

June Cross: I covered Lebanon in the early '80s and one of my sources was a guerrilla war expert. This was when the U.S. Army was trying to figure out how do we fight guerrilla wars. And so they had all these, Lebanon was the case example, right, because the Israelis had to go door to door and figure out how to do this.

I remember one time, it was in the middle of whole nuclear thing, he says to me, "United States and Russia are never going to fire off any of those missiles." And I said, "Well, why are you so sure?" And he's like, "Because the master race will never eliminate itself." They know that if they fire off those muscles, it's going to be the rest of us that are left to run the world. And they'll never do it.

I was astonished because I'm in Lebanon, right. I had no idea that he was identifying with me as a person of color, I'm just here covering the story and all of a sudden he's like, "The master race is never going to eliminate themselves." And I was like, "Oh, okay. All right."

Ann Cooper: So where all did you work overseas?

June Cross: Well I covered the Middle East for the News Hour. I wasn't over there a lot. I would go back and forth, but I covered the Marines in Lebanon right before they got blown up. We had just finished a longer piece for them. Me and Charlayne Hunter-Gault worked on it.

I was covering the Pentagon and the National Security Council, so I knew a lot of what the conversations were without having to go. And I went over like two or three times. But I was never stationed.

Ann Cooper: Yeah.

June Cross: I was never stationed there.

Ann Cooper: And always with a crew.

June Cross: And always with a crew. Yeah. Which was always a male crew when I think about it.

Ann Cooper: No, but that's interesting. It sounds like the male crew. I mean we talk about this here at the Journalism School, there's this collective effort. You are part of a team.

June Cross: Yeah camaraderie.

Ann Cooper: Not just TV, but that's the way we have to think of it. So it sounds like, they were protectors. I don't mean protective in this way, but…

June Cross: They were looking out for me. They would look out for you. I mean, when I was at CBS, the cameraman literally used to coach me in how to do interviews because I was, I don't know, was I 32 or something. I didn't know shit. I'd sit down and do an interview. I had a list of questions, you know. And the cameraman would say, "Take the list of questions out." And then he'd whisper questions in my ear afterwards. Like, "You didn't ask this. You get a better answer if you ask that."

I mean, those guys had been there for 30 or 40 years. They were way more experienced as journalists. I never went to Journalism School, so I didn't have that benefit.

Ann Cooper: You spoke about in the south. You were saying that you

June Cross: Candace. I think that's her name. Candace Smith, if I'm not mistaken. So anyway, she was the one that talked about this idea that when you're talking to White Nationalists they very often, they separate you from the rest of the group. So individually, they like you. But you're not part of the "them". The "them" that they are going to take America back from.

Ann Cooper: Right. Good. Can I ask the final question, but anything else you want to talk about? Any other stories that you think are relevant for this?

June Cross: I have two funny ones, that are sort of irrelevant, because it was a long time ago. But my predecessor here at the J School was a black professor named Phyllis Garland, who had been the editor of Ebony Magazine. And Phil and I started talking about this one night, and she told me a hilarious story about being assigned, when she was in her mid-30s to go interview Duke Ellington at the, I think he was staying at the Hotel Theresa at that point. And she goes and she knocks on the door and he opened the door and he was stark naked. And she just said, "Hi, Mr. Ellington, I'm Phil Garland, I'm from Ebony Magazine and I'm here to do the interview. And he said, "Come in." And she sat and she just began asking the questions and talking to him. And she said after about 15 minutes he just got up and put on his robe and they continued the interview.

I'm not sure that would happen in the same way today, but it was a hilarious story.

Ann Cooper: It almost sounds innocent. He wasn't thinking.

June Cross: Well, Duke Ellington was a gentleman. And so I think the difference today is, if a reporter was sent to do that, she'd be dealing with, most likely, a rapper. And rappers are not gentlemen. So by and large. Not gentlemen, so there'd be a whole different dynamic at play.

And you need krav maga. That's my... krav maga is Israeli Defense System where you use the force of the person coming at you to overcome them. And I actually have taken some classes in this. And I also have a former student who told me about having an experience where a man, a source that she was talking to, invited her up. They had a drink in the bar. He invited them up to the room for some reason. And for some reason she went. And he attacked her. And she was able to overcome him, even though he was a much bigger guy because she knew this defense system. And she had him in a choke hold at the end. And she asked him, "What did I do to make you think that I was the kind of woman that would agree to do this?" And he said, "You agreed to come to my room." And she was like, "Okay. Thank you for letting me know that. I'll never do it again." And she dropped him and walked out of the room.

Ann Cooper: Great story.

June Cross: Learn krav maga.

Ann Cooper: Say it again?

June Cross: K-R-A-V M-A-G-A.

Ann Cooper: Okay.

June Cross: But there's a place down on 105th where they give classes in a little basement. It's like a martial art. It's like an Israeli martial art. Sort of like Jujitsu, where you use the energy of the person coming toward you as an offense, instead of trying to push back, you sort of use their energy to flip them or turn them inside out. Or whatever. So you can use the force of their energy to compensate for the fact that you're small and can't overcome a 210 pound human being. So that was ...

Ann Cooper: So is that something that all of our students, or all of our female students-

June Cross: Maybe, yeah, maybe all of us, actually all of us might want to consider. Yeah.

The other story I heard was from Scotty Williston, who used to teach here, and retired from CUNY. And I don't think this will make the cut, because it's got some raunchy language in it.

Ann Cooper: That's okay.

June Cross: She told me a story about, she was working... Scotty was the first, one of the first black producers at CBS News. And she had done a story about gang members in Harlem. And for some reason, she was also young, and she lingered after the crew had packed up and left, which I learned later, is something you never do. You always leave first and let the crew pack up after you're done. This was if you were lucky to have a crew.

So anyway, Scotty somehow lingered, and the guys decided that they wanted to have fun with her. And when she realized what was happening, she ripped open her blouse and she was like, "Oh you guys think you want some of this. The person with the biggest dick, come on first." And they all backed up because nobody wanted to get in that situation. And she was able to walk away.

I don't know that I would have had the gonads to pull that off. But that was her story. So you know, it was a different time.

Ann Cooper: Yes.

June Cross: It was a different time.

Ann Cooper: We're probably not going to be teaching that one.

June Cross: No, we won't be teaching that one. The krav maga, I would definitely recommend.

Ann Cooper: We have the final question.

June Cross: Oh, what is sexual harassment?

Ann Cooper: Yeah, how do you define sexual harassment?

June Cross: How would I define sexual harassment? Anytime somebody crosses a boundary that makes you feel uncomfortable sexually. If you are fully clothed and the other person is naked or exposing himself or herself, you’re in a harassment situation. If someone is touching you without permission, you’re in a harassment situation.  If you are touching someone else without their permission, you need to back up ‘cuz you’re in a harassing situation. I think it's a fairly simple.

I know it when I see it.

June Cross: On tips or advice, I carry my keys sticking out through my fingers. So putting your house keys, if you're going home late at night, putting your house keys so that the key part of the thing is sticking out. You're holding the key in the palm and the keys are sticking out this way. And you go for the eyes. You want to go for a soft part of the face. Either the eyes or the throat, but usually the eyes is the best part.

Stomping on somebody's, the instep of the foot is very sensitive, if you're wearing a heel. Women don't wear heels so much anymore, but that used to be that piece of guidance.

When I'm walking, I do not wear earbuds at night, period. I want to know what's going on around me. And I want to hear what's going on around me. And I'm aware of what's ... I'm not looking over my shoulder every five minutes, but if I'm walking down ... If I'm in a situation where it's dark and I'm walking around, I want to know who is back there five minutes ago? And every half block or so, I'm checking.

And I'm not afraid to go out into the street and walk by the cars because generally they're not going to attack you if you're walking in the street. But if you're next to the wall, next to the building as you're walking that's not so cool. You want to be as close to the outside pavement as you can be.

What else. Aware of, if you're getting on an elevator, and there's some stranger that you don't recognize, don't hit the floor that you're getting off until that person gets off. And also be aware, if he's getting off at the same ... Yeah this was one, we had a student that went through something like this. Somebody got off and forced his way into her apartment and assaulted her. So that was, sort of being aware of who is around you.

Here at Columbia, the university police, if you're coming late, like after 10:00 and you're anywhere within range of Columbia, they will come and take you home. Let them take you home. Don't be a hero. Don't try to be a hero. You never know when craziness is going to happen.

The number one thing, having grown up as a native New Yorker, do not look mentally ill people in the eyes on the subway. Do not do that. I don't know why, but it's like looking at a mad dog. It like drives them insane. So I never make eye contact with crazy people, or homeless people on the subway when I'm there late at night.

So those are some rules that I sort of live by.

I see young women walking around with the damn earbuds. And they're walking next to ... And it's dark outside. I say, "What the fuck?" 

I would meet in a public place. I never go to somebody's apartment for a first meeting, or a second, or a third, actually. I try to always meet in a public place where other people know where I am. And I also let somebody know where I'm going and what time to expect me back if I'm doing freelance work.

When I'm working on documentaries and I'm working by myself, that also applies. And I'm also trying my best to get home before dark, because if I'm in a strange place, I don't know where I am. Especially some place like South Carolina, where you can get shot for driving while black. I'm not going to try to test the state police in South Carolina.

I was stopped several times. I tried to get home on the earlier side as opposed to staying out. If I was going to be real late, there were a couple of times that I just slept over at the home of the person I was doing the film about.

Ann Cooper: Did you ever have to use the fist?

June Cross: No, fortunately never have. But during the '70s that was the advice that a lot of women were getting living in New York. But I still do it. And a lot of women don't know about it, so it's like for free. Okay.

Marcela Gaviria: Interview Transcript


Sarah Stillman: What drew you to this line of work and what are the things that make you feel the most alive about being the kind of reporter that you are?

Marcela Gaviria: I love the sense of adventure and just getting to meet people from all walks of life. From the powerful to the indigent. And I'm curious about the world. So it's just incredibly fun to go out there and do my job. I'm also a storyteller. As a reporter, it's just so interesting to learn about things firsthand, and not just read about it.

Sarah Stillman: I’d love to get a little bit of your thoughts on what sexual harassment is. I'm wondering if you might be willing to try to define it for us?

Marcela Gaviria: I guess we all know there's a line somewhere. And it's a line that defines where you're comfortable and where you're uncomfortable. And sexual harassment is when somebody crosses that line.

So I think it can be as broad as that. We all have different boundaries and we all have a different sense of what's appropriate and what isn't. There's not a really clear definition. It's just a sense that something isn't right and it doesn't feel right to you, and you shouldn't accept it.

Sarah Stillman: That's really helpful. It's nice to be reminded of how personal those boundaries are. What is uncomfortable for one person may not be the same as what's uncomfortable for another.

I mentioned to you one of the reasons that we're pursuing this video is how often we hear students, or people of the school talk about times when sources have crossed boundaries with them that made reporting very difficult or just made it tough to do their jobs. And so I'm wondering if you might feel comfortable sharing times that that's happened to you in the field, if anything specific comes to mind. Even an instance where you felt you were up against that.

Marcela Gaviria: I've been thinking about it, and I feel like I've felt in more danger than I have actually felt imminent threat of somebody doing something inappropriate to me.

You always get into these situations where, for instance, I had landed an interview with a father of a certain person that's behind bars. And he started writing me inappropriate letters and calling me at odd hours. And I needed to maintain this relationship with him, because he was central to the story I was working on. But it was really uncomfortable and a bit of a catch 22, because he didn't want to talk to anyone else in the office.

Luckily I work for television so I'm often with a team and I can always bring my associate or my colleague or my cameramen. So, I don't necessarily have to insert myself in a place that makes me feel uncomfortable or dangerous, because I'm often with a team of two or three or four.

But on the other hand, this was crossing the line at times. When it was after work, or he would say, "I need to talk to you, I've discovered something." And then I’d have to call him back and it would be like great. So there's a guy talking about how horny he's feeling, and you just have to be really direct. And if you lose the source, that's what happens. There are certain things you shouldn't tolerate.

Sarah Stillman: Can you walk us through how you did handle that circumstance? Like, when this guy, who you do recognize as critical for the story, starts making those comments. How did you think about that?

Marcela Gaviria: I think I'm known for being very blunt. And so I just said, you know "I really appreciate you participating, you're somebody that's crucial to this story. I need your point of view, but I don't feel comfortable with what you're doing and it has to stop."

And that was it. So ...

Sarah Stillman: That's so helpful, actually. It's nice to be reminded that being extremely direct is an option, sometimes.

Marcela Gaviria: Right. I guess it doesn't always work. I was listening to Harvey Weinstein the moment in the hallway of some hotel and the person on the other end was being quite direct about what was making her feel uncomfortable. And yet, sometimes you get in that situation where even when you're direct it doesn't work.

Sarah Stillman: Are there times when you've gone to colleagues or editors to talk it through? Or other people that you work with?

Marcela Gaviria: I think I joke about it. For a while there, I had something that I thought was quite fabulous, which was a Waziri Tribal Lord wanted to make me his third wife. And I thought that would be just phenomenal because it would improve my autobiography.

But it was obviously inappropriate, but I thought it was sort of hilarious. And so I bragged about it for months. So, as I was saying, that is the line. You know, sometimes you feel quite comfortable with something, and sometimes you don't. And I guess it all depends on whether you find it intimidating or scary or creepy or, whatever it might be that makes you determine how you feel.

Sarah Stillman: We've been talking through with people about the different contexts in which this unfolds. And some of these things feel very context specific, such as online harassment. I'm not sure if that's something you've faced at all.

Marcela Gaviria: No, I haven't had any instances of that.

Sarah Stillman: The example you just gave might be one where there might also be cultural divides that are being experienced. And I wonder, given that you’re a news reporter in all this different terrain, if you've ever been up against times when there were just maybe different cultural expectations in a given circumstance?

Marcela Gaviria: Well, I think what's difficult about being a woman is that clearly sometimes your feminine attributes are an asset in the field. And it can be because you're more nurturing and someone will identify with you because you are a woman. So you do kind of put yourself in a funny position where you know that being a woman might get you something you need to get, and yet it's a fine line between using it and kind of crossing this invisible line. Where suddenly those attributes get you in trouble.

Sarah Stillman: And can you think of any time when it felt helpful?

Marcela Gaviria: All the time. I mean, I, I often think because I work in television a lot of the times the colleagues I work with, they'll be two guys and me and we discuss who has the best chance of getting something. And sometimes we determine for sexist reasons that perhaps I would. I don't want it to sound so, but I'm trying to be honest. You think well should I put a little more lipstick on when I'm going there. I guess that's me being quite honest because it's the unspoken truth.

We are all human beings and we will use whatever advantage we have. Either because we're gregarious, or we're charming, or we're stern. Or whatever those reasons might be. You know, we're trying to figure out how to, how to get the news. 

Sarah Stillman: I'm wondering if you could describe what advice you have for younger female journalists, or female journalists in general who find themselves in situations where they might feel threatened? Or uncomfortable when they're out reporting in the field?

Marcela Gaviria: Well, my advice is a little bit more the kind of advice that would, I think help you not get into trouble from a predator or somebody that's going to kidnap you. Or, you know, there all those sort of same kind of techniques.

Sometimes I show up early to a location and scope it out. Just get a sense of if there are people that seem to be threatening, or menacing. I show up at a time that's unpredictable. So I'll either show up early or late. I try to always go with somebody if I feel like it's going to be a problem. And I'll just make up an excuse. Like I'll say “my diver wants to use the bathroom. Oh and please don't leave, you know, just stay there." So I come up with decoys that that might help out.

It’s often important to just check in with people, even in the middle of an interview. Just break every 20 - 30 minutes and say "I'm still here, I'm okay." And make sure they're checking in on you. Common sense sort of stuff. Make sure if the person scares you to meet in a place that's open, like, have coffee with somebody in a location where there's lots of people coming in and out.

Don’t meet with people in dark corners. Always find a place that's fully illuminated and makes you feel safe. Simple things. I think, when danger happens though, there's no sort of soundtrack for that that can cue you in and, and let you know that something really bad is going to happen. Often, you are in a lot of danger, and you don't even know you are. Things will happen out there, and you can't always predict, and you can't always prepare. And, it's part of the job.

Sarah Stillman: What are some of the tools you have come upon to help you navigate the less predictable dimensions of this stuff? When you do feel like you've arranged things the way you've hoped to arrange them, and maybe you showed up late to throw people off, but then things come out of the blue that you weren't anticipating. Are there any best practices beyond some of what we've already talked about?

Marcela Gaviria: I've only been in circumstances where I've been retained by the FARC and taken and I wasn't quite expecting it. I think you just have to be calm, try to figure out if there's any way that you can talk to the person in charge. Look them in the eye. Make them know that you want to communicate. You want to be rational, and just show leadership. I might be deceiving myself, but I've always thought that if you act like you're panicked and things are going badly, you lose an edge.

So I just believe in keeping calm and, and showing strength. I've been in a position where they've held guns at us, and everybody in the car ducked and I didn't. And afterwards everybody was like, "Why didn't you duck?" And I was like "I didn't want a sudden movement to alarm anybody." So I just stood there, paralyzed. And, I think we would have all died if they fired. So, anyway, that didn't happen.

Sarah Stillman: Do you feel comfortable saying more about what happened with FARC?

Marcela Gaviria: It was a very difficult moment. I was a very young journalist. I think it might have been '94. I didn't have a lot of experience. I drove down a mountain looking for poppy fields to tell a story. I got out of the car with my cameramen and my sound man. And I realized that the whole village was empty.

I thought there had been a massacre because it was just so eerie. It was too quiet. And all of a sudden 12 men jumped out from behind this house and pointed guns at us and said "We're the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and we are taking you under our command. Please walk this way, you have to go see the chief." And I was like "Like around the corner? Or, where are we going?" And they said "No, you must get on this donkey and, we're, we're going into the mountain."

And this was at a time where people were being held for 8, 10 years, sometimes. So, I have a physical limitation, which is I had cancer in my leg. I think that actually saved me because the fact that I wasn't physically able to put up with the requirements of being on a donkey day after day. They let me go after three days, but my cameramen and soundman lasted a lot longer.

So guilt about being a woman. But I think they let me go partly because I wasn't as strong as the other ones.

Sarah Stillman: Wow, and has that posed other complications you've had to navigate in the field? Like, the combination of being a woman and having scenarios where you felt that you were being judged physically with different terms?

Marcela Gaviria: Well, the cane I think is a bit of a lucky charm. It sort of disarms people, so wherever I go, it's kind of like "Oh, take her in, make sure she's sitting down, give her some extra tea." So I think people aren't expecting somebody in Iraq or Afghanistan to show up with a cane. And, I think it's helped me in life, but it also slows me down.

Sarah Stillman: I'm so curious, it was interesting hearing that story from a younger moment. I think, even though I'm only- what am I, 33? I feel like there's already a lot of ways in which my approach to reporting has changed from the way it was when I was in my early 20s. Partly based on some of these experiences of negative boundary crossings. I wonder if there's any ways that you feel like your judgment is different now and tools and tactics that you've acquired over time that maybe you didn't have originally?

Marcela Gaviria: I'm a lot more cautious. When I was young I thought nothing could happen to me. And you'd get yourself into situations and you weren't really reading the cues.

Did people smile when I entered the town or were they sort of looking at me with suspicion? You just don't quite know how to read that sort of situation. Now I sort of think about things twice. Like just last week I was at the border and I needed to film late at night, and I needed to film something on the Rio Grande. And I happened to be with a camera woman, and it would be the two of us, at 5:00 a.m. in pitch black. Maybe a coyote would show up, I have no idea. But it, it did sort of feel like "What am I doing? Maybe I can find a piece of the river that's not as beautiful, but where I'll be, feel a little safer." So, we opted for the latter.

Sarah Stillman: It sounds like some of it is just learning to trust your gut and intuition.

Marcela Gaviria: Right.

Sarah Stillman: Sometimes having to not do things that you might otherwise.

Marcela Gaviria: Well, I feel like caution is important, and you should learn to read your gut. You don't always know, but if someone seems a little creepy, he probably is creepy. And, and that's what we do as journalists. We read people, you know? We look at who they are. We profile them. We make decisions based on whether we think they're kind, or, bad, or corrupt, or evil. And hone in on those instincts and just trust yourself.

Sarah Stillman: That's a very helpful lesson. I just have a few more questions. What you think the profession could do? Journalism, journalists and journalism as a profession to discourage this type of unwanted behavior? Hopefully that's a conversation we can help to provoke.

Marcela Gaviria: I guess the more that we report on what's inappropriate and actually shame the perpetrators of these acts, people will realize that these things are inappropriate. I guess it's so present because the Harvey Weinstein scandal just broke. What you realize is that a lot of men when I was talking to friends at lunch the other day at work, it was odd that certain behaviors didn't seem that inappropriate to men. They weren't sure, whereas the women in the table were like "Yeah, that's really inappropriate." So, I think we have to talk about these things more openly and really just educate both sexes. And be part of that conversation.

Sarah Stillman: Were there other things that you wanted?

Marcela Gaviria: Well you don't want to become paranoid. I think we all know that unwanted advances happen all the time. It's sort of part of biology. I mean, I don't know much about nature, but I'm sure if you look at any animal in the planet, this is part of who we are, you know.

When something feels uncomfortable, just address it head on. And, I think your boss will end up respecting you for it.  I've had situations that I don't even want to describe on camera. They gross me out. And it was a man in power who was my boss, who put me in a situation that, it wasn't even that I was uncomfortable, it was completely inappropriate.

And they think they can get away with it, and then the incident is over and you wake up the next day and you say "I'm really sorry, but I can't work with you because what happened last night wasn't cool." And so I lost my job. You know? It's okay.

Sarah Stillman: I'm really sorry to hear that story. That's devastating and completely unacceptable, you should have to lose your job in that kind of arrangement.

It seems like you have a real gift with being direct. I think that's one of the biggest things that so many of the women I care about, and certainly myself. I really struggle with that. I'm wondering if you could coach us on how you've managed to. So, maybe we can take that in two parts. One is how do you think about navigating the workplace stuff that's come up in situations like what you've just described? I think you just gave us some really good language, but is there anything else you would want to share about that?

Marcela Gaviria: Well, it's a risk, but you can't put yourself in a place where it's going to continue to happen, or you are then undermining who you really are and the value that you have, just because somebody thinks they can take advantage of you.

I mean I've never lost that battle. I feel like I've always been up front, direct, and they're like "Whoa, okay, don't mess with her." And I still, I'm flirtatious, I'm loving ... and if it feels good on the other side and appropriate then it's fine. And if it doesn't, then be direct.

Sarah Stillman: So my mom actually has this phrase that she taught me that I tell it to all my friends cause I find it's the single most helpful thing. And it's so simple. It's just um, "I'm sorry that's just not going to work for me."

Because I realize you often think that you have to explain. And a facet of directness I did not learn as a child is that you can just say what you need, and say what's not okay. And so I'm wondering if you might be able to give us any other examples of language that you use or any tips you have on just directness, given that you seem able to have marshaled that. I don't mean to put you on the spot but how do you think you've done that? Or are there other examples or just terms that come to mind? Or exchanges where you were able to find those words? Or what would you say to young women who don't feel that they can be direct or worry about the consequences of it?

Marcela Gaviria: Yeah, I don't think one has to explain. It's not like you have to sit there and say "I think you're really attractive, but um you know." Or "I really admire you." I just think "Look, this makes me feel really uncomfortable and I want it to stop."

What are they gonna say? If they tackle you and do other stuff at that moment I'd be sort of stunned. But I can't think of anything other than being direct.

Sarah Stillman: That’s very helpful and it's nice to be reminded that that really is an option.

Marcela Gaviria: Yeah, I think a lot of people sit there and they're like "I'm so sorry." "Don't take it personally." You know, like, no. You have to stand up for yourself.

Sarah Stillman: Is there anything that you would want to say about men's place in this conversation on the record? Just about where you see them fitting into the equation when it comes to talking about sexual harassment?

Marcela Gaviria: Well, it's all about power, right? I mean these things happen when somebody thinks they have power over you and you won't tell anybody because you're afraid of losing your job. Or you're afraid of not getting the job.

If you put yourself in a position where you're willing to lose these things and because you lose your job, or not get the job as a result, I think that is a consequence and, and I think men should talk about how they feel putting women in that situation.

Sarah Stillman: Yeah. So often it's the people who don't want to have that conversation or even know that's a conversation being had, or one that should be had. Those are the ones who most need to have it, and it feels like a vexing paradox.

Marcela Gaviria: You know and you read a Harvey Weinstein's letter of apology and it's sort of like, "Well, I grew up with a different sort of, in a different society. I didn't know these things were wrong." And I do feel like it's the older guys that are using this excuse more often.

I've never, ever had a situation with somebody that was my age. It's always the older guy. So I don't know what that means. Maybe they didn't learn something back then.

And maybe it happens to women all the time with somebody that's younger. But it would be interesting to figure out. I just don't have a sense.

Sarah Stillman: I feel like maybe some of that is also the power dynamic thing. So, maybe, I would like to feel it's phasing out generationally and hopefully we're moving in better directions. But I also fear it just gets more nuanced. Like the ways people act and the manipulations that they try to pull off.

May Jeong: Interview Transcript


Sarah Stillman: So, I thought it might be nice to start with what draws you to journalism? What are the things that make you feel most enlivened, or the things that feel most rewarding about the job?

May Jeong: Learning new things, meeting new people. There's a real sense of contributing to this larger thing that's happening, a bigger, meta-story. And I'm kind of doing my part. And all the other reporters are doing their part. I like that sense of community that journalism engenders. And also, I'm sure you feel this way too, but it's such an incredible privilege, actually, what we do. It's the greatest excuse to just show up at someone's house and say, "Hi, I'm a reporter, can I talk to you?"

And I'm always so shocked when they say, "Sure, come on in." And then being witness to the most intimate details of people's lives. I still get such a high out of it. It's a real rush. And that's kind of the fun part that keeps me doing the job, which is really unglamorous about 90% of the time, and doesn't pay very well.

I do it because it's really fun. I think I'm good at it. There’s a real sense that you're contributing something, you're adding value to a system that needs a lot of critiquing.

Sarah Stillman: You mentioned the thrill of getting to show up at people's doors, and getting to talk to people you don't know. That’s one of the complicated dances we wanted to address in this film: how you approach that in scenarios where that may sometimes end up leading to situations where people interpret your intentions differently than you intend them, or where boundary crossings happen-

May Jeong: Yes.

Sarah Stillman: So, to the extent that you're comfortable, I would love it if you might be willing to share some stories, or experiences, or anecdotes about boundary crossings, however you see them.

May Jeong: It happens on a daily basis. I have a small group of other young female, mostly freelance journalists with the group chat title Babysitter's Club. And we call it that because when we were babysitting we felt like labor conditions were better. You get paid on time. People drive you home after your shift. But also because there's so much emotional labor that comes with journalism, especially when you're a woman.

Men, typically older men because that’s the world we live in, where the majority of my sources will be older men, they sometimes see me as this writer shaped thing, so they might speak more freely than they would to someone who looks like a very prototypical foreign correspondent.

But, as a result of that, you do have to do this complicated dance. And it's everything from ... I had drinks with a source recently, and you always start with coffee, but then it just so happens you end up having drinks with someone pretty late in the evening. And you want to make sure that they know that you're on the clock, you're working.

And so as we're sitting down to order drinks I might casually ask, "What are your evening plans?" To indicate that I have my own plans, which don't include him. And, so, there are all these different strategies for survival as a young, female reporter. And it's annoying that we have to do that, but at this point, I've kind of embraced ... Embraced is a strong word, but accepted it as the tax I pay for wanting to be a woman out in the world.

And, the thing that has resonated a lot among our friends after the death of our friend Kim Wall, the Swedish reporter who went missing and then murdered while she was reporting, is that these are all concerns that we are aware of and we talked about, and joked about, and strategized over. But I kind of feel like it, it took a disembodied torso washing ashore for us to come out in public and say that, hey this is a problem.

And it's just that this is the most dramatic manifestation of the fears and the concerns, and the anxieties that we confront on a daily basis.

Sarah Stillman: That’s so, so, powerfully put. And I think that's exactly what we're hoping to do here is to be part of that conversation. I'm wondering if you could talk about the freelance dimension of it, because you mentioned that earlier, that there's ways in which your being a freelancer informs some of these more complicated gender dynamics, and the sense of safety you may or may not have going into a scenario.

May Jeong: Yeah, the good part is that you have total autonomy. And the freedom can be quite intoxicating. You can really just go out and, carve out whatever corner of the world you want to spend time in and then write a story about it. And that process is, on a good day, totally exhilarating. And on a bad day, it does weigh on you. This thought that you're beholden to no one, which also means, Kim's example is actually quite perfect, where she had this story that she had been, you know, workshopping with her friends, and also I'd first heard about it as a small nugget of an idea that she had developed over the course of many months.

And that is part of the process. And I understand that you are selling a product. And once that product isn't completed, no one's going to buy it. I understand that bargain, or process, rather. But if you're a staffer, throughout that whole process of coming up with a story idea, brainstorming, doing interviews, you're being paid. And more importantly, you're insured. Someone is accountable for you.

I really don't have an answer to this problem because it's something that I myself am still struggling with. Like, what is the cost of doing business. Most of the time it's a cost that I'm willing to pay. But occasionally, when something like this happens, with Kim, you wonder, is this the beginning? Will I lose more friends?

It's something that I'm struggling with.

Sarah Stillman: Yeah. I think it's so hard, because it's the worst nightmare that so many of us carry with us all the time when we're experiencing those lower grade things that happen, as you mentioned, on a daily level.

May Jeong: Absolutely.

Sarah Stillman: I'm wondering if you can share more about ... I love this idea of the Babysitter's Club. What are some of the kinds of things that have come up? You've given some really strong examples. I'm wondering if there are other examples that we should have in our picture of what this type of harassment or problems look like.

May Jeong: We have this Kim Wall memorial fund that we have raised over $100,000 for, and that money will be given out to a young female reporter doing work in Kim's spirit. But we're also thinking about it in terms of, when Jim Foley was killed, the direct consequence of something like that happening in my life is that hostile environment training courses became a thing.

And now I don't feel bad about asking the outlets I write for to insure me. Those are two very, very practical changes that I've experienced. And now we're trying to answer that question with Kim. What will her equivalent be? And something that we've discussed a lot is that in these hostile environment training courses, which are mostly excellent, they often teach you in these anti-rape workshops how to say no. And the thing that you're taught is that you're supposed to with a stentorian voice, say no. And then do the hand gesture. Which is great. But most of life happens in the gray area, where you can't really do that, because maybe the person who is, you know, making a move on you is a high ranking government official, who has a say over whether you can be in the country or not. Or gain access to a certain military unit or not.

And so, I think it's actually more useful to strategize ways in which you can deal with the day to day aggressions that you face as a female reporter. This is really getting into the minutiae of things, but maybe I'll come up with a fake husband. Or, usually, I have this ring that I wear that I bought from Forever 21. Or when I'm going into a particularly dicey area, I might do Find my Friend so my friends know where I am exactly. All the technological advances are super useful for just making sure that ... It's a macabre thought, but I do think about if something were to happen to me, I want it to be easy for other people to track me down, to figure out where I was last.

And so, those things are useful. And then just talking about it. Making it okay for a woman to come out and say, "Yes, this is a, an issue that I struggle with. And I think you do too." And then getting that dialogue going is super useful.

Sarah Stillman:  Yeah, this is great. You took us in exactly the direction I really want to go in, that we really want to center this in, which is what are some best practices and what are some tools that people can use and think about. I'm wondering if other advice that you would give to young journalists? Or even to your younger self? Things that you wish you knew when you were starting out that you have learned?

May Jeong: That's a good question. When I first started out I was so embarrassed by how young I was. So I would often just lie and round it up or whatever. There was a lot of insecurities that I'd internalized, which then came out in ways where I felt like I had to overcompensate. And this is something that I've talked about with other female reporters.

This is switching back to war reporting but if I'm going into an area that is precarious and I'm with other male photographers or reporters, I will never be the first person to say, "Guys, I don't feel okay about this." Because I already know how they think, and I don't want to confirm their existing biases.

But then, at which point, what are you exactly trying to prove? So those moments are kind of sad, when I realize that sexism has been this incredible force that has shaped the way I interact with the world. And now that I've realized that, I don't capitulate to as much. But, when I was younger, I just didn't have the wherewithal to realize that. And I would just try to be more manly than the male reporter, which is just totally absurd.

Sarah Stillman: That actually brings me to one of the things we also wanted to talk about, was thinking about this as a profession. What can journalism as a profession do? Because it does feel like so often the burden falls on you as an individual in the scenario, like the one you just described. So, I'm wondering what you think about how our field should be thinking about this. And also how men who are part of our field should be thinking about, how do we bring men into this conversation? Where do they fit?

May Jeong: So, the Sitters, the group that I mentioned, we have this thing now, because I see men who totally don't get it, and then men who want to be allies. And even men who want to be allies sometimes don't understand because it's not their lived experience. So, one of us came up with this great idea that we're all adopting, where, for certain men that we care deeply about, and who we think are salvageable, we will keep a running list throughout the year of all the ways in which they are not being an ally.

And then on their birthdays we'll gift it to them, and the idea is that if we didn't love you we wouldn't be doing this. But, because we think that you can improve upon yourself, this is a gift, our gift to you.

Sarah Stillman: And what are some of the top things that a guy might do that don’t show solidarity and might show up on that list.

May Jeong: There are so many good ones. It's almost like people only have room for one or the other. And so, if they want to be a good feminist then they totally forget about, for example, race relations. So reminding them that those are twin helixes. And it's not like you do one or the other. You have to do both.

And then understanding power dynamics. So, things like, if you're an older man, and you're the source and I'm the reporter, be aware that I am working right now. And, to a certain extent my job is to charm you to get access. So don't conflate that with something else. And then, don't ask me out for drinks on a Friday, pretty late. When I downgrade that to coffee, understand where that's coming from.

And then also, I guess, from male editors' perspectives, the fact that women face particular challenges should not be a reason not to give women opportunities. And not letting the reality that women face particular challenges be the reason to negate them of anything. Those are important things.

Sarah Stillman: Yeah, that's a really good point. I have heard editor conversations about, “we shouldn't send so-and-so to that environment, because it wouldn't be safe for her."

May Jeong: You’re penalizing her gender? Yeah.

Sarah Stillman: Are there other tools that you had wanted to talk about, or other things that I haven't asked that feel important to you that you want to share?

May Jeong: Just how common these issues are. I mean, the conversations that arose after Kim disappeared really made me understand how little people understand how journalism works. People were asking questions like, couldn't she have done the interview over the phone? And that, to me, portrays a total misunderstanding of the kind of journalism she practices, where, that we practice, where we spend weeks, months, definitely years building up trust with sources to gain access to their lives. To tell their stories.

And that's exactly what she was doing. It's not something she could have just called in. So that's something that has really stayed with me. And then the other is the inherent sexism in the way that her disappearance was being discussed. People were saying, why was she there alone? Why so late? What was she wearing? Really, like, otherwise sane people were asking me these questions. And without realizing that that is a version of victim blaming.

So that really shocked me. I was in Copenhagen after this happened, and I went to give a witness testimony to the police, a character reference of what kind of a person is Kim. And at some point the police officer asked me if Kim was flirty. And I had to ask back, in what way was this question relevant to the case. And then at the point the officer said, "Well, to be honest, maybe it's not that relevant."

But those little moments have taught me a lot about the, the grand assumptions that people draw.

Sarah Stillman: Has this changed how you think about ... Just that act, that fundamental act of trust that it requires of a female journalist to show up at someone's house ... Or, to do our work we need to make those choices, and yet it feels so fraught and painful in this context. I'm wondering if you can reflect on that, where you're at on that question? How to handle that fear, or whatever that feeling is for you.

 May Jeong: It is so scary to think about, what Kim would have gone through. Like, her final ... I can't even ... Sorry. It's really, really scary... And I think the reason why I'm struggling with this is because she is the most living, most alive, living person I knew. And so, to think of her in any other state is just super jarring. I also think about the kind of person she was, and how she would not want the end result of this happening to her to be her friends withdrawing from the things that they love to do the most. I think she would want us to be out there, doing what we're doing, and so, if only for her, I have to just keep doing it.

Sarah Stillman: What could you recommend to people ... Women journalists making those choices in their heads. Is there anything you wish you could have going through women's minds when they're making those choices?

May Jeong: Yeah, there's a book that Kim and I talked about called "King Kong Theory." It's one of those books that gets passed around from woman to woman. And that book really changed how I think about sexual violence. For a very long time, when people asked me, what is your primary fear, I would answer rape. And then I realize that that's actually just an extension of this patriarchal thinking where a woman's cleanliness or chastity is super important, so then if you're raped you're marred, therefore unworthy of life or whatever.

But this book, "King Kong Theory," teaches you that that's not the case. And so as I said earlier, now when I think about the potentials of violence, sexual or otherwise, I just think about it as a tax that I'm paying for being a woman wanting to be out in the world.

Sarah Stillman: Yeah, and brought up being a woman of color and navigating these things. Do you think there's anything that feels ... Anything you want to share about that? You mentioned that being a forgotten part of the twin helix?

May Jeong: Just the fact that I was at this war correspondent thing in France just over the weekend. And it's France, so there's that. But I was the only woman of color there. And when I even think about other women who are operating in this space, there aren't that many.

Especially if you're gonna go into front line reporting, there's nobody, really. The fact that I can sit here and name names means that structurally, the industry is not built in a way that facilitates and encourages young women of color to consider things like freelance reporting from abroad. Just being mindful of that, and thinking about ways in which we can change that.

If I still get asked to represent women of color, to explain their challenges it means that it's not representative. There should be more people that look like me. But I'm the only one right now. This is a problem.

Sarah Stillman: Yes. Well, this has all been very, very helpful and informative. Thank you for sharing, especially, I know that this is a really, really tough day, and I know you're going on to the memorial service. So, thank you for making the time to have this conversation.

May Jeong: Of course.


Azmat Khan: Interview Transcript


Sarah Stillman: I was thinking we could just start by talking about some of what has made you feel most alive as a reporter, some of what draws you towards the field, some of the stuff that you love about the job.

Azmat Khan: I love getting local. I love going abroad to a place that I knew some things about, and then quickly having those things that I thought I knew unravel, and recreating or understanding local communities in this very detailed context, and being able to meet people or understand them on a level that I didn't before is probably one of the most powerful things you can do. It's one thing to study a place from afar, and then, to get there, and to start putting it together and understand why things happen and study the history on the ground, and talk to people, it's like you're solving a puzzle, but there's no one answer. It's just lots to learn.

Sarah Stillman: And you've done that in such a wide range of contexts, which I think is really remarkable about your reporting both foreign and domestic. I thought I'd transition into a question we've been asking everyone, which is about sexual harassment, and a really simple question, which is how do you define sexual harassment for yourself.

Azmat Khan: It's unwanted behaviors that can be sexual in nature. They can also be rooted in power dynamics, in gender dynamics, in ways that are intentional, and then, in ways that can also be unwitting, where the perpetrator or person who's doing this has no idea that they are sexually harassing you, but they're doing it, and it's rooted in something that can feel incredibly belittling, that can feel demeaning, and can really bring a person down in ways that maybe the person doing it doesn't quite understand.

Sarah Stillman: That's an interesting dimension about the idea that people who are the perpetrators of that kind of behavior may not always understand that that's going on. I'm wondering if you might feel comfortable sharing some experiences with that, if you've had any personally or you feel comfortable talking about it more broadly.

Azmat Khan: It's really run the gamut from things that are seemingly innocuous. Two months ago, someone I was working with on the ground in Iraq kept calling me sweetie, repeatedly, no matter how many times I told him to stop. But then it can get really serious. I remember in Pakistan I was in an area that's really conservative, near the tribal areas, with a local translator whom I was working with, and he kept putting me in these positions that I knew were incredibly inappropriate in the circumstances we were in... that put me in a really dangerous position given the other people that were there, what was happening, and it was the kind of thing that I knew he had done, and I had to so delicately approach the situation, because it was creating a circumstance, where if he did something, I couldn't shout. I wouldn't be able to fight back, I wouldn't be able to make it stop without landing in prison myself, in that kind of a situation, given where we were, and so that was probably the scariest one, because my life or my safety was in his hands.

He was the one taking me to this place, and insulting him. That's the line, right? I've often found the most difficult situations are the ones in which I'm dependent on someone else for something, and the answer in my head is of course, shout at him, tell him no, explain why this is wrong, but I don't want to incur the blowback that comes with it, or the lack of safety I will have to take that kind of approach and response, and there's a very careful line you have to walk where you have to pretend you don't know what's happening, but simultaneously, get what you want out of that situation...and make sure that you're safe and all of these sorts of things. I've been so fortunate not to have had a physical experience while reporting.

I've had moments that are similar to the one I just described to you where it's this terrible feeling of trying to figure out how do I keep this relationship working because I'm alone with this person and I'm dependent on them for my safety in many ways. How do I make sure that that doesn't result in something that further compromises my safety if I confront them?

Sarah Stillman: That's really powerful and disturbing, and I think you illustrate so well in that story the idea of stakes and how the conversation looks really different when the stakes are as high as those. So I'm wondering if you can talk us through how you responded in that incidence, if there are points where you might actually decide that those stakes aren't worth it, and you're actually gonna call it quits altogether.

Azmat Khan: Absolutely. In this case, I couldn't call it quits. We'd come in his car, there's no way for a woman to travel alone in these places, everything about it was really difficult, but what I found to work in that situation is something I found to work often, and it's depressing that this works, and I wish this wasn't the strategy I have to adopt, but I've often found that blaming a man, like some other man, some man above me, my boss, my editor, somebody else, "Listen, they really are making me do this. They want me to have my own room for X reason or Y reason. I don't understand why he wants this, but I can't disagree with him."

So, basically, make it seem like I'm not disagreeing with him, somebody else above me is. Some man above me is, and I found that that is less confrontational towards their egos. I found it works a lot, you know, as though I'm just at the mercy of some man, and this is what I have to do. I can't fight back. That's just the way it is. It has to be that way, and it works, but I don't like telling people that. There's discomfort in owning up to that fact, that you're essentially playing a victim to some editor who's perfectly lovely, and quite a wonderful person to work with, but to use that to be sympathetic, or to get what you want in a situation where you feel that your safety is, that you're unsafe.

Sarah Stillman: You mentioned another example, which was just someone calling you sweetie. How did you handle that, or how would you think about handling that if it happened again in the future?

Azmat Khan: When it happened, I said, "My name is Azmat. Don't call me sweetie," and I remember somebody else we were working with found that so funny, he laughed, and then, I was offended by both of them, but it was the kind of thing where I thought that if I reported it to others up their chain of command, it would just look petty and stupid and that maybe they wouldn't commission stories from me again, that I looked like I couldn't get along with people, and it is small enough that it's not so pervasive, but I just made it clear repeatedly that every time he said it or did it, I'd repeat "That's not my name. Call me by my name," to the point where eventually he stopped, and sure, maybe I seemed difficult, but I just didn't care.

Sarah Stillman: It's interesting you mentioned that fear of seeming difficult, because I wonder if there are ways in which being a freelancer or worrying about not getting assignments because of fighting back against this behavior ever plays into your thinking, and maybe you can talk a little bit about what it's like having done freelance work in this context, how it changes, or how it informs how you think.

Azmat Khan: Yeah. I think that there are ... I look for allies, or people at these organizations or places where I'd like to get work again who I think are cognizant of these sort of gender difficulties, and I try to get close to them, and I think that they have an understanding of situations, so that if anything were brought up like that, that person could ask me directly, and say, "I know Azmat well. Let me talk to her."

Again, I don't like these answers that I'm giving. It's just a difficult position. I think you're absolutely right to point out that when you're a freelancer and you’re less protected, that that fear is constantly in your mind, but what I do think about is there somebody else on the security staff or team that I can take out to dinner and befriend, or be incredibly kind to and have a good relationship with, so that if this other person, whom I repeatedly told not to call me sweetie or whatever it is says that I'm difficult, somebody else has a different experience to counter that with.

Then, there's a part of me that feels like I can't really be bothered by this. This is not important in the grand scheme of things, and in that case, I really didn't put that much work into protecting myself, or trying to establish a reputation or something that would be corrective to that narrative if it emerged, but I think if the stakes were higher, if the level of animosity was greater, maybe I would do more, but there really isn't anything you can do, without looking like you're complaining, and when you're not on staff, and there aren't formal procedures.

If you're going into a war zone and you're complaining about somebody calling you sweetie, you look like a real fool.

Sarah Stillman: If you were on the staff of one of these organizations, or if you were the editor-in-chief, or you were the person making the decisions, how might you think about handling that? Are there things you think you would do or implement? What would you do?

Azmat Khan: On a personal level, I would certainly talk to the person who was accused of having done it. I would try to disseminate policies or standards that made it clear that these sorts of situations aren't appropriate. One of the problems I have with a lot of workplaces is that sexual harassment training is this once a year checklist. It's a technical, bureaucratic thing that has to be fulfilled, and the situations or examples presented, while modernized to some extent, don't necessarily relate to the individuals that are taking this quiz on sexual harassment that they're forced to take. I can remember having workshops and quizzes at every place I've ever worked on sexual harassment, on what's appropriate behavior, and what's not, and most of the time, these are not situations that arose for me in my work.

So, to develop more realistic, maybe beyond the formalized legal bureaucracy of these processes, but for news organizations to collect these examples, that have happened in real life. Maybe anonymize them to some extent, and then, to provide those sorts of experiences and accounts in a way that people understand that it's not just ... I can picture perfectly all of the examples I remember of people in a cafeteria, coming to get coffee at the workplace and the break room, and somebody makes a comment to somebody else, and it's the type of thing that's very, again, this is so technical. It becomes about discriminated classes, or classes like age, sexual orientation, gender, race, that are protected, so these protected classes are these examples on which they base things, but the more subtle, or even specific scenarios aren't accounted for in a lot of these technical videos and trainings, and if there were a way for news organizations to get more specific to the experiences of the people who work there, I think the perpetrators would have a better understanding of what they're doing, and why it's not correct.

Sarah Stillman: As a reporter, you've gone through a lot these past years doing both domestic and foreign projects, and I wonder if there're ways that your practices have changed and evolved as you've learned and grown about, and confronted more and more of these issues. Maybe it would be helpful to take that in two steps, 'cause I'd love to hear how those challenges have been different, domestic and international, etc. a range within the international context. Maybe you could talk me through some of the different things you encounter in those different spaces.

Azmat Khan: In conflict reporting, I think part of it is just the local context of gender norms on the ground that come into play. What's appropriate behavior of a woman, what isn't, and I should know them, so that I don't inadvertently do something that is inappropriate or offensive, or results in a situation, whether it's animosity that would lead to my safety being a problem, where I would feel unsafe, so I think that comes up a lot. In a domestic sense, I'm trying to think, and I've reported a lot domestically, but I guess I think of it more in terms of managerial.

I think in the past few years, or more recently, I've tried to adopt a work lifestyle where I only work with people I really want to work with, so I try to bypass situations I wouldn't want to be in, and I know that's really hard, but I do think that it was one of the benefits of going independent or being a freelancer, that I just started applying for funding to make it somewhat sustainable, and didn't have that many requirements of people or workplaces to be in.

Beyond the other benefits of not having to attend meetings that take up a lot of time, but one of the benefits is I get to choose who I can work with, and that's been really empowering because I can work with people whom I think understand the exact things I'm talking about... So in some ways, while it's so much harder for freelancers, you're removed from a situation in which I think there could be a lot of the same blow back internally.

Sarah Stillman: That makes sense. First of all, to return to what you shared earlier, I just wanted to say that I'm very sorry that that happened, and it is so upsetting to think about and to hear about, and I was so pleased that you called me, so I'm shifting towards the strategies you've used for best practices. I think that's a great one, and I'm wondering what others might be, or if you could talk a little bit more about how you thought about reaching out to colleagues, 'cause I think you've been so tremendous at cultivating community around you of people who reflect your values, and I'm wondering if you could riff upon how that has helped you navigate some of these issues.

Azmat Khan: I think some of them are just practical tips that are like apps. There are technology-based tools you can use. There's an app I like to use called BurglarrAlarm. I think that's what it's called. I set my iPhone in front of a door of wherever I'm staying, and it's plugged in charging, and if the door opens, this giant alarm goes off that can only be turned off with my fingerprints. It's a silly thing. It just gives me peace of mind sometimes when I'm sleeping. I make sure when I'm traveling that the people I'm with know that other people know where I'm going, and what I'm doing at all times. I tend to have a constant stream of accessibility to others, so I might be on my phone, and just say, "Hold on, I'm just texting my sister," or, "I'm just talking to my editor," or, "I'm just talking to my reporting partner," and I make sure that these people I'm with know that I'm in frequent contact with others.

Sometimes, it's as simple as, if I'm gonna be in a big crowd, so an area where there's the possibility of people grabbing at you or something like that, but just to wear clothes that are layered and can't easily be torn.

I know a lot of news organizations have security teams that they'll work with who will develop their own standards for what you do, but I always make sure I have my own in addition to what I have to technically do, because I think, generally, it's because of insurance purposes that these news organizations have these security teams that are required to work with you when you're in a broader or any sort of place that might get dicey, that I have my own system, and that I push back when I think there's something they might be recommending that I don't think is safe.

This stuff isn't often gendered, but it can be, simply by nature of sometimes I'll tell a man or a guy that I'm working with to make this argument instead of me, because it may not be believed if it's me. Sometimes it isn't treated with the same sort of credibility as if it came from somebody who is seen as more powerful or has more authority or is a male.     

Sarah Stillman: Are there any other best practices or tools or tactics you've developed over time that you think would be helpful to share. I'm thinking of a time when I was in Iraq, and I really needed to meet with this worker who was this Indian guy working at a Cinnabon, and he didn't get off his work position until midnight, and so, I was like, come to my ... His containerized housing unit, and we can do the interview then. I realized there was a massive cultural disconnect. What had happened was he showed up with a pizza and really thought we were having a date, so now, finding ways to make it verbally much more explicit, now that I've had that experience, and knowing that I will want to bring someone alone. Sometimes it's a male photographer with me, or have someone else there that shows ambiance wise, and also, verbally articulating exactly what it is and isn’t.

That's just one example. You've mentioned some really good ones too, like the app, telling people where you are.

Azmat Khan: There was a source who was so helpful, so kind, always treated me so well, and after I left Afghanistan, I got this stream of lewd messages from him, just outrageous. I couldn't believe it, and I remember, it wasn't just the shock of having it. It was like the one person that I was like, this person is different than all of the people I've worked with, and I remember that I had been so accessible and easy to talk to, and in this case distance, or ignoring that person, never responding to anything, except to tell them, "Listen, it's unacceptable to talk to me this way," but I started thinking about it more in the future, like to whom am I so accessible, that they think ...

I'm not to blame, certainly, but I think it did make me a bit more defensive, and it did also make me incredibly formal in a lot of my interactions, and it's funny, because I remember that when I'd apply for a job somewhere years ago, that I'd given some references for the job and the boss, the person who became my boss had called all my references, and I remember one of the people he called was a former boss of mine, and she called me to be like, "Hey, I just talked to him, and here's what he asked me. He told me that you were really formal in your interview, and that you seem to have a very formal approach, and he wondered does that work against you when you're reporting sometimes," and I was telling her why I think I'm so formal, and it stems from an episode, it happened like years earlier, where this person whom I had reached out to for an interview and had interviewed later on went to tell some other reporters that oh, yeah, she was really into me, and he just told this kind of gross story about it.

This was when I was really young. This was 2010, I think, and I remember that it did make me incredibly formal in all my interactions, and then, to have it not held against me, but have it be something that was like, "Hey, why is she so formal?" And it's something I do note in a lot of women is that they tend to be pretty formal in a lot of their reporting circumstances, probably for reasons like that. They have to be. For example, the situation you were describing to meet somebody for a meeting in the place you're staying. All of a sudden, you start designating these other places, and it does make me think about whether your managers or bosses think that you're less good at your job, because you're unable to strike up that kind of casual conversation that can lead to many great finds when you're a reporter.

Sarah Stillman: I'd love to talk about that in the context of some of the national security work you've done, 'cause I remember talking about how in that Washington world, showing up for drinks at a bar late at night is a thing that people do to build sources, and how do you navigate those engagements, given what you just said?

Azmat Khan: 100% get that. I think, for a long time, I thought that I could not ... That I wouldn't be able to succeed in that world of making lots of intel sources, not just because it would require meeting up at night over a drink, but just because I was so different from that world, that maybe if I looked different, or had a different name ... It happens a lot. So, maybe it could be in my head, but for awhile, I thought that world of reporting wasn't available to me, and not just that it wasn't available, but that I wouldn't want to pursue that part of things, and I think my way of getting beyond it is just to accept that I can get or meet sources in other ways, that there are other networks you can build, I think, my approach was how else can I get it besides this way? Is there something else that maybe works more with who I am as a person?

Sarah Stillman: Are there things that you've come to say or do when it comes to the initial outreach with sources that has helped you to establish boundaries?

Azmat Khan: I don't think that initially my approach is all that different. I think I do tend to take a pretty formal, like, "Hi, this is me. Here's what I'm doing. Here's what I'm really interested in about you. I'd love to have a conversation with you about X. Here's how you can reach me. If you want to read any of my stuff, it's here." But I do know that my default approach is formal. People tell me this all the time, that I do sound pretty formal. I don't know how to change that, and I don't think I will. I think you get more comfortable with people over time, and yeah, I think that's my default approach. I think maybe when I first started out, it was a lot more casual, and a few experiences made me just a little bit more careful.

Sometimes, I'll book an office or something like that to meet at, if we need privacy, and you can't always afford something like that, but sometimes, in hotels, you can book suites that have a separate office type of area, and so, I would go out of budget just to make sure that there was something like that, a private space to meet, that clearly looked like it was an office, and had somebody else there, because the second they see a bedroom or something like that, it brings a different vibe to things. I think I've done that before, or I'll call and I'll have room service, coffee and tea and drinks brought in frequently, and I'll say like come three times in this hour, so that there's constant knocks on the door.

I forgot that I do do that. What else? I tend to dress more conservatively when I'm meeting people. In the beginning, especially, just because. What else? I often ask about children. Like, "Do you have children? How old are they?" This sounds silly, but to know that they have a family, sometimes that's helpful. I don't, on principle, drop the whole, "My husband," or, "My boyfriend," any of those sorts of things, just because I actually don't want anybody to know about my private life, if that makes sense. That's more of a moral position, but I do think that can be incredibly helpful in those situations, but it's sad that that helps.

Sarah Stillman: I really like the advice about the hotel, having an office space, and having someone come in regularly. I haven't heard that before, and it's really, really insightful.

Azmat Khan: I'll say I need a fresh pot of tea. I need it to be hot. I won't tell them, explicitly, three times, but it will be apparent that they have to keep bringing fresh tea, so when they bring it the first time, I'll be like, "Actually, I'd like this as well," or, "I'd like that as well," and I send them back to go get it. And then, tip them generously.

Sarah Stillman: I wanted to shift, finally ... I don't want to keep you too long, but I really appreciated what you said about the idea of newsrooms circulating actual real anecdotes, and not just for the women who've experienced those things, but also for the people who are the perpetrators of those things. I'm hoping to talk about that for a minute. What could the profession, journalistic profession, and what could journalists themselves do to discourage unwanted behavior, and to place the onus on the perpetrators to take accountability for it.

Azmat Khan: Completely. I actually forgot to tell you, in that sweetie incident, one of the things I did was I tweeted about it, in a very generic way, which was, "How would you respond to somebody repeatedly calling you sweetie, even after you've told them to stop," and maybe in the back of my head, I hoped that the person who did it would see this tweet, and then, see the responses, which were aghast, and people were like, "Report him. I would tell him this. I would tell him why. Take it to HR." These were the responses, and I think it was more about him seeing that many people think this. It's not just me. I'm not crazy. It was the support of seeing many people believe this and here's why, because I truly don't think he thought he was doing anything offensive, because he did at one point explain it to me, and he did say, "I'm so sorry. I don't mean it this way. It's just something I say because I like somebody and care about them."

This is what he had said to me at the time, and so, in his view, it was this kind thing. In my view, it was diminishing, and belittling, and, frankly, embarrassing, and unnecessary, because I have a name, and he's not calling any of the men sweetie, so I remember tweeting it for that purpose. That was why, I think that having those real world examples are so important for the perpetrators or would be perpetrators, because oftentimes, they have no idea. They're not aware of the power dynamics these sorts of comments are steeped in. They may come from a background in which this was perfectly acceptable years before, within the workplace.

Just knowing, firsthand, that that could have resulted ... That out of 20 responses to this tweet, or however many there were, that almost all of them said report him to human resources, that that's what this could lead to, and to try to figure out why, and I really think that taking those real world examples and explaining them in those context is so important, and you can anonymize them. You can change identifying information and details, but I do think that a lot of times, when there are complaints, that those are kept hidden for personnel purposes, but to use them, because those are the exact situations that developed.

I have huge problems with the sexual harassment training industry, which I think has just become bureaucratized, and it's a money making enterprise, and it's a legal checklist. It's about checking a box on your insurance. It's about making sure that every employee has taken this quiz or has studied this thing, but it's not actual understanding, and it's not a real conversation, and it's not necessarily anything anyone sees beyond an obligation, something they have to do in order to get paid. Translating it into something that's real and works.

Sarah Stillman: Are there any other antidotes to that? Kind of HR, facile, sexual harassment training approach, that we can think about that you've used individually, or that we could think about communally and collectively as when a journalist is trying to push this issue forward, or as a journalist responsible for that.

Azmat Khan: I was recently on a panel with two other women who were talking about the strategies and what they do, and one of them, she says she uses humor constantly to make her points. She said she'd been walking with somebody, and he'd said, "Wow, big steps for such a small woman." Something like that, and she quipped back something that was hilariously biting. Maybe I'm not that quick, so my first response is not humor, but she made a really compelling case for why these sorts of humorous responses that can show them why they're being ridiculous, while simultaneously not bringing a confrontational approach to things can be helpful.

That's one thing. If you're witty and biting. Then, there are people who I think are more apt to turn to others for support, too, and have them talk to that person. Maybe they'll understand it more in that context, but I do think that attitudes and cultural opinions shift when they realize that the person is in the minority, that the person doing this stuff is in the minority viewpoint of whether or not this is acceptable, so part of it is just about them realizing, wow, I'm out of touch with what is acceptable and is appropriate.

Because maybe with their friends or with their social networks or the people whom they're around the most, this is the acceptable thing. The thing that they've said, maybe their response, when they talk to their friends, is, "Wow, she's out of control. PC culture has become so insane," etc. but to show how and why, and to show that that's outdated is so important.

Sarah Stillman: You mentioned tweeting. I don't want to keep you longer than I mentioned, but I will ask two more questions, if that's okay, and one is just about online harassment. I know, especially women of color are faced on Twitter or in other realms, even if you have the guts to read the comment sections, some online stories, what you face can be pretty intense, and I'm wondering if you have anything you want to share about that and any ways you think about dealing with that that have been productive or helpful for you.

Azmat Khan: I very rarely respond to trolls. The times that I think it becomes most intense or hard for me, it's when I tweet about Islam or Muslims, and I get a barrage of not always, but frequently, I'll get a barrage of just nasty comments. I remember one ... This is the one I think hurts the most. When people say, "You terrorist bitch," in response to things,... I don't think I deal with the most hateful of comments people get.

I think it was the Guardian that had once done a study of the comments of its writers who received the most hateful and trollish comments, and what they found was, these top 10 writers, many of them were people of color, were women who wrote about women, people of color who wrote about race or gay writers who wrote about LGBTQ issues, and it was when you expressed something personally that they had seen some of the most vitriolic responses, and so, I do think if I was writing about Islam every day, it would be even worse for me, but I think people at those intersections, and who are bringing their personal lives into it who get some of the worst of it.

So I'm in a comfortable position where I can ignore lots of it, and I don't know what I would do if that was all I saw, if there were these motivated campaigns targeting me. I don't know that I would feel as comfortable just ignoring it. A lot of times, I ignore it, unless I think there's a very teachable moment. Where it's the type of thing that maybe there isn't an explanation for why this is ridiculous, out in the public, and it's my job to respond, but rarely do I, 'cause I feel like it also encourages them, but I understand people who do both. Who ignore or spend a lot of their time combating that.

Sarah Stillman: Is there anything else you would want to share, particularly if you were to think about what you would want younger journalists to know, when it comes to navigating boundaries. You mentioned yourself as a younger person at various moments, what you'd faced five years go. I'm wondering if you could speak to that, or anything else you wanted to close out with.

Azmat Khan: I think you feel more empowered with time, as you get better, and you rise up, and some of your most vulnerable moments are early on, so being able to have a … or women or others who are vulnerable in these sorts of situations to talk to is so helpful, and to seek that out. I know that many cities have informal groups like this. Many of them are organized over Facebook, and just small searches for these sort of groups. Some of them are closed, so they're harder to find, but some of these online communities are super helpful, and just tapping into them any way you can, whether through people you know, or whether completely unsolicited.

I know that if somebody had written me an email asking me about any of this stuff, and I get lots of emails unsolicited from people, that would be one not just that I would answer. I try to answer everything, but that I would answer urgently, because I do think that it would be so wrong not to, or just, I can understand, or I can relate, and it's the kind of thing I would be happy to help with, so reach out to people, because I think it's the kind of issue that very specifically is so hard for other women who've been through it not to want to connect on or offer advice on or to act on.

Sarah Stillman: That's all incredibly helpful, and I'm really grateful. I'm wondering if there's anything else you want to share, anything I haven't touched upon.

Azmat Khan: I just think that maybe it is helpful to keep your own account of these sorts of things, to remind yourself, because it is easy to forget, and it's also easy to feel the psychological toll of thinking too much about them, or revisiting them can be not traumatic, but just depressing. It can make you feel really bad about your career, your sphere.

But I think what you guys are doing will be incredibly helpful to other people, to just have advice in one place, because that part of it is the fun part. That's the part that makes the rest of it not feel so enervating.

Sarah Stillman: What do you think is the value of talking about it? The video's actually called, Let's Talk.

Azmat Khan: It's just not feeling alone. There’s that moment when you and somebody else have experienced something that you think is maybe ... It's obviously not just happening to you, but it can feel that way, and then, you start to think about why me? Am I being too sensitive? Am I an easy target? Is there something about me that invites this? These are the thoughts that can go through your mind, and they're all ridiculous. Those thoughts are completely understandable, but they're dangerous, so talking to other people, knowing that they have it brings that aha moment, okay, I'm not crazy.

This is unacceptable. Knowing that you also feel this way, and you also feel this way, and you also feel this way changes that public dynamic. What I was talking about earlier that cultural change comes when those in the wrong realize they're in the minority, so to be able to know that you're not alone makes you more vocal about it. I think it makes others hear it more often, especially when you collectively talk about these issues as a problem. I do think that for the reasons I was telling you earlier that because my coping strategies are ones I'm not necessarily proud of.

Your view or your voice should be good enough in these circumstances. So, having that collective group, and starting to realize that you're not the only one doing this, so there's a structural change that's needed, or there's a managerial mindset that needs to change, or that there is a collective action that you guys can do together that could help result in that cultural shift is so empowering and it makes it all worth it. I'm really glad you asked me about these things. I'm dying to hear what everyone else said, because I feel like that's the part that would really help me, and help any other people who are dealing with these things.

I don't know that my approaches are for everyone, or that we're all going to be doing the same things, necessarily, or have the same reactions, but being able to see ways other people deal with it, and I feel like I'm constantly changing in the ways that I deal with these sorts of things, so I'm always looking for ways to get better at this kind of thing, and my response to them, and anything else anybody has, I would benefit from immensely, even now.

Sarah Stillman: I'm so grateful. You've shared so many really helpful, tactical things, but also, things that I really do so much when it comes to all the various range of boundary cross and happens. I appreciate the physical experiences you've shared, but also, the ones that are ... In that realm, you called them more subtle and complex, so this was really, really great. Thank you. We'll definitely share.


Judith Matloff: Interview Transcript


Ann Cooper: I was looking up some articles you wrote about this for CJR years ago. This was pre-Lara Logan and pre-Lynsey Addario. I think one of the things that you said then or perhaps later was this is going to continue  to be under-reported until we remove the stigma. Do we still have a stigma?

Judith Matloff: We still have a stigma. I do safety training and about 75% of my trainees are women. When we get to the sexual assault prevention section I'm  always staggered by the number of women who have not reported to their employers. It’s really hard. Likewise, it's hard for men to report. In some ways it's harder for men, but obviously numerically there are  more women than men who experience harassment or assault.

Ann Cooper: When you’re doing a training session is that a safer space?

Judith Matloff: Yeah. When  I do training session it's definitely a safer space so that people will talk. The sexual assault segment comes at the end of a four day course, so there's been a lot of bonding and trust built up at that point. As a professor, I also get emails from people or phone calls from people in the field, former students, all the time about situations they are in and they ask for advice about how to navigate it. Anecdotally, I think it's happening quite a lot.

Ann Cooper: What are some of the stories that come up? Are there certain trends?

Judith Matloff: There are probably three trends. There is the typical story of working with a supervisor who’s harassing you. Things are more advanced here in America than in a lot of other countries due to reporting culture. Here there are Human Resources Departments. In many other countries in  the world that isn't there. here was one French woman working with in a major television station, and there was no reporting mechanism. Her boss was harassing her horrifically, but she just had to put up with it. That's one thing, harassment from a supervisor and I could give some specific anecdotes in a minute.

Then another thing is harassment from sources, or assault from sources, and that's in some ways a trickier one to maneuver because you can't report and  go to the Human Resources Department, or go to another supervisor.  Reporters have to invest trust in their sources, and if they  suddenly start putting pressure on you how do you navigate it?

A lot of what we do in the training is help people navigate the boundaries, and seeing the signs from the very beginning. This gets to the third pattern, which usually starts very subtly so you're not quite  sure where the guy is going with this, and you put up with it. Then it begins to escalate. Part of what we do in the training is to try and orient people to spot the signs at the beginning, and try to shut it down at that point, while maintaining the professional relationship, which is not always possible.

Ann Cooper: In terms of harassment by supervisors, I mean, when you start talking about this in a training session do you find that some women are like, "Oh, I didn't even realize?"

Judith Matloff: Yes. I can give an example from my own career. Now I'm an old hag and I don't get this stuff anymore, or I get it very very rarely, but when I was younger I was very vulnerable because I was was in my early 20s and I was junior. I also was less assertive than I am now. I'll give you an example.

I had a supervisor who would comment on what I was wearing and then suddenly the buttons seemed skewed to him and he would say, "Let me fix your dress in the back." Then the questions about my boyfriend started getting more and more personal, and then he would reveal things about himself. It seemed sort of innocuous, but it made me a little uncomfortable. I didn't like when he touched me, but he didn't touch me in any weird way, it was my hair, or again, the button, or a brush on the shoulder. It wasn't anything that I could say, "Oh, my God, this is harassment."

Then it  escalated, and the way it escalated got bad. This is another thing we talk about in training, that women have to try to avoid situations where they can't escape. I don't want people to get paranoid, but you have to think of any source or supervisor as a potential rapist.

What happened with this particular boss was we went on assignment together. I wasn't quite sure why I was there, because there really wasn't much to do, but whatever. The assignment ended and we had a long drive back to the city where our office was based, and he took a circuitous route. We stopped at an isolated, very beautiful, scenic hotel, and he said, "Let's have lunch." I said, "Okay." We had lunch and he kept encouraging me to drink, and again, I just didn't feel right about it so I said, "No. I don't want anything to drink." Then he asked me if I was tired and I said, "It was a long trip and I'm kind of eager to get back home." He said, "Well, we can just get a room and go upstairs." I said, "I really want to get back."

Meanwhile, I'm thinking “How do I handle this?” I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere at this hotel with my boss. I felt quite agitated so I went into the lady's room to try to think about what to do, and I heard footsteps. He followed me into the lady's room into the next stall and starts talking to me. I left the lady's room and I didn't know what to do. At that point I sat at the table and we didn't talk, and there's a limit to how long you can sit at a table not talking with your boss. He finally realized nothing was going to happen and we sat in the car, there was no conversation. After that he made my life miserable.

Ann Cooper: How?

Judith Matloff: Just nasty, everything I did was wrong. Fortunately we did have a reporting mechanism at the organization I worked for so as soon I got back on base I reported what had happened. Even though it was a foreign posting, home office had to know what had happened.

Ann Cooper: What did the home office do?

Judith Matloff: Nothing. This was in the '80s. Did they confront him? No, but they were well-aware of the fact that this was probably not going to be helping my evaluation and whatnot. Whatever he wrote they sort of dismissed and my work was taken on merit.

Would this happen today in America? I would hope not. I don't think so, but the situation that I got into often times happens to women pre-assault or pre major harassment, which is they are brought to an area where they are isolated with the person, and there  is no escape.

I hear this all the time. "I was in a car with the source and he was taking me to the site of a massacre," or, "He was going to take me to the factory to show me whatever," or, "We were going to look at the scene of hurricane," or whatever. They're alone with a source in a car going to a fairly isolated place. The only advice I can give to young women, or any women, is don't go alone. Bring a colleague, bring a photographer.

I'm not blaming the victim, but when I heard about the submarine I could only imagine what happened. You can't get off a submarine under the sea. Let that be a cautionary tale, don't go into submarines alone with men. Even if they are public figures who have taken journalists in the past.  As a safety mechanism women should try whenever possible to avoid going alone off site like that. When you're in an office you can just get out of an office. That's not where most of the assaults and the really severe harassment take place, it happens when they're isolated.

Ann Cooper: Well, I'm sure this is part of the training that you do, but you published a list of tips, and one of them is about, "Always stay on the edge of crowds. Deploy an idling car nearby for a quick getaway. Always plot an escape route." That's just what you've been talking about.

Judith Matloff: I didn't have an escape route when I went on assignment with my boss. I suppose I could have gone to the desk of the hotel and said, "Call me a taxi," but we were five hours away from where we were supposed to be. What was going through my mind, this is something I hear from women all the time,  was “What are the repercussions going to be?” I have to somehow stay neutral without pissing him off too much, without him feeling rebuffed, but how can you help but rebuff the person if you don't want to go to the hotel room with them?

Ann Cooper: Right. When you're hearing these stories from students, or whoever, in the training classes are most of them about workplace harassment? Are most of them about being harassed by sources?

Judith Matloff: It's 50/50. The actual physical assaults will be by sources, or fixers, or translators. It's very unusual for an editor to rape a reporter, but the level of harassment and insinuation and pressure would obviously be fairly high.   In the field it's more a direct kind of thing.  For instance, very recently I got a really freaked out phone call from a former student who  was on assignment. She was a freelancer at that point,  and  she was assigned to go with a correspondent. He started coming on to her and telling her how beautiful she was and wanted to sleep with her, and blah, blah, blah, and they still had another month of reporting ahead of them. She said, "What do I do? What do I do?"

What we worked out together, and it eventually was successful, was she wrote him a  very neutral email, because emails can always be forwarded.  She wrote an email saying, "Dear, John, I really respect your work, and I really believe in this project we're working  on, but I felt very uncomfortable about what you said last night. I want this to be as productive a trip as possible. If we can just keep our future conversations purely professional so that I can do the best work possible. I just want to stress again, I really respect you." What's he going to do after that? He's going to persist? It's in writing, she can forward it, he knows she can forward it, and he backed off at that point.

Ann Cooper: Okay. An email can be a tool. There's an implicit, not technically a threat, but this could be seen by others.

Judith Matloff: Yeah, so yay, email. The other thing is to shut things down if you have that uh-oh feeling in your stomach that it doesn't feel right. I'll give an example. I don't really get harassment these days, but there was a source who was acting inappropriately and this is somebody I was negotiating a contract with so I  wanted his money for a project I was working on. He has the position of power, and these things are often times about power.

I flew to his town, we were going to talk about going to some negotiations and he kept saying we had to meet to talk about the agenda for the meeting the next day with the real funders, and he kept saying that he wanted to go out drinking with me. I didn't see the point of that, plus I go to bed at 9:00 at night. I didn't see why he kept insisting, I'm not going to name the drink because that would locate him geographically, but he kept on insisting on a certain drink.

Part of me is thinking, "Okay, maybe it's just hey, I want to show somebody around my town, and we all drink this," but it just didn't seem appropriate. What I did was I followed my advice to other people, which I don't always do, which is I gave him alternatives. I  said, "I'm really sorry, I can't go out tonight. I have a deadline I have to work on. However, we can meet at this time, this time, this time." It's a way to negotiate the situation. I don't feel comfortable with the terms you're setting, I am now setting terms.

In that message I also made clear that I would pay, because I also wanted to make clear that I had to be in a position of power. It worked, I didn't get the money for the contact, but it wasn't related to that, I don't think.  Was this  guy coming onto me? Probably not. He's young enough to be my kid, but I just didn't feel it was professional. That kind of thing can escalate, you go out for a drink with the guy, and then he gets the wrong idea, or everybody gets drunk, and your defenses are down. It's just better if you feel somebody isn’t being totally professional just stop it right there before it could escalate. That would be my advice to people, just make it really clear.

Ann Cooper: Okay. You were saying there's the supervisor problem, there's the source problem, likely the source of real violence or rape is with sources. Let's talk about that. Let's talk about some your own experiences, or some of the things you are hearing from the students you're training, or from former students.

Judith Matloff: Nearly all the rape cases I heard about, or assault, were with people they knew. It was a fixer, it was a source, it was a driver. It's virtually never random. One really vulnerable place is going down in a submarine, one vulnerable place is a car and somebody is driving you. You need to be really careful with taxi drivers, or a designated driver you've been hiring for a while.

One thing to always stress, again, if it's somebody you're hiring is that you're in control and you are paying them. Is it going to stop them from raping you? Maybe, maybe not, but always assert your authority, the little authority that you might have. If it's somebody whom you're hiring and they're coming on inappropriately, and if it's somebody you hire you can just say to them, "I don't really like the way you're talking to me, and I'm paying you so stop it." It's a little bit harder with a source because you want something from them.

I'll give you an example of something that happened to me. I'm in Burundi, and there's a curfew, and the military spokesmen, I don't remember his name, some colonel. He was  a sleazebag. He kept saying, "Oh, Judith, we must have dinner, we must have dinner," and I said, "Well, look, the hotel here has a really nice restaurant in the lobby," you know where there are one million people, "So let's have dinner here and I will treat you." He goes, "No, there's this amazing French restaurant. I want to take you there, because you're my favorite journalist," which I'm sure I wasn't. I said, "Wait a minute there's a curfew." "No problem. I'm in charge here because I'm the colonel. No problem, I can get us through the road blocks." I'm thinking road blocks? We're going to go through road blocks and have dinner? How is this French restaurant open?” I said, "How is this French restaurant open," "They're opening it just for us."

Obviously I don't feel really good about this. Again, there was this negotiation and I said, "Well, I have to be back at the hotel," we didn't have cell phones in those days so I was like, "In case my editor calls." He said, "No, no, I'll talk to your editor." That's a kind of an absurd case, but there was no way in hell I was going in that guy’s car for dinner after curfew. I burnt the source. He didn't want to talk to me the next day so I lost my source.

If If we had been where my office was based,  I would have gone to my boss and said, "Look, this guy is being a real pain in the neck. Put a guy on this story." But you know what it's like, you're a correspondent, you're out in the field, you're alone in a war-torn city, you can't call back to the head office and say, "Can you send somebody else out to Burundi?" That's a pretty typical-type situation.

Women have another problem, which is we're socially conditioned to please people. I think we sometimes don't work on our instincts. This doesn't really feel right, but I don't want to insult him because I don't want to be the ugly white women from America. There's a certain dynamic that can come into play there, and I think we just have to remind ourselves that we have a right to be really, really assertive.

Ann Cooper: Well, there's also that power thing that women correspondents have talked about. If I refuse to take an assignment then what are they going to think of me, and what's that going to do to my career?

Judith Matloff: I think that's one reason why people don't report rape. There was one woman I knew, a friend of mine, who went through incredible lengths not to tell her editors, but she had to get Antiretrovirals. She had to get that day after pill so she flew to another country, but she didn't tell her boss, and she flew back the same day. These contortions that she went through, but she just didn't want them to know.

Your relationship with your boss is not always intimate. Then if you tell people everybody in the newsroom is looking at you in that vulnerable way, and I would imagine it's very, very awkward. But I do encourage women to follow Lara Logan's example and come out. She came out and she said what had to be said, and she was able to get the help and the support that she needed.

Ann Cooper: We've had a few very high profile, Lara Logan, Lynsey Addario saying it was an attack. Women who have come out and said, "I'm going to talk about this publicly." In fact, Lynsey Addario said, "I wanted to talk about this because I wanted to shame the Libyan men who were groping me. I figured that many other men in that society would be deeply offended by it, and ashamed," and she said they were. She heard from fixers and translators and lots of other people, " That's not how we are. I am so sorry this happened to you," and that sort of thing. If you go back and you read about that you almost feel like, well, maybe that was a watershed. It doesn't sound like it was necessarily, I don't know.

Judith Matloff: I think it's better than it was when I wrote that article, which was what? 2007-2005. 

Ann Cooper: 2007.

Judith Matloff: Okay, so 10 years ago. I think it is better in some countries. After Lara Logan came forth there were four other female journalists who had experienced almost identical assaults, the same pattern of assault in Tahrir Square and they came out. I don't know if they would have if she hadn't come out first. I do think it's better. I also think newsrooms are more sensitive in the United States and Britain. I think people are talking about it a little bit more.

What worries me most are my former students who are freelancers. because they're out on their own in these places. It's so hard to get assignments and sell your stuff. They don't have the institutional support that could provide free counseling, or could provide the medication, or could even do a forensic investigation into what happened and try to get some justice. They don't have those resources and they're really vulnerable.

I can't stress enough, like that thing with my boss in 1984, which was a  long time ago, I would react to it very differently as a 60-year-old woman, because I'm coming from a different place mentally and socially and societally. When you're a young woman and you're in your early 20s and you're starting out in your career, you're unsure of yourself and you're vulnerable. You're also more likely to be targeted, just precisely for those reasons, because you are so vulnerable.

I do hope the discussion is being had in newsrooms with younger women. And this doesn't just happen abroad. It happens domestically. Somebody just approached me about doing training with investigative journalists, and apparently a lot of the women are facing problems getting into people's cars, being alone when they report. This is stuff in rural America, where they're getting harassed by sources.

Ann Cooper: When you're doing the training is this part of a larger security training?

Judith Matloff: Yeah. We have a women, who is a rape survivor, who takes people through very basic physical moves, to flick a hand away or stick your fingers in somebody else's eyes, but the most critical thing is the psychological, emotional, verbal negotiations at the beginning to set the boundaries.

I really do think it helps to set boundaries really early on: "I'm not going to drink those drinks with you, let's meet for breakfast in the hotel lobby." That type of thing is really critical.  Teach people that they can provide the harasser an alternative whenever possible. Like I don't like your terms, I'm going to set new terms. That's really critical, and that's more of a psychological leap than “I'm going to get you in the jugular.”

Ann Cooper:  What's the worst thing, or the worst question, or situation you have every been asked by a former student?

Judith Matloff: Related to sexual harassment?

Ann Cooper: Yeah.

Judith Matloff:  I'm trying to think of the worst. This one woman called me, she was in a remote area, really remote, rural area of the former Soviet Union. She was staying in somebody's house, and the house was in the middle of nowhere. She wakes up, she feels something in her face and it's a penis. It's the penis of the owner of the house so she screams and she runs out of the room, and then the wife says something to the effect of, "Well, you're just a slut and just give him what he wants." It was such a nightmare. You'd hope at least the wife would be on your side, but she was not very sympathetic, or maybe she blamed the young woman for what happened.

I can't imagine a worse situation. You're stuck in somebody's house, it's late at night, who are you going to call? They're outside cell range. That's pretty disgusting, that's awful. She stayed until daylight, and then she just decided she had to get out of there. That was the end of that. She didn't complete the project, and she was really freaked out afterward. She called me. She was so freaked out she wet herself right on the spot, which also hopefully made her seem more repulsive to this guy.

Then that was pretty bad. Then I heard of an incident where a woman went to a police station, she was investigating a crime. She should have had somebody with her, and she was gang raped by all the police in the station.

Ann Cooper:  Where was that?

Judith Matloff:  That was in Russia, Siberia. That was not a former student. That was a colleague. That was really grim. That's kind of like going down in the submarine. That's the sort of story that I'd advise that you have somebody, preferably male, with you, even if he's not doing anything, just holding a Polaroid camera. That was horrid. She was gang raped. I think those were the two worst cases.

Ann Cooper: These tips that were also published in CJR, I just want to ask you about a couple of them. I'm wondering, this is probably part of the training program, "Dress like a frump. Wear a thick belt, laced boots, loose pants, and a pullover shirt slows down attackers."

Judith Matloff: Yeah, that would be in a crowd. If you're in an office situation I don't think it’s going to help.

Ann Cooper: Do you get any pushback?

Judith Matloff: If you're in a crowd what do you care what you look like, right? If you're doing a crowd reporting thing you're probably wearing something against tear gas, that was more of the crowd attack Lara Logan type situation.

Ann Cooper: Okay. “If surrounded at close quarters fight with everything you've got.”

Judith Matloff: At that point, yeah. You shouldn't be in a situation where you're surrounded at all corners. You want to avoid getting into that situation at all.

Ann Cooper: Under harassment you say make clear that you will not tolerate inappropriate touching, or comments from support staff sources, or colleagues. You've talked a lot about that kind of negotiating. Like steer away from this situation that they want to get in, but this is more direct.

Judith Matloff: When we do the training, this is where the woman trainer comes in. She has these two sleazy co-trainers. They're actors,  they play  creepy, sleazy men. They're actually lovely, delightful men. They're like, "Hey, hey." (Matloff gestures pawing). She'll put the women through the exercise of taking the hand and putting it away. Now that seems so unnatural, but simply by virtue of being unnatural the guy is like, "Wait a minute, she took my hand off her breast." Do that. Step back, say to the person, "I don't feel comfortable," just say it neutrally, politely, "I don't feel comfortable about you putting your hand there, please take your hand away."

Ann Cooper: That sort of standing up to this power thing.

Judith Matloff: Yeah. It's like get your hand off. Ick.

Ann Cooper: It surprises them and maybe even humiliates them to have their hand there.

Judith Matloff: Yeah. It's a very unnatural gesture. Somebody puts his hand on your shoulder and you take the hand off. It's not  normal, people don't do that, and it breaks the momentum. You want to break the momentum so that they're startled. It's like what they teach you in counter surveillance, when you're being followed a very effective technique often times is you look the person in the eye and you say, "Can I help you," because they don't expect you to react like that, or when you get a threat on the phone you actually engage them. They don't expect you to do that. It breaks the momentum, it throws them off guard. Same principle.

Ann Cooper: I wonder what Trump would have done if Hilary had done that in the debate. Anyway. Moving right along, yes, rape. "Soil yourself with vomit, feces, or urine."

Judith Matloff: Yeah, it's hard to defecate on command, but you might be scared enough, you're pretty repulsive when that happens, or start screaming like an idiot, or pretend you're having a convulsion. It may not work, but it might slow them down. Try it.

Ann Cooper: "Say you are HIV positive, menstruating, or pregnant."

Judith Matloff: That has worked in some cultures with some women I know. If he ends up saying , "I don't care," and pulls out a condom, but at least he's using a condom so you're not getting the HIV from him. Wedding ring.

Ann Cooper:  Wedding ring, yeah.

Judith Matloff: Does it stop anything? I don't know, but it's just like one more barrier. If I feel a source is getting a little bit too, yech, I spend a lot of time talking about my husband. I spend a lot of time talking about my kid. Does it stop them? I don't know, but subliminally it's sending a message. I don't think it's going to save you from rape, but I think it just adds another layer of respectability, or maybe unattainability.

Ann Cooper: What’s the deodorant spray trick?

Judith Matloff: It works temporarily like Mace, but it's legal.  Bear spray is very good, too. Keep it by the bed. A couple instances I heard in Iraq and Afghanistan women would wake up and there would be men on top of them in their hotel room. Well, if you could just reach over and get that bear spray, or that deodorant spray and spray it in their face you're going to blind them temporarily, and you can hopefully elbow your way out of the situation.

What I  recommend for anyone working in a dangerous place is  one of those door alarms. They emit the most God awful noise, nobody is going to want to put up with that just to rape you. They will run away. It will alert everybody in the hotel. You put it on your door knob so if somebody moves the door knob the alarm goes off, or you can put it at the doorjamb, under the door so if they try to force the door this crazy noise explodes. It's awful, but better be deafened than raped.

Ann Cooper: Okay.

Judith Matloff: I think one point I want to make is that, and I think this is a particularLy critical when you're dealing with sources, you don't really, really know who they are and it's hard to fully trust them. They may seem like decent people, but I think that phrase, "Every man is a potential rapist," it should be in rotation in your head. It's not that women are inviting these attacks. Look how common rape is in society anyway. Why would it be any different just because we're journalists? It's a societal problem that maybe it gets intensified due to the nature of our proximity with these strangers, or proximity with people that we work with. I think women have to be aware of the fact that we live in a world where women get raped, and we are often times in situations that make us particularly vulnerable to it.

Don't give them the benefit of the doubt. I think that's my lesson to women, if it's feeling somewhat uncomfortable, and you're not sure whether you're reading it wrong, just assume you're reading it right, and try to shut it down at that point. Don't give them the benefit of the doubt, because it could escalate.

Ann Cooper: How do you define sexual harassment?

Judith Matloff: I would define sexual harassment as any unwanted, unwelcomed, and unsolicited advance. That could be verbal, that could be physical, of a sexual nature. Even somebody commenting on your body and saying, "Wow, you look really fit," as a boss of mine used to. I felt that was harassment, because it wasn't his job to talk about my physique, or when he would ask me who I was sleeping with, like he would say, "What's the bed situation Matloff?"  That  was an unwanted question of a sexual nature, even if he himself was not coming onto me. We consider that harassment. Inappropriate touching is clearly, clearly.

I'll give you another one, which is kind of borderline. I was talking to a source and he kept putting his hand on my shoulder, so not anything intimate, and leaning in too close. Then I would back up, and sort of wiggle away from his hand. Then after about 15 minutes we did the whole interview of me walking backwards and we walked around the room. I would consider that sexual harassment. Maybe it was just physical harassment, but it felt sexual. He was just leaning in too close, and what right did he have to touch me? Even if it was just my shoulder.

Jina Moore: Interview Transcript


Sarah Stillman: What makes you feel most alive as a journalist? What is it that you really love about the profession? What draws you towards it?

Jina Moore: That's a very good question. People always say that, don't they? I feel like people say that when they're being asked a question that's actually somehow flattering themselves, but it does feel like a very good question. My favorite moment, it's like a whole other plane of physical, mental, spiritual existence, I feel like. Being on the back of a motorcycle on some dirt road in the middle of Rwanda, or Eastern Congo, in the middle of banana fields in particular. I love them. Ending up on somebody's farm, or pulling over on the side of the road to talk to somebody. Encountering people who didn't expect you, and you didn't expect them, but something about where they are, or who they are, or what's going on, is integral to whatever it is you're trying to understand, and then convey to other people.

Sometimes, that's a delight, and sometimes it's a moment of real tragedy. There's something really electric about those encounters, both from me, and I think based on the feedback that you're kind of into it when you're talking to people, for them as well, especially if they've just come from something that's monumental to them, good or bad, and here's a chance to communicate it to the outside world. I'm a conduit for the people I meet. Very clearly, who I am as a person, it's not relevant, generally, to the situation. It's more about what it might mean to be able to get someone to get this out there. That's a very special privileged space of human interaction.

Sarah Stillman:  Interesting, you mentioned being on a motorcycle and that joyful feeling, because actually, one of the stories I was thinking about sharing for this video involves having to make that choice of, "Do I get on the motorcycle? Do I not get on the motorcycle of this random male stranger who's promising me a story." They've got a motorcycle and he was really wonderful. Later, I found out this guy was subsequently convicted of sexually assaulting women. I wonder if you've had situations like that when you're like, "Do I, do I not get on the motorcycle?" How you thought about those moments when you're out in the field reporting, making choices. Are there are moments when your gender has informed the choice and could you tell us a little bit about it?

Jina Moore: I tend not to think gender-first, which maybe is a mistake. I don't know. It is, or it isn't, it's just how it works for me. I tend to have a gut feeling about something, and then the last 10 years of my life as a professional journalist has been learning to trust that feeling, and feeling very, very, very lucky when it maybe kicked in a little late. Or when I, early on, chose to ignore it, and then was lucky that nothing happened, but realized looking back, maybe that was a mistake. I think I had been a reporter, reporting as a foreign correspondent in Africa, for I don't know, two, three years, when I was doing a project in the Central African Republic. This was prior to the current violence — there's a whole other phase of war going on at that point. There were a lot of different rebel groups, and the main one that everybody thought, "If we can get them to the table and sign a peace deal, then we'll be able to move forward in a meaningful, sustainable fashion."

That particular rebel group had agreed, in principle, to all these proper instruments of peace, and the Western consultants and the diplomats and UN was there, and the I’s were dotted, and the T’s crossed. There was a group of rebels who was still in the bush, so to speak, and everyone thought, "They're the well-behaved ones, it's just a matter of time before we get them all to lay down their arms and go back to civilian life.”

I really wanted to test what I was hearing in the capital against what the rebel commander in the bush seemed to be thinking or feeling. We drove, me, my translator-fixer, and a driver that he knew and trusted. We drove about 14 hours from Bangui, which is the capital of the Central African Republic, to the last sort of outpost towards the border with Chad. That was a very unstable area — there were rebels, but also for reasons that had nothing to do with the conflict.

We got to the last outpost and we slept at a UN Base, it was run by a guy from Burundi and he was like, "Let's call the general and make sure he knows you're coming." He was like, "Give him a call. Here's his number." I didn't understand the phone number he'd given me. He was like, "You need to use your Sat-phone." I was like, "I don't have a Sat-phone. I'm a freelancer." He was like, "Okay, I guess we'll use mine because you're not getting on the road without calling the rebel commander."

He did that for me, and thought, "Okay, that's great." So off we drive. For whatever reason, we got detained at a checkpoint. This is kind of no-man's territory — calm, but the rebels were manning checkpoints and doing their "We're in charge" kind of thing. We ended up getting detained, and the guy who held us back from traveling said, "I don't know anything about you coming. Who are you?" I was a freelancer, so I didn't have a press card, I didn't have a Sat-phone, I didn't have a B-GAN, I didn't have any of the things that this guy was used to seeing as signs of “foreign press.” I had a letter of assignment that I had used to get permission across a Bangui border and that was it. I didn't even think to print out clippings and bring them with me. They were in English, but still, anything, you know? It was just me, and my word.

He was suspicious that I didn't have any of the tools he associated with the job, and we were in a beat-up truck they didn't recognize, not an NGO truck, and all these things that from his perspective, rightly, set off some alarm bells. He said, "Call the general." I said, "I can't." I had a little Nokia. There had been no reception for probably 600 kilometers or something. He said, "Use your Sat-phone." I said, "I don't have a Sat-phone." He was like, "Who the hell are you?" He problem-solved and said, "Okay, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to send one of my runners on a motorcycle up to fetch the general. If he's expecting you, he'll come down, and if he's not expecting you, we'll know you're not who you say you are." I wasn't somehow nervous at that point because I was like, "Of course he was expecting me, we called him yesterday." We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and I don't really know. I think it was four or five hours, it felt like forever.

Then it was very quiet. It's a part of the country that had been burnt to the ground by the government, and when the government troops had come through and burned everybody's homes, they had fled to the bush, so people had been living in the jungle for years at this point. There was no one around. It was a kind of silence I have never heard anywhere else. When this flock of motorcycles roars up, you really hear it. It was stunning and kind of terrifying. It must have been 20 guys, 20 soldiers, on motorcycles in a V-formation with the general in the middle. They were all wearing things that seemed to pass as a uniform, so they all kind of had fatigues, and some of them had nabbed them from the French peacekeepers, and some of them had nabbed them from the Chadians, and it was just whatever uniform they had gotten their hands on somewhere.

They were all wearing red berets and they all had some kind of a gold pin, except for two guys, one of whom just looked like he had no idea how he ended up there, the other of whom looked like a suburban history teacher. He was wearing mom-jeans and a t-shirt. The other guy, who was young, and just looked pissed off. I mean, he had rage in his eyes like I had never seen, so probably he was high as well. He was wearing what he thought made him look tough, which was a surgical mask, and the effect was pretty dramatic, I guess, because there was something uncomfortable about the mask.

Sarah Stillman: How did you navigate that situation? That's very intimidating to be by yourself in this very solo spot, then have these men roll up.

Jina Moore: They were all armed. They all had AKs. This kid didn't have an AK — maybe he did have an AK, I can't remember now. I remember them all being armed, and it was the guy in the surgical mask that drew my attention to how motley everyone else was, and the general was making pleasantries with my translator, which bought me some time to get my mind around the situation. I realized, "I am surrounded by 20 men with guns. I am the only civilian besides my translator for 600 kilometers. I'm the only woman I've seen since I left Bangui. I'm probably the only woman they've seen in a very long time." Then we sat down to do an interview, and it was a completely useless interview — in part because he was talking such talking points, and in part because I was frozen with fear. It was just in that moment that I had realized what I had gotten myself into. None of this had ever occurred to me.

We got through the interview, and then the general was like, "Ask my men questions." I tried, and they kept saying, "We agree with what the general said." I felt a little more comfortable at this point because this was a demonstration of power, and authority, and acquiescence that I understood from other places. I knew I was being respected enough to be given a show that was politically meaningful, so I knew at that point where I stood. I relaxed a little bit, but I think it was 45 minutes later. I don't really remember. I remember hearing nothing. I just have no memory of what anyone said. Then we packed up, and everyone relaxed after the whole thing was over, and gave a collective sigh of relief. Out of the blue, someone's cell phone rang. It was the most improbable thing. There hadn't been coverage for I don't know, but somehow, someone's cell phone rang, and it was the most unexpected sound at the end of one of the most tense moments in my life, and I leapt like 30 feet in the air. I jumped, and all these soldiers with their AKs just cracked up laughing. One of them said to me in French, "Madame, that is not what an AK sounds like." I was like, "Okay. All right, all right, now we're cool. I'm going to get in the car, I'm going to go. It was nice to meet you." My mother doesn't know this story, sorry Mom. It was a really profound demonstration to me of my complete inability to assess that kind of risk in advance, or let alone plan for it. Hopefully, in those situations, you're with people, fixers, or drivers, or whatever, that you trust, who can help you navigate this.

I didn't particularly trust my fixer-translator, which was also part of the problem, part of my nerves. It was something that I reflected on a lot because it helped me deepen my imaginative practice through which I prepare for these kinds of things. This sort of second, and third, and fourth, and fifth scenario playing, where you think: Okay, if this happens, what will I do? If that happens, what will I do? Where will I sit in a room? Where will I feel the most safe? If it's a room full of men, what can I do to bring a woman in there if I'm not feeling comfortable? If I can get her in the room by saying, "I want a cup of tea," for example. What can I do to keep her in there? Can I get her to escort me to the bathroom? Whatever it is. I can game that out, but it was not something I had ever thought about gaming out before that particular experience.

I like that story, because it has a funny ending, but it really was a very important learning experience for me, and it could have very easily gone very badly. It was just dumb luck that it worked out fine.

Sarah Stillman: This is super-interesting. You articulated you did an imaginative practice. I'm wondering if you could dig into that a little more? The idea that you actually, it sounds like, play this out in your mind prior to going on an interview now? Maybe you can tell us more about that, and what that would look like in the case of you setting off on a story today? I'll add what you would do differently in this scenario, if you were to go back today, is there anything that you would change about how you showed up in that space?

Jina Moore: For the Central African Republic story, if I were to do it today, the first question I would ask myself ... Or if I was talking to someone else who was telling me, " Hey I'm about to go do this," the first question I would ask is, "Do you need the interview?" It's one thing to try and keep yourself safe in a potentially dicey situation, but it's another one, entirely, to get yourself in a dicey situation that maybe you didn't need to be in the first place.

Assuming that I had had the mental wherewithal to know what the hell was on the tape, it was a radio interview I was doing, assuming that I had had the mental wherewithal to know what was still on the tape and figure out how to incorporate it into my reporting, what would have been the payoff? When I look back on it now, I think, "At the end of the day, it was a hunch." I was pushing on a couple of things. I thought, "If this, then that could be interesting, because it might tell me X, Y, and Z."

None of it was that important. If I knew that that was going to happen, and I had to game out how to handle the risk, I think my conclusion would have been, "The risk is not worth trying to get the interview" rather than, "How can I better handle the interview scenario?"

If I had showed up at the general's house, totally welcomed, everyone knew that I was on my way, there was a parade on the way there, "Welcome to the foreign journalist," I still would have been surrounded by 22 men with guns who didn't know who I was, hadn't seen a woman in a while, and I was on their turf in a part of the country that explicitly, the government doesn't control. That's why I was there. It, explicitly, is beyond the UN parameters, that's why I had stopped at the UN Base to refuel and to sleep, and continue the next morning.

I don't know how you mitigate the risk in that scenario. At that point, you're in. Short of traveling with your own armed guards, that's a whole other ball of journalistic wax, right?

The other failure there, it was inexperience and naïveté on my behalf, but also, I had stopped thinking operationally about what I was being told in Bangui. The biggest thing happening in the UN — my job was to report on UN activities in the CAR at this juncture of the conflict — and at this juncture, I was spending a lot of time with the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration people. The DDR people, so they're the guys you bring in when everybody's decided that we're going to sign a peace accord. We just have to figure out what the sequencing is, what day, and how much money will we give all the guys handing over their guns, and what will their reintegration kit be? You'll give me your AK, I'll give you a hoe and a rake, and some seeds, and off you go to be a farmer again, and we'll hope it works out.

That's an oversimplification, but that's the idea. Everyone in Bangui was focused on this. This was the rebel group that was going to agree to it, it was the biggest and most powerful rebel group in the country. It all stacked up to "This is the right way to do this." Everyone was talking about DDR as a foregone conclusion, because politically, it was a foregone conclusion. That was new, and that was exciting. And that meant that everybody talked about it as if it were a given, and one of the reasons I was interested in going way up to this border post and talking to these soldiers, was to find out whether they really felt it was a given. Whether they were really as on-board with this as it was made to sound in Bangui.

I just forgot that what that means is that they're the guys who still have the guns. It's not going to look like what everybody in Bangui is talking about things are going to look like, because the DDR thing everyone was excited about hadn’t actually happened yet.

It's not that anybody was trying to mislead me. They were doing their job, and we were all talking the same talk, and I just forgot to think through, "What is the state that we're in, and what does that mean about what I'm going to see when I get there?" This goes back to your original question about imaginative practice.  I have had to learn over time when I do risk-assessment to imagine occupying a physical space, almost like a camera. What's in your line of sight, what's in your wide-angle, what can't you see behind you unless you turn around?

That kind of thinking is also what I use that to help people tell me stories about what happened to them, or what they've been through. I try to imagine the experience in a sequential way and have them walk me through that sequence, and I try to think about their sequential experienced in a 360-visual way, and have them tell me what they saw around them, heard behind them, smelled — all that narrative stuff.

I use the same set of question-orientations to help myself figure out what risks I might encounter. It's something I do now. It's not something that I did then. So, I try to walk myself through that process about what I myself might encounter in a dodgy scenario. It's the same skill-set, it's just twisted a little bit inside-out, so that I can use it to help figure out what I need to be aware of.

Sarah Stillman: Interesting. Can you give us a really rapid-fire example of that? If you were to line up that practice?

Jina Moore: In Eastleigh, if I'm going to work in Eastleigh in Nairobi, which is a huge community, largely of Somalis, the Kenyan government thinks that there is a lot of al-Shabab sympathizers there. It's seen as not particularly safe. If you're going to go to Eastleigh, you have to know how you're going to get in, and how you're going to get out. You have to know when you get in, how quickly can you get out. What that means is you have to think about the time of day that you're going. You have to think about the street that the restaurant is going to be on. You have to think about being in public places. You have to think about what you're wearing when you're sitting in a public place in Eastleigh, which is a Muslim community, which is different than sitting in the Westgate Mall in ex-pat Nairobi. That's the easiest example.

For me, the operational difference there is, I won't go to Eastleigh without Bernard, who's my amazing driver in Nairobi. Knows everything backwards and forwards, that can tell me, “At this time of day, your in is here, your out is here. If there's a problem with that out, there's an out here, but at 4:00 PM, that road disappears because it's full of people with market wagons going back home." Or whatever it is. I can talk through that with him, and make sure that we have a plan that is executable come disaster, which has never come, but I want to be ready. I think more about that now.

Sarah Stillman:  I'll ask you a few really quick, simple questions. The first of which, is how do you define sexual harassment?

Jina Moore: How do you define sexual harassment? It's such a hard question because there's the theoretical answer, then there's the in-your-life answer. I covered global women's rights for three and a half years for BuzzFeed. Lots of my conversations are with women who are being harassed in any manner of ways, and any manner of places, online, offline, in their homes, in refugee camps, at the airport, whatever it is. I understand all of that, I feel like, pretty quickly. Recognizing it while it's happening to me takes a lot longer. Sometimes, it's hard to know what side of the line you're on if someone is just trying to see how far they can push you and how you'll react.

Is someone trying to push your buttons as a journalist? Or is someone trying to harass you as a woman? Those are not necessarily the same thing. One can achieve another objective, obviously. They can sort of interact, but they're not always the same experience. Then there are really big differences in culture. This is difficult to talk about and articulate in a way that's clear, because it's very complex. The boundaries that American women draw around how they believe they should be allowed to hold public space, or around acceptable rhetoric or forms of interaction, or things you can say — they're different in Kenya, for example. I worked, at one point, on a piece about sexism in Kenyan media. The kind of things that women who work in the media have to put up with, and the kinds of things that are just on the front page, or said about female politicians, or that get said on talk radio programs.

It's very, very different than what many people would consider acceptable, or tolerable, in the United States. Understanding when you're just in a different space, culturally, and when someone's intentionally, explicitly, harassing you can be a little tricky. That's important, because I don't think that my job is to stand there and re-educate sexist, patriarchal people about how they should talk to women. My job is to get my job done, and to do it as safely as possible, and that means understanding the line between an intentional form of harassment that's meant as an expression of power, and the use of power, to a particular end, which is at the minimum, to marginalize me, and at the maximum, to harm me, for whatever reason.

That's different than, "I'm operating in a place I would consider sexist. How do I deal with that as I try to do my job?"

Sarah Stillman:  Part of me wonders, to an extent, if someone's making me feel uncomfortable intentionality, how much it matters. One of the things we talk about is how a lot of people are perpetrators of either sexual harassment, or other forms of boundary-crossing are not even cognizant, if that's what they're doing. It's like how do you wrestle with that, when someone might knock themselves, either be conscious of that, or culturally, maybe reading it differently, experiencing it as negative. I'm also wondering if any of it was to do with your work?

Jina Moore: I don't have the answer to that. Obviously, it's not a question that has a clear answer, but when I'm thinking about doing the work, doing the work responsibly and doing the work safely, both for me and the people I'm talking to, all the theory kind of disappears on these sort of questions. It's more a matter of, "Is it getting in my way?" and "Does it feel risky?" Sometimes, I'm really slow to see risk, like the Central African Republic story is the best example of that, but are there other small ones? I'm not so worried about things that maybe could be categorized as harassment that don't really feel like they're in my way. Mid-level government officials in a lot of the different places that I've worked especially love to see if they can get away with touching my legs. It's like, "All right, if you feel like you won something because you're going to tell me about whatever the President's secretly doing behind the Vice-President's back about whatever the hell it is I'm interested in at the time, because your hand is on my thigh, fine. I don't give a shit."

That's probably not the thing that you want everybody to be doing, right? We shouldn't all be going, "Well, I guess." But it's not the battle I'm going to fight. Butif every time you tell me something, your hand moves up my thigh, then we're going to have a problem, and that's something that has to be dealt with. It's less, for me, about where is my boundary, because some boundary-crossings are very clear, right? You don't get to grab my breasts, okay, done. Other boundary-crossings are about people seeing what they can get away with. I only care about people seeing what they can get away with when it gets in the way of the work, or when it becomes an imminent danger. That can happen very quickly or very slowly.

It might be that you're at an interview at a bar with a drunk government official whose hand is running up your thigh, and you take care of that really quickly. You get out of there, whatever it is you do, but it might be that you've been talking to a source for four months, and suddenly the interactions are starting to change, or he'll only talk to you at night after he's been home to see his wife, and he'll only talk to you if you also have a beer, you know? Trusting myself about what I feel like in that moment is going on, and whether it's okay, is something that now I just accept. I don't argue with myself, I don't try to justify it. If I don't feel like it's right, I get out, or I write "You can't talk to me like that” on the text message, whatever it is. I reassert a very clear, very firm, boundary. You might say you build a wall.

Sarah Stillman: That's good. I actually would love to return to that when we talk more about some of the best practices stuff, because I think those are really good examples and intuitions. I'm wondering if you could give some examples, or any example about a crossing of this road that you're describing to the extent that you'd feel comfortable. Is there anything you've experienced in that realm? How you navigated it, or how you would navigate it if you faced it now, especially with the source.

Jina Moore: The ones I can think of are not things I want on the Internet. This is not going to answer your question, but just to expand the idea, I feel like it's not easy. I feel like the conversation about safety quite often goes to source-relationships. What's worth the risk? How do you know if you should follow the guy into the forest? How do you know if you should get on the back of a motorcycle? Should you ever do any of those things if you're solo and not with someone else? That's a question I ask myself a lot. It's one thing to trust a guy enough to get on the back of a motorcycle, but it's another thing to agree to do that completely alone. It took me a long time to figure out that those are not always the same thing, at least in the context in which I work.

It doesn't mean it's the wrong thing to do, but to think it through at that level. In any event, what are we willing to do to get the story, and what are the risks to get the story from the source, is where I feel like a lot of conversation happens.

There's also conversation to be had about fixers, especially if you're working in traditionally patriarchal societies. Megan Stack wrote a book called Every Man in this Village is a Liar. It's a sort of part-memoir, part-war reportage of her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two places I've never reported, but I recall very clearly, a story about a source who made a pass at her in Afghanistan. She was like, "Are you kidding me? We've been talking for years and now this is going to happen? Do you realize what a cliché you are, sir?"

But also having problems with fixers. That's a hard one. I've never had a fixer who I've had an overt problem with, but especially if you're a print reporter, you don't need a camera guy, you don't need an audio guy — so you’re alone with your fixer. It’s just you and him —  in the places I work, the fixers are often men. Obviously, I'm a woman. I'm working in overtly patriarchal societies where there's a lot of different assumptions about how relationships works, how sex works, who American women are. A number of times I hear, when people finally decide they're going to approach me as one of the guys, not a woman, they're going to try to get in bed, how easy they heard it was to get American women into bed, and why am I so different? All these things that suddenly come out, and you realize you're occupying this whole other space that maybe you're not aware of, because you don't think of yourself that way when you go through the world, or when you go through their world.

With fixers, you're putting a lot in someone's hands. You're in the middle of a village, and they're the only other person with you. I think that's also a risky space, and then, how you handle that when this is someone you have to be in the middle of nowhere with for the next 10 days, and he's the one who has the phone number for the driver, or he's the one who speaks the driver's local language. You can speak to him in French, but he's the one that speaks Sango, which is my case in the Central African Republic. That's a whole other tricky dynamic. It's sometimes easier not to deal with it head-on when someone makes a pass at you at the hotel that you share, or whatever it is. It's all some variation on survival instinct in the moment.

Sarah Stillman: What would you advise a young woman in this scenario as you just described? You've talked a little bit about intuition being incredibly important and how you cultivate it over time.

Jina Moore: I think every brilliant woman, and every brilliant female reporter I know, has spent too much of their lives second-guessing their first feeling about whether this is a big deal or not. As soon as the question enters your head, it's a big deal. It doesn't matter. The time you spend litigating it is time you were distracted from figuring out how to deal with what your system, whether your brain has caught up or not, has identified as a risk. If there were one thing that we could all just flip a switch about, that would make all of us a lot safer, I think that's a strong contender. Just listening to intuition, and following it, and not worrying about what it means for the story, or whatever.

My editor when I was at BuzzFeed is a woman — Miriam Elder — and we were talking through a risk scenario around a different kind of risk — overt physical safety risks from conflict zones kind of thing — for a story I was doing in Somalia. She was like, "Look. At the end of the day, the best thing I can say, and I really mean it, is no story is worth a life, worth your life."

This is always true. If you leave and you didn't get the interview, you leave and you didn't get the interview. If you beat yourself up for months because maybe everything would have been fine, maybe you do beat yourself up for months. You'll figure out how to deal with that, but you can figure out how to deal with that because you're alive, and everything has gone back to normal. I think that's really important. I think talking about these things is really important. Not only with other female correspondents to build support and camaraderie, but also in general. To be a person who's willing to talk about that in your newsroom or to your editor, especially if your newsroom is predominantly male, or your editor is a man, to be the person who's willing to raise the question, because maybe somebody else can't or wouldn't, or whatever it is, just to keep it on the radar.

I also think, equally important, is being sensitive to how, in a moment that you identify as potentially risky, even if all the alarm bells aren't totally going off, thinking about how not to antagonize the dude. I have found, I don't know if this is right or wrong, but I have found that my instinct is just to try and keep everyone thinking everything is just what they thought it was before I realized that something is happening, or maybe happening, or this guy wants something to happen. Just be as calm and normal, and as friendly as I was before, but as distant as I can be without putting alarm bells in their head. A physical encounter is a whole different thing. Then all bets are off, but if what you're dealing with is an escalating, verbal situation, or some kind of atmospheric thing is changing, even if you can't quite put your finger on it, you can't say, "Well, he said that and that's what made me feel this." A way someone is looking at you, trust it. The way they're looking at you is the way you feel like they're looking at you.

Just to pretend you didn't see it, pretend it doesn't mean anything, and remove yourself from the space as quickly as you can. That might mean cutting an interview early, or it might mean pretending you have a headache, and going to bed early while your fixer stays up and drinks with whoever they're drinking with, whatever it is. Places of prolonged exposure, to use public health metaphors, to try and keep that up. The worst thing you can have in a situation like the kind I've just described, is a man who feels rejected. I think a lot about how to make sure that the men I work with in the places that I work, if an issue like this comes up, do not feel emasculated because then, the power dynamic shifts. That's, for me, a danger-zone. I don't want anyone to feel rejected, if it's a sexual advance or whatever, I try to dodge the advance. Humor helps a lot, I have found.

There's a thing that I do sometimes, that works with people that makes me seem like a really superficial, flighty, crazy, American girl. Playing up the feminine in their head can play up the masculine, and then you preserve this dynamic that seems important. I don't have any data that says that's helpful, or true, or whatever. Just so far seems to work for me.

Sarah Stillman: Does it ever feel frustrating? Do you ever feel like you're having difficulty with some gender binary that's inherently irritating? Do you just get that that's the operating procedure?

Jina Moore: It makes me feel smarter than everybody else, to be perfectly honest. That's also not necessarily helpful, or real, but I feel like I've got somebody's number in that situation, and they think they're in charge, and I know I'm in charge because I'm playing them while they think they're trying to push me. I feel like I won, and that makes me feel good. It's annoying as hell, yeah, because you have to spend time and energy, and whatever, but I'm not going to spend more time and energy being mad that there's patriarchy that I have to deal with. It's there, okay. The point is, can you beat it? I like to win in the patriarchy game.

Sarah Stillman: You mentioned earlier online harassment. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about that? Whether that's something that you've faced in the pieces that you write, or that you've seen colleagues having to navigate, what that looks like and how you respond?

Jina Moore: I haven't really experienced very much online harassment at all, which I always found fairly shocking as the Global Women's Rights reporter for BuzzFeed. Almost none. The one time, I was harassed, and it was nasty and ugly and scary and whatever, had nothing to do with gender. Absolutely nothing. By which, I mean the piece that I wrote had nothing to do with gender. Whether they felt comfortable speaking to me the way they spoke to me because I was a woman, I can't say. They seemed happy to accuse a lot of men of similar awfulness, and this is a bunch of really racist stuff that was coming my way. I don't have personal experience with dealing with that. I've been given advice by colleagues who do.

Just today, I was talking to someone at work who was like, "I block people. It's really effective, because obviously, they can't harass you directly, but it also means that they can't pull your Tweets into their universe of crazy. They're people. They're like-minded people who will then spew all the crazy back at you." It doesn't eliminate it obviously, but it can at times whittle it down. I think there's a lot of, this is well-documented now, there's a lot of lack of protection. The few times that I've reported accounts on social media, nothing is more maddening than the Facebook message that says, "We've received your complaint about the following account, and we agree that there's some questionable material here, and we can understand why you'd be upset, but we don't think it violates our community values." What did you just say? That's maddening, but I am lucky that I've never felt like my personal safety or reputation was on the other end of that.

Sarah Stillman: Do you have any thoughts on what journalists, or the profession could do to discourage unwanted behavior and predation? What do you wish you knew as a younger journalist? What advice would you have for younger women journalists and advocating some of these things, boundaries, particularly when it comes to certain values? Several points of boundary-crossing.

Jina Moore: I'm repeating myself, but just trust yourself. When you feel like it's happened, it has happened. There is no one else who will tell you it has happened. The man who has done this to you is not going to say, "Did you see that? Did you see that boundary-crossing I just did there?" It's you, and that's horrible, and that's the double-standard of patriarchy. You have to know that it's real, and it also doesn't matter if anybody agrees with you. You're the arbiter of whether that was true. That may not be true in a courtroom, it may not even be true if a journalist was trying to interview you about it. There are all kinds of other forms of delegitimizing the truth, but in the moment you're dealing with, if you think it's true, it's true. You need to respond accordingly, whatever that means for you. You have to trust that it's going on when you think that it's happening, but you also have to trust whatever your instinct is about responding.

I really think things are so contextual. They're about culture, they're about personalities, they're about whatever mood you woke up in that morning, and whatever mood the guy who's doing the boundary-crossing woke up in. In my experience, it's men. Whatever mood he woke up in. It's just all these things.

There's no one set of rules you can follow that's going to guarantee a better outcome than another set of rules. There is also no one set of rules that will have saved you if something does go wrong. You say, "God, what could I have done differently?" There's a good way to learn from that, but it's not your fault when this stuff happens. It's not like if you just A, or B, or C, well, you jumped straight to rule four, and skipped rule three — that's not how this works. Any one of us who gets out of a situation that felt a little bit sketchy without harm, is just lucky. Good for us for following our instincts and getting out when we can and doing the best that we can for ourselves. But when something does happen, it's not because we screwed up somehow. I think that's really important.

Sarah Stillman:  So, so glad you hit upon that. That was going to be my last question about how we can hold people who are the responsible parties accountable, and I think that really, just the last point, knowing that the blame does not reside in the person who has been targeted. I'm just wondering if there's anything that I haven't asked you that you really want to put out there?

Jina Moore: I don't know if this is helpful, and I may say this in a way that I might take back later, but there's a way in which it's been really helpful to me to be a woman in the places I report. Most of the time, these are very patriarchal societies. In the Middle East, in parts of Africa, hell, in the United States, there are places where you can't get access if you're not a woman. There are issues you understand differently if you are thinking about them from the perspective of a woman. There are stories no one will tell you if you don't share their gender.

There are stores no one will tell you, even if they're not women. I remember sitting with someone who was a refugee and had been targeted by the government from the country that he had fled and told this really difficult story. Every refugee has a really difficult story, but he hadn't told it very often. The only strangers he told them to had been legal officials. At one point, he just started bawling, and then he apologized and said, "I'm really sorry." I said, "I've interviewed a lot of people from your country. I understand the context that you're describing based on the other stories I've heard, you're not alone in your experience. You don't need to apologize for what you've been through and how it's made you feel." I gave him a tissue and he got himself together. Then he said, "So it's not the first time you've seen a grown man cry like a baby?" I smiled and said, "No, it's not." I don't think that encounter would have happened with a man. Maybe it would have, I don't know.

There are advantages to the gender, as well. Some of them are the same things that make the situation so annoying, or difficult, or sometimes dangerous to navigate. It's a double-sided coin. It's very important not to get confused about those —  to be clear-headed that how easy it is to flirt your way into access to the court files doesn't also mean that you have to say "yes" to a drink with the court clerk at 11:00 PM. Not to fool yourself into thinking you're cleverer than you are.

Sarah Stillman:  No, it's good. It's easy to be just totally doom-and-gloom about it, and I think it's nice to remember that there are ways to reach it at certain moments. It's advantageous. For him, this was great and I think we have a lot of wisdom. I think the point about intuition was just tremendously valuable. So thank you so, so much.

Jina Moore: The more years I do this, the more I realize that when you look up and say, "I don't have that problem, you actually do. You just don't see it yet." Then it's important to examine the blind spots and go, "Right, maybe this wasn't the best scenario, or maybe I need to be more aware of that." It also changes depending who you're writing for, what kind of equipment you're carrying. It's not just about who you think you are in the world. What you're wearing, all that stuff.

Sarah Stillman: As a freelancer, you need some other defenses navigating about all the conventional apparatus behind you.

Jina Moore: It's a tricky space, but is it a useful reflection for me to be like, "Right." I don't have that problem, but do I have that problem? I might have that problem. If I'm right that I don't have that problem now, it doesn't mean that I won't have that problem tomorrow. How do you be ready for it? 

Alexis Okeowo: Interview Transcript


Alexis Okeowo: My name is Alexis Okeowo and I'm a staff writer at the New Yorker and I'm also the author of a recent book, A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa.

Kerry Donahue: How do you define sexual harassment?

Alexis Okeowo: I define sexual harassment as unwanted, inappropriate behavior or communication from someone who's a colleague or a friend or a stranger. Any kind of behavior or communication that is inappropriate or unwanted.

Kerry Donahue: And do you have a slightly different definition in the workplace when you're doing your work as opposed to being a woman in the world?

Alexis Okeowo: I think I have the same definition of sexual harassment whether it's in the workplace or outside. It’s feeling uncomfortable because another person, whether it's a man or a woman, is making comments or exhibiting behavior that are sexual in nature and unwanted or inappropriate. I have the same definition whether I'm at work or not at work.

Kerry Donahue: I don't know where you’d like to start, maybe it could be the first time you remember talking specifically as a journalist when a source got weird on you? Or if there's something else that jumps to mind. You're welcome to start the story wherever you feel most comfortable.

Alexis Okeowo: One incident that I've been thinking about lot lately was a couple of years ago. I was reporting in central Nigeria and I was working with a fixer there. We were reporting on the Boko Haram crisis, and we wanted to interview the military. So we went to the military headquarters and one thing that I really wanted was to go on a ride-along with some soldiers because they were offering access to some of the remote villages where I could see what Boko Haram was doing in that area.

And so we ended up making contact with this one officer in the Nigerian army and he ended up talking to us and offering a chance to ride along with him and spend time with him in the field. And, when I was leaving or maybe it was at some point during the meeting, he wanted to know where I was staying in town. And I kind of hesitated but I told him, "I'm staying at a certain hotel." I think even my fixer offered it up. And then we exchanged numbers, which I didn't think anything of because that was just something you do with sources.

And then I got back to my hotel later that night, and he called me. And it had nothing to do with work. He just wanted to know how I was doing and what I was up to, and so I hurriedly got him off the phone. And then he called again and he wanted to know what room I was in and I didn't want to tell him, but I was worried because he's a military officer. He could easily find out from the hotel. And he kept getting in touch and I started getting worried and I told my fixer. I called him and I said, ‘I'm actually kind of freaked out about this guy, he knows where I'm staying, he can easily find out the room I'm in…’ And my fixer kind of brushed it off and said, "Oh, he's a member of the Army, it'll be fine, he's not going to do anything." And I just stayed in my room, nervous.

So that was one incident when I felt like I was being harassed and I didn't know what to do about it.

Kerry Donahue: Did you have to see that man again? Did you have to engage with him again professionally?

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah

Kerry Donahue: And how was it when you had to go back to talk to him again?

Alexis Okeowo: Well my fixer and I met up with him, I think it was a day or two later, to do the ride-along. Luckily when I met him again he wasn't as aggressive in person, maybe because I was with my fixer. I was uneasy around him but I still had to talk to him, still had to interview him. Luckily I was leaving town not long after, but it definitely rattled me.

He was someone I was relying on for access and for information and who I still had to interview. So I couldn't just tell him off or tell him to get lost. I kind of had to negotiate this relationship even though he was going over the line.

Kerry Donahue: Yeah. That happens a lot. Do you have any early memories when you were more in the baby journalist kind of way, as people say? How or when did those lines get crossed?

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah, I'm thinking about when I first graduated college, I interned at a newspaper in Uganda, and in many ways it was a great experience. I was a junior reporter, I interned with great senior reporters. A lot of them were men, and being in that newsroom was like a constant negotiation of the relationships with these older men who at times would try to mentor me and try to show me the ropes, but then at the same time would ask me out to dinner and to drinks for meetings that were more than just professional.

And so, these are my superiors, these are my colleagues who I'm trying to learn from and a lot of times I would just laugh it off and say, "Oh you know I can't do that" or make up a boyfriend or anything I could think of to get them to stop asking me to do these things, while also maintaining a good relationship. I realize I suppressed a lot of that because it was something I normalized -- that despite this being professional, they're asking me out to dinner even though they're twice my age and have families.

It was a constant negotiation during those ten months that I was in that newsroom. And after a while most of them got the hint, but it was something new to me. I was just coming out of college, I hadn't had that experience, dealing with inappropriate professors or anything like that.

Kerry Donahue: Did you end up talking to other women in the newsroom? Like if once they stopped asking you out maybe there was a new person in the newsroom. I think it’s sometimes that culture. And how to sort of alert each other -"Be careful of that person." Any of that going on in that newsroom at that time?

Alexis Okeowo: Well, actually, I had women telling me to be careful, women who had been there before. The Ugandan women I was working with said, "Be careful of that guy" or I remember there was another young woman who worked in the newsroom and talking with her about some of these guys and her just saying, "Yeah, this is what I have to put up with, but here are the people who are safer to deal with and who aren't." She was a valuable resource during that time ... it was a situation that was very toxic gender-wise. There was no kind of recourse to deal with it, to reform it.

Kerry Donahue: Are there any other incidents that you think about when you think about this? Because I want to ask you a question -- what you think that is damaging about those- the way that steeling yourself against those kind of imbalances you're saying, but, but I don't want to rush to it if there's any other story that you want to share.

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah, I remember very early on, maybe this was my second year working as a journalist - I was a stringer for a French news agency and it was around the time of the Kenyan election in 2007, erupted into chaos, and I was called to work in the newsroom in Nairobi. It was a very exciting time for me to be in the headquarters there and I got to do a lot of interesting stories. And towards the end of my time there, before I was going back to Uganda, I heard from a colleague in the newsroom that this other reporter I worked with had told everyone that the reason I was getting these assignments was because I was sleeping with my boss. And I was just shocked. But I realize I was angry and upset because all of this great work that I thought I was doing, that my boss said I was doing, was now tainted in some of my colleagues’ eyes because they thought I was sleeping my way ahead. A man I worked with was spreading rumors that were damaging and that, in a way, were harassing because they affected how I thought about myself and about my work in that context.

Kerry Donahue: Yeah, and also in the sense that the only way you as a young woman could be succeeding was if you were being given favorable treatment somehow, based on your gender and your sexuality.

Alexis Okeowo: Exactly.

Kerry Donahue: Right, which leads into that question, what's the challenge for women reporters in those moments? What’s at stake beyond our physical safety?

Alexis Okeowo: I think our self esteem, our confidence in our work. Our sense of self is damaged when we encounter sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the field with our sources, with people we work with. It's already tough enough being a woman, working abroad, working on your own, just because you're more vulnerable to violence, more vulnerable to harassment. And so to already have those risks and then for that to be compounded by harassment can be very damaging. I think it's a lot to place on a female journalist who's just trying to make her way.

Kerry Donahue: So it sounds like you've done most of your reporting abroad...

Alexis Okeowo: Mm-hmm

Kerry Donahue: Do you think the cultural differences are trickier? Different cultural norms that you're navigating as a woman, and then as a woman doing her work?

Alexis Okeowo: I think that there are certainly countries that are more deeply patriarchal, where harassment is more tolerated and more out in the open. But I found that, as a reporter, when dealing with sources, whether it's abroad or in the States, there isn't much difference in terms of dealing with gender dynamics.

Kerry Donahue: You gotta be on guard for it regardless of where you are. Even if the culture is presenting as more patriarchal, it comes out as more of an interpersonal thing.

Alexis Okeowo: Exactly.

Kerry Donahue: How do you keep yourself safe? What are your tactics or strategies for dealing with these situations? Maybe it's something that you don't even think about that you're consciously doing. What do you do to keep yourself safe?

Alexis Okeowo: Some of the ways that I keep myself safe are, when I'm picking a fixer or a translator that I'm working with, I try to go through recommendations from journalists that I trust, often female journalists. I love to work with women but it's not often possible when I'm working abroad, so I like to work with men who’ve worked with journalists I know and who've not been creepy or predatory. But even then, I've learned to keep a distance in my relationships with the people I work with.

Because sometimes when you're working with your subjects or with your fixers or interpreters, you do tend to get pretty close, especially if you're in volatile environments. But I've realized that there still needs to be some kind of distance and I don't usually like to become Facebook friends with them at first. I've had one of my translators comment inappropriately on some of my photos so I've learned from there not to become friends on social media, at least at first. Not to let them come up to my hotel rooms usually, and when I'm staying in hotels, making sure that I'm picking a room that is both accessible to the front desk but also sufficiently apart from it, a place where I feel like I have a good escape route or where I just feel like I'm safe. And also making sure my colleagues and friends know where I am and who I'm with.

Kim Wall was a friend of mine. We weren't close, but I admired her a lot. And, after she was killed, not in even the most dangerous place she's ever been to and killed by someone who was well known, who I assume she had the expectation that he would be decent to her, it made me rethink a lot about how I do my work, about where I'm willing to meet sources, about who I'm willing to trust because so much of what we do is placing trust - at least some amount of trust - in people we don't know, and trust enough that they won't hurt us.

And so now it's making me think about where I'm meeting sources, what kind of precautions I should be taking before going on interviews because I would have done the same thing Kim did. I would have gone in that submarine. And what kind of things as female journalists we are able to do to protect ourselves more. I don't know if there's much because I feel like Kim did as much as she could and still, this man killed her, so I don't know, but it is making me think a lot about precautions.

Kerry Donahue: Speaking of that, what would be some advice you would give to young journalists starting out, young female journalists?

Alexis Okeowo: I would tell young journalists that despite the fact that women are vulnerable in this world, that they shouldn't be afraid. They should still go out and write. That's still the best way, to go out in this world and find stories, and tell them. I do think there are a lot of ways now though to learn how to keep yourself safe, whether that's hostile environment training or First Aid courses.

Also, what has been a great support network for me is having female journalist friends who I can talk to and ask for advice, and we compare notes and look out for each other.

And so I think that young female journalists should still go out there and do what they want to do, but just try to look out for each other.

Kerry Donahue: What do you think our profession can do? And the question "we" may be defined differently to discourage sexual harassment and unwanted behaviors. This may have different answers for workplace and out in the world. But what do you think we could do to protect women journalists?

Alexis Okeowo: I think there are two things with regards to protecting women who suffer sexual harassment. I think if those women are in a workplace and it's coming from colleagues or superiors, workplaces can actually be proactive and punish men who are doing these things to their colleagues.

And I think that for women who are out on their own, whether it's freelancing or doing an assignment in the field, I think that editors can be aware this happens and be a receptive ear to it, being able to listen to the troubles a woman might be having in the field with her sources, with her fixer, and not use that as an excuse not to send a woman out into the field, but actually be a resource, be someone she can call or rely on if she's in a tricky situation.

Kerry Donahue: And if you had a broad ability to change the cultural differences, what would you want to see?

Alexis Okeowo: I think for women to do their jobs without any harassment, it requires such a fundamental cultural shift, which is for men to realize that women are not always available to them, for men to realize that women are just not there for them to use or to enjoy, that women are their equals and to treat them as such.

Kerry Donahue: I think a lot of people, this is my guess based on my own experience, I think a lot of people think, "Well, you're an attractive young woman, it's just going to happen, it's sort of human nature. It's the dynamics between the sexes." And I think back to imagining you going home from work at the end of a day where you've had to once again tell your much older, married boss like, "Buddy, no. I'm not going to dinner with you."

Alexis Okeowo: Right.

Kerry Donahue: I just think about what it feels like. You just talked about a network of women. It's always good if you can call someone. But I think there's a real toll there.

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah.

Kerry Donahue: For you as the individual.

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah.

Kerry Donahue: In that sense of both anger, frustration, and how you navigate that kind of feeling of injustice that you have in those moments. What's the toll? What does it cost women when that happens?

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah, I think there is a toll. I go home and I'm tired, not just from the day, but from dealing with someone who I respect, but who I realize doesn't respect me as much as I do him and feeling frustrated that this is still the dynamic of our relationship even though we've gotten to know each other.

I feel like he's gotten to see what I can do, and that I'm excited about my work, but at the end of the day it's still reduced to this dynamic of, "Come out with me and then let's see what happens." As opposed to, "Let me teach you more about our trade, the work we're doing. Let me show you something interesting about a story I'm working on." And realizing that I wouldn't be in this situation if I were a man, and feeling kind of bitter about that, too.

Kerry Donahue: Yeah, did it hasten your wanting to get out of that newsroom, too? Or is it just you want a natural trajectory out?

Alexis Okeowo: Well, after a while I just stopped dealing with them.  I asked to either do my own stories or work with some of the other women in the newsroom. Who knows, maybe I lost out from not being able to learn from ... For example, one colleague I knew who I was so impressed with, he had worked in war zones all over Africa and I was so impressed with him, but I just learned I couldn't deal with this guy. I had to forsake what could've been a learning experience and go somewhere else.

Kerry Donahue: Do you think men need to be part of this conversation?

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah, I do think that men need to be a part of this conversation because what we're asking for, what we need, is a fundamental shift in how men behave, and how men relate to women. Not just in journalism but in general. And I think that it's great that women are coming out and telling their stories of dealing with these experiences and we can all connect on that, but at the same time, we're not the ones who need to change. We keep learning ways to protect ourselves more, but how much self protection do we need to learn before we address what is causing us to feel afraid or feel nervous or feel like we're not safe.

I think that's the primary issue here. When I'm thinking back on my experiences, it's my source's fault. It's my colleague's fault for this behavior. I didn't encourage it at all so, how do we talk about that? And I think that's why including men and asking them why they're either exhibiting this behavior or they're watching it and not doing anything about it is necessary, because it's often one of the two.

Kerry Donahue: Some of these stories that have come out, like there are a couple in public radio, and others happening in Hollywood too, where women opt out. They basically go through something much more explicit, not violent necessarily but maybe, and they decide, "This isn't the profession for me."

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah.

Kerry Donahue: And I think that the women we lose from that, the talent that walks away because someone else defined that experience for them.

Alexis Okeowo: Exactly.

Kerry Donahue: There are probably mothers of young women who hear Kim Wall's story and think, "My daughter can't be a journalist."

Alexis Okeowo:  Exactly.

Kerry Donahue: "Nobody is safe, anywhere you know?"

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah.

Kerry Donahue: So, I don't know if you have any thoughts about that. Like for the women that have to leave because of this?

Alexis Okeowo: Yeah, I do, and I think about the stories and the work that we've lost because of some man who, through his behavior, pushed them out. And then I also think about how so much of the stories in our public culture have been shaped by men who we know to have been harassers or people who abuse women or bully them and how their stories take up so much space.

I think back to the time when I first started in journalism and women who I knew who were freelancing who, for various reasons, dropped out, and I think maybe some of those reasons relate to this.

Kerry Donahue: Are there specific things you do to protect yourself?

Alexis Okeowo: I don't meet people in my hotel room. I don't take sources to my hotel room or fixers to my hotel room anymore. I'll meet them in the restaurant or ask for a meeting room in the hotel. I often try to work with women, but that doesn't happen a lot.

But I'm also used to going to people's homes. Because I don't know where else we would go. I mean, if we are going to be talking about a sensitive issue, you can't say, "Oh, let's meet at a restaurant.”

Kerry Donahue: You mentioned bitterness of having to do all this extra work and it taking this toll. How do you manage that bitterness? And how do you put it towards something productive and not let it eat away at you?

Alexis Okeowo:  I think finding the joy in the work is what keeps a lot of us going. It's what keeps me going, because even when dealing with a creepy source, or someone who just makes me wonder why I'm doing this kind of work, it's the actual story I'm trying to tell that gets me through it. I think finding that joy, finding that richness in reporting is what keeps us going despite all this.