Attack A Reminder Of Risks To Female Journalists

CBS News reported that correspondent Lara Logan endured a terrifying attack while covering protestors in Cairo. NPR's Jamie Tarabay has reported extensively from the Middle East, and discusses the challenges for women reporting from the region.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Yesterday, CBS News reported that correspondent Lara Logan endured in a terrifying attack in Cairo. She became separated from her crew while covering protesters in Tahrir Square last Friday. And CBS says she was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob. Eventually, a group of women and Egyptian soldiers came in to help. Logan has since flown back to the U.S. She's expected to be released from the hospital today. This was one of many attacks on journalists in Egypt during the uprising. But the brutality focused attention on the particular challenges that female journalists face.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay has reported across the Middle East for years. If you have questions for her about what it's like for female journalists to work in that area, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Jamie Tarabay joins us here in Studio 3. Nice to have you back on the program today.

JAMIE TARABAY: It's always a pleasure.

CONAN: And were you surprised to hear of this attack on Lara Logan?

TARABAY: Unfortunately, I was not. I want to begin by adding my concern and my sympathy to Lara and her family, and my best wishes for her at this time. But I do want to say that when it comes to the Egyptian government and Egyptian demonstrations, this is not the first time this has happened. There's a long history of the national ruling party sending out security forces or plainclothes policemen, no matter how you want to describe them, and with specific instructions to actually target women. And there have been well-documented instances, you know, even from the last presidential election in 2005, when they have, you know, described men tearing off the shirts of women, sexually molesting them, humiliating them to kow(ph) protests. This is not something that is new, unfortunately, but it's also nothing that's restricted to Egyptian demonstrations.

CONAN: Where else have you encountered this?

TARABAY: Well, you know, this is something that happens to, you know, female reporters, and not just reporters, but obviously women who are active in politics. And it happens - you know, there have been countless instances of female reporters being sexually harassed and, in some cases, gang raped - everywhere, from places like Pakistan to Angola.

CONAN: So clearly, not just a problem in the Middle East.

TARABAY: It's obviously a problem where security is bought and paid for, and there is very, very little respect for women rights. I mean, this is always an issue in a lot of these places.

CONAN: Do you understand why women would be especially targeted?

TARABAY: I have to - I want to say that it's a weapon of war. You know, this is something that has been used against women to intimidate and to harass and to humiliate. And it's also in places where women's rights are nonexistent and there is no law and order. I mean, this isn't something that - I mean, it's very easy to sort of blame mob violence. But, you know, I don't see this in places where there is adequate law enforcement. I mean, in the situation that happened with Lara - we don't know all of the details - but this was allowed to happen, you know, with a sizeable crowd.

You know, the - there was an article in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2007 that spoke of a woman in Pakistan who was very close to coming -to be raped, when a good Samaritan pulled her out of the crowd and made the police who were watching - and not interfering - escort her to safety. So, I mean, these are places where you don't really expect the security forces to help you.

CONAN: You're talking about incidents that have occurred to other people. You've heard about - you've had a lot of experience. Has this ever happened, or anything close to this, ever happened to you?

TARABAY: I've been very fortunate, nothing like this, to this degree, has happened to me. But, I mean, there are obviously situations where you are going to get molested, and that is - I mean, unfortunately, it's just part of the job. You go into a situation where you are in a crowd, you're in a demonstration, you're at a funeral, and there are going to be people there who don't respect women, who don't respect Western women, especially. And, you know - and a lot of the times, it's not even one or two people. One time, I - you know, I turned around to find out who it was that was harassing me, and it was a 10-year-old boy, you know.

So, you really - you sort of look and think what perception do you have of women, and why do you think that that's okay to treat a woman like that? So, I mean, it's something that, as a female journalist, traveling to places where, you know, it's an uncertain political situation that you do expect it. You are very apprehensive about it. It's your worst nightmare to think that this might happen to you, so...

CONAN: I wonder if you've seen - you've had a lot of experience, if you've seen other people from other organizations, perhaps, making some mistakes.

TARABAY: Well, you know, I mean, the thing is it's easy to say, you know, if someone isn't wearing the appropriate clothing or they're, you know, they're...

CONAN: Might that include a veil, a burqa, in some places?

TARABAY: You know, I always come back down to the fact that it shouldn't matter, that people should know how to behave no matter what. And you could be wearing - you could be fully covered and it doesn't matter. I mean, from my point of view, I don't care if she's wearing a string bikini.

I mean, obviously, that's not going to be the case, but these are people who say that they respect their mothers and their sisters, but obviously have a negative view of Western women. Or think that because you're out there and, you know, even Egyptian journalists, female journalists have been targeted in this way.

So there's something there that's a bit more sort of insidious about it that makes it okay to target women, no matter what, no matter what, no matter how they're dressed.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest is Jamie Tarabay. We're talking about the incident in Cairo last Friday. CBS News says Lara Logan was assaulted by a mob.

Well, a lot of journalists were attacked in Cairo last week, but they say this also included sexual attacks. She's expected to be released from the hospital today. And let's see if we can get - this is Holly(ph), and Holly is with us from Carolina Beach in North Carolina.

HOLLY (Caller): Hi. Jamie - I'm a big fan of your work. I hear your voice on NPR and stopped to listen because I appreciate what you have to say.

TARABAY: Thank you.

HOLLY: I wanted to know, did you think it's possible that she was targeted specifically because she's a Western journalist, or even possibly because of some of the reporting or stories she has ever done? Is it possible that she was targeted for more specifically than just being a woman in a bad place, unprotected or...

TARABAY: You know, I - thank you so much for your call. I know that in the days that all of this turmoil was happening in Egypt, I don't know if you noticed, but they're - you know, when Omar Suleiman, the then-vice president, was blaming the Western media for a lot of the unrest, and that then followed with a lot of attacks against a lot of the Western media.

So, you know, I mean, I've spoken to so many of my colleagues about this, and they're really in no doubt that the people who attacked her were pro-government demonstrators or, you know, plainclothes security. So they obviously saw a Western reporter with a camera crew and security and decided that she was going to be a target.

Whether they knew who she was personally or were familiar with her work, I'm not even going to speculate on that because I simply don't know the circumstances. But it was very clear that the message that was coming from the regime was these are the people to blame for the unrest and do with that what you will.

HOLLY: And I guess it's because there was more of the Mubarak leaving celebration, that's even more riot was maybe more vicious even than some of the attacks had been during the protests. I don't know. I'm speculating, too.

CONAN: This was Friday, and it was Mubarak - may have been before, may have been after. I'm not exactly clear on the timing so...

HOLLY: Okay. I thought I heard it was during the - after he had definitely said he was leaving. So, anyway, thank you so much. I appreciate you all's work.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Holly. And let's see if we could go next to - this is Steven(ph). Steven, with us from Windham in Connecticut.

STEVEN (Caller): Hi. You know, I understand that companies don't want to spend the money for personal security. But when you're in these high risk - I mean, Lara Logan is an A-lister. They should have afforded her some sort of a security guard out there. I mean, this is an outrage that this should happen to this woman. I mean, this is a total outrage. I'm so upset I can barely even talk on the matter.

TARABAY: You know, I do believe she did have security with her at the time and that she was separated from them, from what I understand from the CBS News statement. So, you know, she wasn't out there on her own.

CONAN: She was certainly with a crew. I didn't see any mention of security. You did? Okay.

TARABY: I think I'm pretty sure that there was a mention there that she had security with her.

CONAN: Nevertheless, if you're out covering...

TARABAY: It doesn't matter.

CONAN: Well, A, it doesn't matter, but B, also if you're covering a situation like Tahrir Square, there's a limited amount of security you can travel with and still interact with the people you're trying to talk to.

TARABAY: Right. And I think, you know, I mean, there was a clip of Christiane Amanpour, formerly of CNN, now of ABC, speaking to some people on the street, and you could see the level of malice that they felt towards her just literally comes through.

And she could - she sensed that very clearly as well. I mean, these people were looking her in the face and saying, I hate you. And she knew. She recognized that it was quickly going to devolve and got out of there as quickly as she could.

CONAN: Yet - and Steven, thanks very much for the call. We also saw attacks on male correspondents as well. I mean, this is not limited to females but, obviously, there is an increased risk when you are talking about females because of the risk of sexual assault.

TARABAY: Right. And this is something that, as I've said before, that the Egyptian regime deliberately used as a tactic against, especially, female demonstrators, female journalists and female activists, who are Egyptian, who are Muslim and are dressed appropriately and everything.

So it's not simply a question of targeting a Western journalist. It's not just a question of targeting a journalist, per se. This is a strategy that they used against women.

CONAN: And I asked you for a moment to put on an editor's hat. Say you're sending some people out to cover a situation like this, do you take this kind of thing into account and say, wait a minute, I know they are women reporters. They're excellent. They're just doing their job. I shouldn't take this into account, but I need to think about it.

TARABAY: Well, you need to think about it, but you also need to be able to trust the reporter on the ground. And I think that, you know, your very best editor does that. I know that we have that situation here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Jamie Tarabay, one of our very best reporters. Thank you so much for your time today.

TARABAY: It's been my pleasure. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Jamie Tarabay is an NPR correspondent who has reported extensively from the Middle East. And she was kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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