Should the media pull women journalists out of war zones?

Lara Logan with Army Captain John Hintz in Afghanistan in 2010. Photo from CBS News Lara Logan with Army Captain John Hintz in Afghanistan in 2010. Photo from CBS News After Lara Logan, a seasoned reporter and chief foreign correspondent for CBS news, was attacked and sexually assaulted in Cairo on Friday, news networks reportedly met to discuss pulling their female journalists out of Egypt, a move that some journalists say is understandable and expected but potentially insulting and dangerous.

"It is an expected networks response. In 2001, when a (male) Swedish journalist was killed in northern Afghanistan, several networks pulled out their reporters from the region." says longtime war correspondent Anna Badkhen, the author of Peace Meals and Waiting for the Taliban. "I understand why executives at a network, or a newspaper, or a magazine, may feel uncomfortable with subjecting their reporters to potential danger."

Susan Milligan, a political reporter who has covered war in Iraq and the Balkans and is now a contributing editor at US News & World Report, says she thinks it is "insulting specifically to Lara Logan, who is a terrific reporter. If you're pulling all of the women out, you're essentially saying that what happened to her is her fault."

"For women, there is always a danger of rape or sexual assault when covering unpredictable and dangerous stories," says Leila Fadel, the Cairo bureau chief for The Washington Post. "I think this applies when covering violent crime in D.C., in the midst of an unpredictable revolution, or in a war zone."

Fadel, who has reported from Baghdad and who won the George R. Polk Award for outstanding foreign reporting in 2007, was detained briefly by military police in Egypt earlier this month ("I suddenly found myself blindfolded and handcuffed and in jail," she said in an audio post soon after the incident). Still, she says now, preventing women from reporting on dangerous situations is not the answer.

"What happened to Lara Logan was horrendous, frightening and an absolutely unforgivable crime," Fadel says. "It was shocking to me because the entire time I worked in Tahrir Square I found little to no sexual harassment in a nation where groping and forms of sexual harassment have long been highlighted by female activists but received little attention until this incident."

"I'm saddened about what Ms. Logan must be going through at this moment and my heart goes out to her," Fadel added. "But I don't think that what appears to be an isolated incident should be a reason to pull seasoned female correspondents away from a very important story." To do so would undermine the diversity of the coverage and "minimize coverage of the future of a nation that overthrew a dictator in a largely peaceful manner and inspired a region to demand change," she says.

The risk associated with being a war correspondent isn't limited to women, says Badkhen, who has covered wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Chechnya and Kashmir for a number of media outlets including The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, FRONTLINE, and Salon. "I categorically do not believe that women war correspondents are more vulnerable than war correspondents who are men," Badkhen says.

"Female and male correspondents have been killed, maimed, wounded in conflict zones," she continues. "Female and male correspondents have been raped. I have been sexually assaulted (not raped) in war zones. Male colleagues I know have been subjected to torture that involved their sexual organs. The nature of torture, the origin of torture, is to degrade, to render the tortured helpless. The torturer typically goes for methods both the torturer and the tortured consider the most humiliating."

"Both Western journalists who lost their limbs on land mines in Afghanistan since last fall are men," Badkhen points out. "They could have been women. As a rule, war does not discriminate."

Milligan, who was based in Budapest for years, agrees. "I was in the Balkans and in Iraq and in Haiti and other places. It's a risk for everyone. I was at greater risk for being raped, probably. But [compared to her male colleagues] I was at lower risk of being killed."

She recalls an incident in Kosovo in 1999. "I was with two male reporters and a female translator. We saw a village being burned down, and stupidly drove to it. Then we were surrounded by super paramilitary with guns, who dragged us out and held guns to our skulls and threatened to kill us." Having both men and women in the group changed the dynamic, she says. "They were more willing to believe that we weren't soldiers or part of a movement. It was good to have a mixed group. I think that's why we got out of there alive."

Edited to add: Anne Barnard, a New York Times reporter who, with her husband, Thanassis Cambanis, was co-chief of The Boston Globe's Baghdad bureau for years, says that in some cases it was easier for her to stay safe than it was for her husband. "In war zones like Iraq, I often felt women were safer than men-it was easier for us to blend in by wearing hijab, and in some situations it felt that we were less likely to be targeted by people seeking to take out anger on a symbol of the occupying military," she explains.

But in spite of the risks, journalists shouldn't be forbidden from covering dangerous situations because of their gender, Milligan says.

"Nobody made me go to the Balkans. Nobody made Lara Logan go to Egypt. Nobody made Anderson Cooper go," Milligan points out. "Yeah, reporting in a war zone is risky. Being a member of U.S. military is risky. Being a police officer is risky. But it's a risk that we choose to take because it's an important part of democracy, telling people what's going on."

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