By: M.L. Stein
A NEWS SOURCE requested that a female reporter for a Northeastern newspaper meet him at his house for the interview she had requested.
“”He propositioned me, tried to force himself on me. I got out of it by talking fast,”” she recalled.
In another incident, a woman staffer recounted a news meeting at which the male managing editor asked another female staffer wearing a mini-skirt to turn around so the group could appreciate her outfit and suggested she should wear mini-skirts more often.
A young reporter for a Southeastern paper related that her newsroom supervisor called her at home and asked to meet him at a lounge “”to discuss something.””
“”When I got there, he was drunk and said, ‘You want it, and you know you do,”” she recollected. The reporter said she went out the fire escape to elude him, although feaful of losing her job.
“But I think he was so drunk he didn’t even remember doing it,”” she stated.
The three occurrences were described in a paper, “”Sexual Harassment in U.S. Newsrooms,”” presented at the at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Atlanta by three University of Florida faculty members.
The study involved interviews with 105 female newspaper staff members from 72 small dailies (under 25,000 circultion) around the country.
The authors, professors Kim Walsh Childers, Jean Chance and Kristin Herzog of the college of journalism and communication at Florida, said their preliminary report is the first of a three-part project that will include medium and large-size dailies and male as well as female staffers.
In the current study, sexual harassment was defined as any “”physical or verbal contacts that make a workplace inhospitable for women because of their gender.””
Thirty-nine percent of the respondents were reporters, with the rest divided between copy editors, city editors, assistant city editors, news editors, managing editors, assistant managing editors, photographers and graphic artists. They ranged in age from 22 to 62.
Almost two -thirds of the women said they had experienced nonphysical harassment in the workplace and 14% said they had been sexually harassed physically.
The harassment, according to the survey, ranged from the “”merely irritating-being called “”honey,”” “”sweetie”” or “”that little girl””-to the downright dangerous.
A police reporter from amid-Atlantic state, for example, told of an instance in which she went to a district attorney’s office and found him playing X-rated videotapes, which he continued to watch while she tried to interview him.
“We just got these tapes in and I have to look at them,”” she uoted him as saying. The woman said the tapes showed a totally nude couple having sex, adding: “”It was disturbing and uncomfortable…I should have asked him to turn it off, but I didn’t. He is a pretty intimidating man anyway.””
Several of the reporter respondents said sources often suggested going to a bar or motel for interviews while others described “”blatant, physical sexual harassment by sources.””
One woman recalled that a doctor she had planned to interview approached her from behind and gave her a “”full-body press.””
Startled, she responded by saying “”rape,”” softly but loud enough for him to hear. The doctor left the room and had no contact with the reporter for several months, she said.
A night editor from another small paper said the sports editor regularly comes to her desk, rubs her shoulders and touches her hair.
More than 45% of the women reported that souces at least sometimes subjected them to nonphysical sexual harassment, and about 8% spoke of physical harassment at various times.
Approximately one-fourth of the women said their newspaper supervisors or others in authority inflicted nonphysical harassment on them. Less than 3% reported physical acts in the office but almost 6% reported that it had happened in other professional settings.
“These results suggest that sexual harassment is occuring among women journalists in a relatively widespread manner,”” the investigators observed. “”It isn’t just a few women who are being affected by harassment from multiple sources.””
About 62% percent of the women said their papers have written policies covering sexual harassmen, 19% reported no policy and another 19% were not sure.
It was also found that older women (age 41-62) were more than twice as likely as their younger colleagues (age 22-30) and more than three times as likely as the middle group (age 31-40) to believe that sexual harassment was not much of a problem or no problem at all for women journalists.
The researchers said that compared to the Associated Press Managing Editors’ 1992 study of sexual harassment, they found a much higher percentage of women who said they ahd experienced harassment on occasion.
While APME reported that about 38% of its female respondents said they had endured suxal harassment at their newspapers, 64% in the current survey experienced nonphysical harassment on their newspaper.
However, the authors said the figures may be explained in part by diferent wording of questions and other factors.