Journalists in Kenya point to high rates of sexual harassment in newsrooms

Journalists in Kenya report the highest rates of sexual harassment in newsrooms, according to a global media survey involving 20 countries.

Gathoni Kuria’s negative experience with a manager at a Kenyan media company ended her plans to pursue a career in journalism.

“I went up to him to present an idea to him and he looked at my hips on purpose, very purposely,” Kuria said. “So I talk to him, but he just looks at my hips, then at my chest and not at my face.”

Kuria worked in the same media house for two years, trying to launch her career in print and broadcasting. But she says being denied sexual advances by a boss changed that trajectory. Her molester was not interested in her professional development.

“He didn’t care if I published it or not,” Kuria said. “He didn’t even sweat or bother to tell me to do a certain story unless I had an idea, and that idea would be fused with someone else’s at the desk.”

Kuria’s former boss told VOA the claims were “ridiculous” and suggested she report them to the police.

However, Kuria’s allegations are not isolated cases.

Around 65% of the journalists surveyed in Kenya state that they have been physically or verbally harassed. At the country level, Kenya has the highest rate of harassment — 56% — among the 20 countries surveyed in the World Association of News Publishers Women in News Organization and City, University of London study.

The study also states that women journalists generally do not report the incidents about 83% of the time. One way to contain the problem is to highlight it, local lawyers say. Dinnah Ondari works for the Media Council of Kenya.

“Obviously, when you give people that environment and that safe space to talk about sexual harassment, the person who wants to covertly go into hiding to harass their victim is going to feel exposed,” Ondari said.

Finding justice can also be difficult. Harassers risk being fired, but they still find work elsewhere. Therefore, the Association of Media Women in Kenya is setting up a special committee to bring alleged attackers to justice.

Judie Kaberia heads the Association of Media Women in Kenya.

“There is one case, we raped an intern at gunpoint in Kisumu, but if you look at how this case was handled, the media house sat there and listened to the case, found the guy guilty and fired him,” said Kaberia. “After he was fired, he went to another media house. So the circle goes on. There is no reparation, there is no punishment, there is no justice for the victim.”

Kuria has given up her ambitions of becoming a reporter for the time being. However, media representatives hope that the Women in News study will shed some light on sexual harassment in newsrooms and provide support for women journalists.

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