At an event on Thursday at Columbia University with the four New York Times journalists captured by Qaddafi loyalists in Libya, panel moderator Ann Cooper asked photographer Lynsey Addario to respond to some of the comments that Times readers had posted online on the articles and videos about their ordeal—an ordeal that, for Addario, the only female of the group, included sexual taunting and groping from the Libyan soldiers. Some online commenters had asked questions like, “What business does the Times have sending a woman there?” and “What business does Lynsey have going there, as a woman, into a dangerous situation like that?”

Addario answered, with a slight laugh, that the last time she checked, The New York Times didn’t own her or tell her how to live her life. In fact, she pointed out, The Times would never ask anyone to go work in a war zone if he or she wasn’t already committed and driven to do so.

“If I want to cover a conflict, that’s my prerogative,” she said. “I think it’s very important for people to follow what they want to do.” And she said again, “You cannot force someone to cover a conflict. It’s something very dangerous and very personal and very emotional, and people have to do it of their own volition.”

Cooper also asked Addario if she thought the risks for a woman in a conflict zone are greater than they are for a man.

“Well, I think the risks are different,” Addario said. “Yes, it was traumatic being groped and blindfolded, but all of my colleagues were hit on the back of the head with rifle butts and smashed in the face. The treatment they got was physically harsher than what I got, it’s just different. How do you quantify trauma?”

A video of the complete panel discussion is available here; this particular exchange begins around the twenty-one-minute mark.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner