The attack on Lara Logan of CBS was a worst-case scenario for many female reporters. Yet gropes and unwanted advances are common occupational hazards. Here are some tips from safety experts who have trained soldiers and journalists. While not every assault can be prevented, anticipation and sound judgment go a long way toward minimizing risk.
• Wear a wedding ring, or a band that looks like one.
• Respect the local dress code and err on the conservative side.
• Be aware of how sources see you. You may be dressing appropriately but still viewed as promiscuous because of culture misperceptions.
• Carry the cell phone number of someone senior in the army or police. Threaten to report a would-be attacker to authorities.
• Travel with a male companion.
• Dress like a frump. Wear a thick belt, laced boots, loose pants and a pullover shirt. (Slows down attackers.)
• Stay on the edge of crowds. Deploy an idling car nearby for a quick get away.
• Always plot an escape route. Establish landmarks such as high trees or lampposts to get your bearings in case of a stampede.
• If a mob suddenly materializes, make sure someone is watching your back.
• Don’t wear ponytails or necklaces that can be easily grabbed.
• Carry a rape whistle.
• If surrounded at close quarters, fight with everything you’ve got.
• Make clear that you will not tolerate inappropriate touching or comments from support staff, sources, or colleagues.
• Say you are married, or engaged.
• Don’t drink alone with sources. The presence of alcohol may embolden a source to make a pass. Drinking can slow your ability to respond quickly if assaulted.
• Do not offer alcohol to men at roadblocks. Do not accept alcohol from men at roadblocks.
• Take a hotel room next to colleagues. (Unless they have been sexually harassing you, in which case stay on another floor.)
• Put furniture against the room door.
• Use doorknob alarms. They emit a loud noise if someone tries to break into the room.
• Develop peripheral vision. Don’t get into an elevator or walk in the corridor if you think a man is following you.
• Don’t ask for your room key within earshot or sight of strange men.
• Report harassment by other guests to the front desk and say you want to alert authorities.
• Don’t open your hotel door to strangers. Always ask who is knocking. Look through the keyhole before opening the door.
• Use every lock on your hotel door, and travel with your own lock just in case.
• Avoid hotel rooms with windows facing terraces.
• Keep a can of deodorant by the bed to spray into an attacker’s eyes. It will temporarily blind, but won’t cause lasting damage.
• Holler. Fight back.
• Soil yourself with vomit, feces, or urine.
• Say you are HIV positive, menstruating, or pregnant.
• Try to break the momentum. Distract the attacker with an unrelated topic, or pointing out something around you.
• Try the deodorant spray trick.
• Don’t struggle if you think he is HIV positive. Drawing blood can spread the infection.
• Know where to obtain anti-retrovirals in the event of rape by someone with AIDS.
• Don’t blame yourself.Judith Matloff is a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is a veteran foreign correspondent, who teaches a course on conflict reporting at Columbia, and is the author of Fragments of a Forgotten War and Home Girl. Tags: female correspondents, Judith Matloff, Lara Logan, sexual assault