February 29, 2024

Event Coverage Highlight

OPC and IWMF Hosted Psychological Safety Training for Women and Nonbinary Journalists

Ana Zellhuber, a psychoanalyst and Emergency Psychology specialist based in Mexico City, for the second time this year held a psychological training session for the OPC on July 20, this time with a focus on particular challenges facing women, nonbinary journalists and their allies.

She said journalists, much like psychologists who encounter stories of trauma in their work, face what she called “vicarious trauma.”

“When you see violence in real time, in real life, as journalists, when you are taking the photo, interviewing the victims, you become secondary victims of that violence.”

The session was hosted in partnership with the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF).

Zellhuber said she often hears journalists say that due to the nature of their work, they can’t react emotionally to what they hear and witness. She said it’s true that staying calm and somewhat detached in the face of tragic events is a key part of the job.

“But once you get home, you’re back to being a regular human being. And a regular human being is impacted by the things they see, hear, and smell – especially during violence,” she said. “Once you get home, you need to let yourselves feel.”

Zellhuber also covered online abuse and harassment, including how to analyze threats and manage and reduce risks.

Participants broke into small groups to discuss measures they have taken to reduce risks in volatile situations and mitigate the impact of trauma experienced while on assignment.

The IWMF reported in 2018 that 70 percent of women journalists have experienced some form of harassment, threat or attack, and a third of women journalists have considered leaving the profession due to online attacks.

As an example, Zellhuber discussed the ways that the government of Iran, which specifically targets women, has developed advanced methods for intimidating journalists.

“They have this machinery that makes it devastating,” She said. “So you start not seeing your friends and family because you feel you are putting them at risk, you isolating, you start not working as much.”

Zellhuber also discussed the need to envision circumstances ahead of time to help prepare emotionally for difficult situations, to anticipate aspects of the coverage that might activate difficult memories or emotions, and to build support and establish safety contacts before embarking on a reporting trip.

She also recommended finding soothing, centering activities to do after traumatic work to process and reflect on emotions.

Zellhuber shared two resources to help journalists reduce risks in the field:

To help plan for physical safety, the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Physical Safety and Hostile EnvironmeShe nt Training (HEFAT).

To help plan for digital safety, the Totem Project’s Digital Security training for activists and journalists.

Click the window below to watch a playlist of clips from the program.