Epulse, the collective investigating sexual abuse in the Italian media

sien 85% of female journalists stated that they had been sexually harassed at least once during their working life: this is according to a survey carried out by National Italian Press Federation in 2019. Yet workplace harassment continues to be normalized or under-recognized: a collective journalists, writers, photographers, video makers and activists decided to break the silence and delve into the problem by giving life to “He was expelled. The press belongs to men”

Combining different backgrounds, professionalism and skills networking in the face of a pervasive phenomenon: obscene phone calls, sexual comments, threats and attempted violence, threats to distribute personal images or videos are all abuses committed in 3 out of 4 cases inside the editorial offices, in the presence of other colleagues or in a closed room.

The harasser is over 45 and generally superior, testifying that harassment is often also a way of confirming the alleged superiority of those who commit it and therefore the alleged inferiority of the working woman

As such, “Espulse” aims to be a realistic and useful tool for mapping the impact that sexual harassment and discrimination have on the Italian information world. The founders of the collective at The Wom – Stefania Prandi, Irene Doda, Alessia Bisini, Roberta Cavaglià and Francesca Candioli – tell how the project was born, what goals it aims to achieve over time and what it means to work with a feminist methodology.

Discrimination and harassment in the world of journalism is not new. And yet silent. How “Expelled” was born. The press belongs to men’? Was there a “trigger event”?

The collective was born from the virtual meeting of five independent journalists – Stefania Prandi, Irene Doda, Alessia Bisini, Roberta Cavaglià and Francesca Candioli – with the aim of creating a project for salaried journalists and freelancers active in the media sector (print paper, web , radio and television) and in press offices. We also reach out to photographers, video makers and activists. The trigger that allowed us to create and shape this project was the #MeToo of advertising and the subsequent birth of the RE:B collective. We realized how the problem of abuse, harassment and harassment in the workplace is always reported without journalism making amends and acknowledging its own shortcomings in newsrooms.

What is the collective’s priority goal?

The primary goal of our collective is to investigate the serious problem of sexual harassment and abuse of power in the world of Italian journalism. Suffice it to say that according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Italian National Press Federation, 85% of female journalists said they had been sexually harassed at least once during their working life. This is undoubtedly a very high percentage, which indicates a systemic-structural, but above all social and cultural, problem.

With “Espulse” we aim to collect direct testimonies – anonymous and in full compliance with the processing of personal data – to map the impact of harassment, extortion, abuse and sexual discrimination in the world of Italian intelligence

Having collected complaints and testimonies, how do you intend to proceed to give visibility to the phenomenon? Do you intend to involve authorities and agencies?

We will conduct research respecting the sources and their anonymity and then present the data collected and analyzed (without in any way exposing the privacy of the witnesses) concerning the institutions, unions and houses of journalists located throughout the national territory.

The Chamber of Journalists of Piedmont, for example, has already started to spread the work.

You are five freelancers who have set a common goal. How important is it to network to “change the work management system”?

It is said that networking is not just about connecting people, but also about letting the ideas and opportunities created by connecting those people “speak”. In the case of Epulse, unity was truly the strength of the collective. Each of us contributed to the conception, design, definition and structure of a piece of this project, helping, comparing and stimulating each other. Herein lies the power of networking, making connections, and starting something that you hope can really make a difference.

If this project could help give a voice to as many industry professionals as possible, it would be a great satisfaction and the right shock to an industry that has always looked the other way, without complaining or exposing itself openly.

How does sexual abuse and discrimination in the world of journalism affect the quality of information and freedom of the press?

According to a survey conducted in March 2023 by the British Women In Journalism Association, more than a third of the women who participated said they had been threatened or bullied during their careers. Unsurprisingly, nearly half also said they had experienced incidents of misogyny or insults related to their gender identity, another key aspect that must be taken into account today. The situation in Italy is not so different. Sexual jokes, insults and belittling of the journalist as a woman has become a form of harassment that is spreading like wildfire. Not to mention constant pressure, repeated advances or those being spied on and harassed in the workplace by their superiors, up to actual blackmail and sexual harassment.

Working in a stressful and unsafe environment, from a human and professional point of view, also affects the quality of information and does not enable us to carry out our work peacefully and respectfully.

Furthermore, while all journalists are at risk of online abuse, female journalists are particularly vulnerable to “gender trolling”, meaning incidents of online verbal violence that may include death threats, threats of rape, and credible and detailed descriptions of said violence. Consequently, many female journalists end up censoring themselves in order not to unleash all those forms of verbal abuse that are often primarily through social networks. The same freedom of the press also depends on this kind of “keyboard lion” attitude.

“We will work with a feminist approach, methodology and ethics”, we read in your Manifesto: how is this expressed in concrete terms?

We will work with full respect for the pluralism, diversity and participation of the voices that choose to tell their story and tell us their testimony.

As stated in our manifesto, women are certainly among the people most affected by harassment and abuse, but we know that violence can also affect men, people with disabilities, people of different origins or backgrounds and the LGBTQIA+ community

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