Mac McClelland is a badass. She is the human rights correspondent for Mother Jones and I’ve been following her on twitter and reading her columns since I read this piece about rape culture in Haiti.
In the wake of Lara Logan’s assault in Egypt, there has been a lot of talk of the inevitable trepidation editors will feel about sending female reporters into the field. They will hold back, they will make excuses, they will pick men for the toughest jobs. Why risk it?
There has not been nearly enough talk about how to better train and protect reporters stationed in high-risk situations. For example, the Committee to Protect Journalists publishes a safety handbook with tips and instructions for extricating oneself from dangerous circumstances. It does not have a section on sexual assault (last published in 2002, it is currently under revisions). The solution here is not to pull female reporters from the field, but to offer the best training and protection that we can. This applies to male reporters too, of course, but since sexual assault is at the center of this conversation, and sexual assault of foreigners is predominantly used against women, ladies first.
But what kind of training are we talking about? And here’s where we come back to Mac McClelland, who is currently in a intensive defense program that makes the Miss Congeniality SING (solar plexus, instep, nose, groin) program look like… well, singing. In part 1, Mac describes her “full-force defense” class, in which the trainees practice their techniques against a heavily padded man whose job it is to not stop attacking until the women in class using every ounce of strength and will they have. This is what it takes in real life, so this is what they practice:
At one point in the afternoon, those of us whose turn it was to not be assaulted winced as we watched our assailant drag a sobbing girl kicking and screaming to the ground….If that sounds like the worst thing you could voluntarily do with a day, that’s because it really is. But though we were unnerved, and uncomfortable, and unhappy, it was all in the name of learning options.
In part 2 of the series, Mac writes:
It’s the second eight-hour day of my full-force personal safety course, an emotional- and physical-self-defense primer on deescalating unwanted advances and surviving a sexual assault. We’ve come to the So You Are In The Incredibly Unfortunate Position Of Being On Your Back And About To Get Raped module.
Ugh. Even reading the scenarios the instructors use is sickening. But it’s a necessary kind of sickening, the kind of sickening that makes you feel like maybe this is what we need to do. There are studies that show that even attempting to fight off an attacker reduces your risk of rape by as much as two-thirds.
I’m not a reporter. I’m not routinely in places in the world where I need to know how to resist a choke hold, or talk my way out of unwanted and threatening sexual advances*, but I want to take this class. The response to the specific dangers of being female and in public can’t be “stay inside.” The conversation we need to be having is how to get more women (reporters and not) into a class like this.
*Oh wait… I have been in those placese, and although I successfully negotiated the creepy motherfucker in Barcelona, I cried the whole cab ride back to my hostel.
Related Post: Amazing Mother Jones piece about Detroit