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The sexual harassment Asean female journalists face from male politicians

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TWO years ago, while pursuing a story on Jakarta politics, April* messaged an official in the Indonesian government to ask for his comment. He replied by asking her why she, a 34-year-old female journalist, was still single and whether she had a boyfriend. When she answered she’s actively dating someone, he asked her how big her partner’s penis was. Last year, she approached the official again for his comment on another issue. Once more, he asked about the size of her partner’s penis.

April, who has worked in the media industry for 9 years in Jakarta, is still in contact with the official until today.

“I have no choice,” she told Asian Correspondent.

In 2014, a Malaysian politician from the ruling political party sent Ally*, a junior reporter with a local news site, messages about how he had dreamt about her riding him in bed. Once, during an interview in his office, he stroked her thigh when his assistant left the room briefly.

Ally and April join the hordes of female professionals worldwide, from the film industry to the restaurateurs, who have come forth with accounts of being sexually harassed by men in powerful positions during the course of their work. Journalism is no exception.

SEE ALSO: Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists

Speaking to Asian Correspondent, female journalists in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines spoke of the same culture of unwanted sexual behaviour coming from the male politicians they interview, from innuendos and lewd texts to more overt forms of harassment, such as groping and forcible kissings.

All nine journalists who spoke to us allege personal experiences of sexual harassment to far more serious claims of assault by the elected officials occupying their countries’ hallowed halls of democracy. All also attest to having witnessed or knowledge of unwanted sexual advances on their colleagues by male politicians as well.

In a 10 month investigation, 13 women told me Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them. 3 allege rape: https://t.co/7XKS6CotVP

— Ronan Farrow (@RonanFarrow) October 10, 2017

A growing number of their peers in the US have come forth to name and shame their powerful abusers, forcing several members of Congress, from both Democratic and Republican parties, to resign or retire. In the UK, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was said to have been pressured into resigning after admitting he had touched a female journalist’s knee back in 2002.

Unlike them, however, testimonies from these journalists speak of a sexual harassment culture in Southeast Asia that is more normalised, without impunity and sanctioned by the bigwigs of the media industry where senior male editors condone, or in some cases, encourage such behaviour.

Like Harvey Weinstein’s sexual exploits, women journalists find themselves at the mercy of a disproportionate balance of power at the hands of their harassers occupying their countries’ legislative bodies. Like Weinstein, male politicians are enabled and encouraged by the power structures that make it difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible, to speak out against, in addition to the public’s general propensity of doubting sexual violence victims.

At the height of his career, Weinstein was an entertainment mogul who can make or break an upcoming star’s career – many acquiesced with and stayed silent about his sexual abuse on them until now, when his power is fading, before going public with their story.

SEE ALSO: Can we separate the art from the artist?


© Asian Correspondent