The first time a World Cup fan invaded Julia Guimarães’s space and kissed her without consent, the TV reporter wrote an essay for globo.com on the helplessness and vulnerability she felt afterwards. Then it nearly happened again. “Don’t do this!” she said after dodging an oncomer before Sunday’s Japan-Senegal match. “Never do this again, O.K.? Never do this to a woman.” That clip went viral, opening stories on the harassment of female reporters in The New York Times and on NPR’s All Things Considered as well as international outlets across the world.
What has made Guimarães’s impressive response so newsworthy is that she has been just one of several women dealing with similar threats on the job in Russia. A fan put his hand on reporter Julieth González Therán’s chest while kissing her. Swedish reporter Malin Wahlberg endured similar treatment when surrounded by fans from her country. French journalist Kethevane Gorjestani had to push away a man after he wrapped his arm around her and kissed her neck. And those are just the incidents caught on camera and shared online. In addition to news outlets, representatives of the United Nations and the Committee to Protect Journalists got involved.
“It’s not specific to Russia,” Gorjestani added afterwards. “I’ve come to see it as part of the job.” American journalists often feel similar. “[Harassment] is a constant topic of conversation for us year-round,” says Jenny Dial Creech, a Houston Chronicle columnist and the President of the Association for Women in Sports Media. “It’s horrible these women have to go through anything like that to do their job, but it’s not surprising. That’s the saddest part of it to me. It’s not a surprise to me anymore.”
#MeToo made millions aware of the issues facing women in the workplace, but on-camera sports reporters face additional risk factors as well. Working in a liminal zone between public space and private stadium obfuscates who should be responsible for maintaining safety and also makes it difficult for women to figure out who to turn to after an incident. The games themselves contribute to the problem, too, says Justine Gubar, who studied the roots of fan violence for her book, Fanaticus. The male-dominated environment outside arenas emboldens fans, and it might be even worse at the World Cup. “It’s such a nationalist environment that fans are condensing their identity to where it’s all about Germany or all about Nigeria or it’s all about Sweden, and it becomes exclusive rather than inclusive,” Gubar says. “It’s not surprising to see that exclusivity extended to gender.”
Then there’s the Internet. Online, reporters harassed on camera receive sexist messages mixed in with tweets of support. “An overwhelming amount of people that respond don’t think it’s O.K. for women to be in the profession,” Creech says. “They are going to let you know every single time.” And the viral clips provoke copycats along with criticism.
This spring, a group of Brazilian female journalists came together to discuss their past experiences in a promotional video for a social media campaign based around women’s rights. Two-thirds of female Brazilian journalists said they’d been sexually harassed on the job. The underlying problems, anger, and resolve that led to #MeToo in America clearly exist internationally as well. The Brazilians chose a different hashtag, which has peaked again online this week: #DeixaElaTrabalhar. It translates to #LetHerWork. Simple.