By Sarah Krichel
In light of recent allegations against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for sexually attacking a Ryerson graduate, a broader conversation is unfolding about what it’s like to be a journalist who identifies as a woman.
On Oct. 12, former Ryerson journalism student Natasha Stoynoff, now a writer at People magazine, posted her story on People Politics, making international headlines. Stoynoff had been covering Trump for years on The Apprentice and she attended his wedding. But Stoynoff said right before a 2005 interview about his first wedding anniversary, Trump sexually attacked her.
According to the post, Trump brought Stoynoff into a room, slammed the door shut and attacked her. “Within seconds, he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat,” Stoynoff wrote.
After the alleged incident, Trump said to Stoynoff “You know we’re going to have an affair, right?”
Earlier this month, Trump denied the Canadian journalist’s allegations at a rally in Florida. He also made remarks implying that her physical appearance should indicate that he would not have sexually assaulted her at the time.
“You take a look. Look at her. Look at her words,” Trump said to his supporters at the rally. “You tell me what you think—I don’t think so. I don’t think so.”
The alleged event took place not long after the leaked 2005 “locker room” conversation in which Trump bragged to Billy Bush about groping women. “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet … I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he said in the video.
Stoynoff never pursued charges against Trump because of the typical difficulties that surround sexual assault trials.
“Like many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it (“It’s not like he raped me…”); I doubted my recollection and my reaction. I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me,” she wrote.
In Ryerson’s journalism program, 75 per cent of the students accepted in 2015 identified as female, according to Janice Neil, chair of the journalism school. This has been fairly consistent for the past 10 years, meaning that many young professionals entering the industry are just as prone to encounter similar threats.
Lisa Taylor, a journalism professor and CBC freelance workshop leader and training consultant, said that young journalists are taught to be tough, but this is sending mixed messages.
“We tell our students to be safe, to not put themselves in danger, to trust their gut,” Taylor said. “But we also tell our students to be stoic and to suck it up. To roll your eyes and move on if you try to stop someone for a streeter and they’re a jerk to you.”
According to Femifesto, a guide for journalists who report on sexual violence, 62 per cent of women-identified journalists report having experienced verbal sexual harassment in 2015, and 22 per cent report having experienced physical sexual harassment.
“While harassment is a concern for all journalists, journalists who are women in particular are more likely to be targets,” the guide says.
Taylor said that while neither she nor her colleagues are suggesting that their students tolerate sexual assault, it’s easy to see how an ambitious and keen student can take that message a few steps further.
Taylor, who has been a faculty member since 2013 but started teaching in 2008, said that no student has ever disclosed an assault with her—but she doesn’t believe it has never happened.
The idea that misconduct should be tolerated, mixed with the extremely common hesitation that many women already have when it comes to reporting sexual assault, can be very dangerous for women journalists, Taylor said.
She added that women, non-binary and trans women in these situations face the dilemma of telling the story they were assigned, or telling their own story. She said that reporters at Trump rallies are beginning to hide their credentials because they believe it may compromise their safety.
“On one side, if I explain that the picketers [for example] started sexually harassing me, then I’ve created a distraction in my story and my story becomes complicated,” said Taylor. “Is my story about the picket line or is my story about the fact that I was sexually harassed? We don’t tell our own stories as news reporters.”
But Farrah Khan, coordinator of Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, said that having any type of job should not come at the cost of having to face sexual, physical or emotional violence.
“It starts in journalism school, when we not only talk to women that are journalists, but talk to all genders and say ‘hey, this kind of work environment isn’t okay, and when you see it you need to call it in.”
She added that during another interview, someone had yelled the “Fuck Her Right In The Pussy” phrase and the woman interviewing her said it wasn’t the first time she heard that today.
The phrase made international headlines when it was said to CityNews’ Shauna Hunt, because of its rape culture promotion.
“I think that speaks to the fact that women that are journalists have become a meme,” Khan added.