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Female journalists in this country experience sexual abuse and harassment at an astounding rate

The following weeks felt like torture. At the office, I became an outsider. The atmosphere completely changed, and my coworkers alienated me. When I walked into a room, they looked down, and passed me in the hallway in silence. It seemed like I was the one who did something wrong.

  • 4 months ago
  • February 11, 2024
6 min read
Women working in journalism in Zimbabwe experience sexual harassment and abuse at much higher rate, as revealed by ZimFact. | Representative image courtesy of Chris Yang on Unsplash Women working in journalism in Zimbabwe experience sexual harassment and abuse at much higher rate, as revealed by ZimFact. | Representative image courtesy of Chris Yang on Unsplash
Young female journalist in Zimbabwe experiences on the job sexual harassment
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Vimbai Sithole is a young female journalist in Zimbabwe. New in her career, she faced sexual harassment at the hands of an interview subject and a donor to the media outlet in February 2023. The experience left her devastated and with no support, she quit her job. Vimbai remains unemployed in her home city of Harare. She is one of 79 percent of female journalists who experience harassment in the industry in Zimbabwe.
Background information
In Africa and especially Zimbabwe, women face harassment on a daily basis at work. This act of sexual harassment often goes unnoticed and sometimes causes great loss for the victim. Many women have left their jobs due to the epidemic. In the media sector, sexual harassment and abuse of female journalists reaches even greater heights. Most of the cases do not even make it to the public because of the outcome if a victim speaks up. Many of the women are fired, change careers, and face deterioration of their mental health. Read more at ZimFact.

HARARE, Zimbabwe When I landed my first big interview as a young journalist with a prominent man, I felt incredibly excited. If I did well, this kind of experience could pave the way for me. Everything moved smoothly and after the interview, he invited me to lunch to go over some things. I innocently agreed, having no idea he took my confirmation as a sign I wanted to sleep with him.

I later learned he regularly preyed on young women like me in the industry. He established a pattern of abuse: give them a career-changing interview and then make them pay for it with sex. It began to dawn on me why I landed the opportunity with such little experience. I wondered if my female supervisors knew. Sitting there at lunch, wondering if another woman set me up, sickened me.

Read more stories about sexual abuse from Orato World Media.

A stunning non-response from male and female colleagues back at the office

During lunch, this prominent man began touching me inappropriately by caressing my thigh. Wearing tight jeans, I thought less of it at first, since he was not touching my skin. He then moved his hand to my private parts, and I abruptly stopped the abuse.

Surprised by my rejection, his voice and face immediately changed. He looked like another person and acted as if I betrayed him. It was like I owed this man and failed to deliver. The air became tense as I realized I broke his streak of dominating young women. He erupted in anger, threatening my job and my financial security.

I felt my hands begin to sweat and soon, my whole face was soaked. A sense of shock set in. After all, I saw this man as a father figure and had great respect for him. I also felt stunned by how fast the abuse happened. I bolted out of the restaurant leaving all my things behind and went straight back to the office.

I immediately ran to my supervisor and told him everything, but his response made my heart drop. He simply said, “Okay,” as if I told him I lost a file. I repeated the story out of instinct, and again, he responded the same way. Confused, I went to my female colleagues, but they had a similar reaction. It was as if they all knew it was happening and I was the only one in the dark.

After being sexually harassed on the job, my life as a journalist slowly fell apart

The following weeks felt like torture. At the office, I became an outsider. The atmosphere completely changed, and my coworkers alienated me. When I walked into a room, they looked down, and passed me in the hallway in silence. It seemed like I was the one who did something wrong.

Later, I heard a rumor from a friend that my colleagues said I gave the man signals. When I smiled, I led him on. The experience left me feeling dead inside. “How can a woman do that to another woman,” I thought. I never acted inappropriately in my interviews, and this was the first time I ever experienced harassment in my career. I felt devastated, alone, broken, and disgraced.

For weeks, I cried on the way to work, trying to figure out how everything went so wrong. Then, a female supervisor approached me. “Suck it up, swallow your pride, and just date the man until he’s fed up with you,” she said. “Do this, so you can keep your career and advance forward.” I stood there in disbelief.

A sense of hopelessness consumed me as I wondered, “Is this the only way for a woman to get to the top?” Quickly, it felt like the world ended for me and everyone knew it. I stopped eating and felt like every person I passed saw what happened; like all eyes were on me.

Even on hot days, I felt cold, wishing I could simply disappear. Despite doing the right thing and rejecting his advances, I paid a heavy price, losing relationships, connections, and worst of all my dignity. With no support from my boss or colleagues, I came to understand that money and status can be more powerful than truth. He donated funding to the media house, so they did nothing.

Over 73 percent of Zimbabwean women in media experience verbal harassment, 29 percent are sexually abused

I never bothered to report the crime or seek justice. It simply felt like a waste of money and time. As a woman in Zimbabwe, I believed even the authorities would see me as the promiscuous one. They would see how wealthy my perpetrator was. I knew people would assume I just wanted to blackmail him.

The next month, I quit my job, but I had no idea I wouldn’t be able to find work anywhere. I must assume this man pulls many strings. Now, I ask myself, should I change careers? Should I leave Zimbabwe? Here, in my own nation, I have little hope.

Journalism has always been my passion, all my life. I never imagined becoming part of the news; I’m the one who tells stories. In journalism, we seek truth, but this experience made me feel like the truth is not enough. I did the right thing; I know what happened – and yet, it left me broken.

[Sexual harassment of female journalists in Zimbabwe is particularly problematic. According to ZimFact, in a survey funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Africa in 2023, 73.42 percent of Zimbabwean women in media experienced verbal harassment, with little to no action taken by their employer. Further research estimates 29 percent of women in news were sexually abused. Only about 15 percent of those sexually harassed report it to authorities.]

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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