It was a party. Earlier this month, Vasco da Gama, one of Rio de Janeiro’s oldest soccer teams, was getting ready to square off against Universidad de Chile for a match in the annual South American championship, the Copa Libertadores. Outside Vasco’s stadium, journalist Bruna Dealtry spoke into a television camera from amid a crowd of rowdy fans. Dealtry, 31, was working for cable sports channel Esporte Interativo. Suddenly, as she waded through the throngs, a Vasco fan caught Dealtry off guard and, without her permission, kissed her on the lips.
“It was the first time something like that happened to me in person,” said Dealtry. “It was the last straw.” Broadcasted live, the assault disgusted Dealtry and her female colleagues. It wasn’t, however, the first time something like this has happened: More than two-thirds of female Brazilian journalists say they’ve been sexually harassed on the job, according to a survey conducted by digital magazine Género & Número and Brazil’s Investigative Journalism Association. The survey also found that more than four in five women report being discriminated against in the workplace because of their gender. (A recent Pew Center study found that 42 percent of women reported being personally discriminated against in the workplace.) For those covering the high-testosterone world of sports, sexism can be even more intense. It was time to do something.
With support from her colleagues and boss, Dealtry wrote about the episode on social networks and, encouraged by the positive reception, started brainstorming with female colleagues from Esporte Interativo: “We can do more.” Last Sunday, 50 female journalists from the country’s largest news outlets released a video manifesto against harassment and gender discrimination in the stadiums, streets, and newsrooms of Brazil. They used the hashtag #DeixaElaTrabalhar — #LerHerWork. By Tuesday morning, the video had been played over 871,000 times on Facebook and 734,000 times on Twitter. It was broadcasted on every national TV network in Brazil and on cable channels SporTv, ESPN, Fox, and Esporte Interativo. Celebrities showed their support by sharing the video widely.
“We had to scream at the top of our lungs to make it clear that this isn’t about one or two women,” said ESPN journalist Gabriela Moreira, one of the video’s writers. “It’s about every woman working in sports journalism.” For over 40 minutes during live coverage of the 2015 Brazil Cup soccer championships, Moreira had to listen to dozens of soccer fans call her a “slut” and chant that they were going to “suck her off.” “I didn’t blink, I didn’t look away,” she wrote later that same day. “You need to be strong to hear what I heard, but not to say what they said.”
Bibiana Bolson, a columnist for ESPN W, said this sort of symbolic violence hurts as much as physical assault. Early in her career, Bolson received an internet rape threat from the fan club of a team in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. About a year ago, she was threatened again. In Brazil, a woman is raped every 12 minutes, according to official records. A recent study found that 59 percent of Brazilian women have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives – due to lack of awareness and shame culture, it’s safe to assume that the true number is much higher. The average age for a woman to first be harassed is 9.7 years old. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index ranks Brazil 79th of 144 countries — 34 positions behind the United States — for steps taken to achieve gender equality.
“Women from sports journalism in Brazil are getting together for the first time to present a manifesto,” said Bolson of #DeixaElaTrabalhar. The movement, however, is not without precedent. In June 2016, a group of journalists created the campaign #JournalistsAgainstHarassment (#JornalistasContraoAssédio), focusing on the profession as a whole. The initiative was motivated by the firing of Giulia Pereira. An 21-year-old intern at the national news website iG, Pereira and her female editor were fired after she spoke out against the young pop star Biel, who repeatedly harassed her during an interview. Janaina Garcia, a journalist from news portal UOL and creator of the campaign, said it was difficult to convince colleagues and superiors to cover the movement at the time. “They said it’d come off as ‘too protectionist,’ since the cases involved journalist,” she said. “What’s the matter with that?”
Less than two years later, the climate has changed considerably. Even known harassers are claiming to support the #DeixaElaTrabalhar cause. “I guess those who are in leadership positions feel they need to do it,” Bolson speculated. “It hurts to see the people who make us suffer in newsrooms pretending to support us. On the other hand, the cause gains more visibility.”
Having lived in New York until recently, Bolson says #MeToo and the dozens of U.S. gymnasts who spoke up against the convicted child molester Larry Nassar helped her reflect on her role as journalist in the movement to globalize the cause of women. “It really moved me,” she said. “I’ve been talking about how we need to keeping pushing this movement forward to solidify it.”
The Brazilian journalists want newsrooms to create formal channels to safely file complaints — a basic measure. Currently, 46 percent of female news professionals say the companies they work for lack any such mechanisms, according to the Género & Número poll. In the United States, by comparison, a survey conducted by CNBC found that only 5 percent of Americans believe sexual harassment isn’t taken seriously in their companies.
In Rio, where violent soccer hooliganism is not uncommon, special criminal courts have been set up inside stadiums, and judges are on-call during every match. Moreira, the ESPN journalist, plans to take the manifesto to them as well. “If a soccer fan incites criminal racism, police officers immediately identify that behavior as something they should repress and take the offender to court. This doesn’t happen when it comes to gender-based offenses,” Moreira explained. “Female fans, lines-women, and reporters are called ‘whores’ or ‘cunts’ in front of cops, and they don’t see this as something they need to clamp down on.”
Brazilian law has criminalized gender discrimination at sporting events. However, according to Moreira, no clubs have ever been punished for it. Online insults and threats also tend to go unpunished. Bolson tried to report some of the crimes against her, but the endless bureaucracy led her to give up. “The process is really grueling,” she said. “You need to legally notarize screenshots, for instance.” In time, she developed her own denunciation method: exposing the aggressors online. “I share the screenshots and ask other people to do it too,” she said.
Bolson believes the abundance and strength of mechanisms to denounce harassment and assault in the United States may explain what she sees as American victims’ greater inclination to speak up against violence. “In Brazil, we lose the opportunities to debate serious issues due to the fear of taking a stand,” she surmised. Bolson believes #DeixaElaTrabalhar’s first achievement is provoking more women from different professional backgrounds to think and speak freely about the issues of harassment and sexism. “These are stories that all of us live through, though the details are slightly different,” she said. “We know change isn’t going to happen overnight, but with our strength and our presence at all of the major networks, we can surely transform our reality.”