This interview was originally published on the ECPMF website.
Alexandra Pascalidou is a Swedish TV journalist with Greek heritage, who has been experiencing sexist and racist hate speech for many years.
ECPMF: Please describe the gender-based violence and abuse that you have experienced as a result of your journalistic work, and cite examples.
Since I started my public career in TV, radio, press back in 1995, I’ve been receiving threats, hatred, racist and sexist attacks. It has been everything from handwritten anonymous letters that I collected for a while until they made me sick to terrible lies on racist websites, e-mails and messages on social media. I also had masked Nazis outside my home, I had racists showing up during my lectures etc.
In the beginning I kept silent about this, hoping they would stop. My method was to ignore them and that was also the advice I got from the police and my bosses. After a while I gave up and shared some stories to show what it means to be their target. I wrote about it in my books and articles, I mentioned it in interviews and I also did a series of documentaries on hate crime against LGTBQ and migrants.
My goal was to show it was not a personal problem and an individual threat but a threat to free speech and democracy. That changed a lot. Suddenly people engaged and supported me but unfortunately, the harassment didn’t stop.
What effect did the abuse have on you in terms of your physical and psychological wellbeing?
I have been heartbroken, stressed and scared almost every day of my life since I first received death threats. I didn’t know how to handle the amount of lies and rumours about me. I went to bed with wounding words echoing in my ears. Words that stick to you. The hatred, the racism and sexism, is poisoning your mind.
There are periods I really struggle to forget the fact that there are people that want to hurt and silence me.
What effect did it have on your ability to do your job?
During periods I couldn’t work, but I had no choice. I didn’t have the luxury of taking some time off. My only alternative was to go on fighting and keep working. Happily that is also an answer to all of them. We can’t give in. We have to resist and keep on fighting. Or they win.
How did your employer respond to the abuse?
They were of course shocked and worried. But when the Nazi terrorist organisation came to my home I was kicked out of work with the explanation that my colleagues feared for their own lives. I was out in the cold for a year or so, and during that time I wrote my first book, “Beyond mum’s street”, where I wrote the story about the vulnerability you feel as a target.
The book received great reviews and awards and gave me the chance to start working as freelance journalist. But as a freelance journalist, you’re even more vulnerable because you don’t have anyone to support you. No back up. No safety or comfort zones.
You courageously gave testimony at the Fundamental Rights Agency Colloquium in Brussels. What motivated you to do that? And what was the reaction?
After more than 20 years in media as one of the first public figures with an immigrant- and working-class background from a poor suburb that is called a ghetto, being an outspoken woman raising my voice against racism, sexism and inequalities and for human rights, you understand that this is the price you have to pay for existing and expressing yourself.
There will always be people, mostly men, that feel provoked and try their best to silence you.
But this is my duty as a human being, to promote peace, to empower women and minorities, to fight for freedom of speech and democracy. This is not an act of altruism but egoism – since I want to see my daughter and her friends free from any kind of oppression. At the end it will benefit me and us all.
Do you have any advice for other female journalists who may be suffering gender-based abuse and violence?
We live in challenging times when fake news and post-truths are circulating in expanding alternative media financed and supported by powerful people. More than ever we need to organise and speak up. We need to teach young people how to handle the burden and how to block and mute destructive forces. I have so many women writing to me that they have left Twitter and other social media after numerous attacks. They felt unprotected out there.
We need to support each other. They can threaten, scare and silence one of us but they can’t threaten all of us. We have to show solidarity not only to our sisters but also other groups under attack – like LGTBQ and ethnic, religious and cultural minorities.
How could media freedom organisations help? For example, would it be a good idea to set up a network, physical meetings, online forums or training in psychological self-care and peer support of the kind provided by the Dart Center?
We need to set up networks and meetings and everything. Every time I’m targeted or harassed I don’t know who to call and what to do. Even after so many years. So all the initiatives are important and we should address this on an international level. I have talked to women, femdefenders, in the Middle East and many parts of the world that are systematically shamed and blamed until they have to hide from the public eye. This is a global disease, and nothing else than old-school racism and sexism that now uses new tools to break down its enemies.
Watch Alexandra Pascalidou’s speech on free speech and democracy: