Commentary. When the kidnap victim is a woman, a media lynching starts immediately—and, of course, in the era of social media, this is an even faster and more sadistic process than ever before.

No, women aid workers and journalists aren’t ‘looking for trouble’

Editor’s note: In 2005, Sgrena was kidnapped by insurgents in Baghdad. One of the Italian intelligents agents who rescued her was killed by American soldiers who fired on her vehicle, wounding Sgrena and another officer.

If I’d been the one to come back to Italy in a coffin 13 years ago, they would have (perhaps) celebrated my life as a journalist who always sought the truth and got the scoops. I had actually managed to get the scoop on the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, but nobody gave it much importance.

Instead, I came back alive, but unfortunately, the man who had saved my life twice was the one who came back in a coffin. Nicola Calipari was rightly celebrated as a hero—and later forgotten, as the facts in his case got covered up. It doesn’t even come up on any list of “Italy’s mysteries” anymore. What mystery, indeed?

I came back alive, though wounded, and I was accused of being responsible for Calipari’s death (and even while it was the Americans who shot him, I am still living with survivor syndrome, as is inevitable in such cases). I was accused of being a “dirty Communist,” who, instead of staying at home (as all women should do), went around to write articles that only confirmed my anti-American prejudice. I received many threats on account of this.

Sorry if I started by talking about myself—but every kidnapping I hear about takes me back to the nightmare of 13 years ago and paralyzes me. When the kidnap victim is a woman, a media lynching starts immediately—and, of course, in the era of social media, this is an even faster and more sadistic process than ever before. Think about it: this never happens when a man is kidnapped, even in the face of evident carelessness on his part. But this happened to all of us women: first to ‘the Simonas’, then to Vanessa and Greta. And, now, to Silvia Romano.

Perhaps the least disgusting of the “compliments” we receive is “silly goose”—which, in my case, came with “old” added to the mix. It’s no coincidence that the word “goose” is the one used, for which there is no male equivalent in Italian. If you happen to be a young woman, it’s even worse: after all, Silvia was guilty of “being enthusiastic and a dreamer” as Massimo Gramellini wrote in his column, which he entitled “Little Red Riding Hood”—and with such a title, there was really no room left for any misunderstanding. I read his entire column, not just the opening words, and it indeed uses sexist language (particularly when he talks about “frenzy”). He rewrote the column to fend off criticism, but did so unconvincingly, rather recalling Federico Moccia’s weak apology after he wrote that in the case of femicide, both the man and the woman share part of the blame.

I will not repeat the disgusting comments made on social media about Silvia (may she return home soon), but I’d just like to point out to Pierluigi Battista that it’s more than just “thugs on social media who hate and spread poison,” given that Gramellini’s column came out the same day in no less than the Corriere della Sera (which had also published Moccia’s piece). As we all know, journalism in the era of social media doesn’t really do subtlety.

Three days ago, I was asked by the Adnkronos news agency to listen to a message I recorded while I was being held hostage, on Feb. 25, 2005. The voice was indeed mine, but I explained to the reporter that it was a strange recording, which one of my captors forced me to make, angry and in a hurry, on the very tape on which he jealously kept a recording of the verses of the Qur’an.

After I returned, I discovered that this recording was meant to be used to propose a parallel negotiation to that regarding Calipari. This additional negotiation, which had been proposed by Scelli, the then special commissioner of the Italian Red Cross (CRI), ended up being rejected, it cost us valuable time, and we don’t know how things would have gone if the Calipari negotiation had been completed on schedule. Adnkronos published the audio of that message claiming it was the proof I was alive—which had actually been sent to Italy much earlier—then followed that by an interview with Scelli in which he boasted of his role as “humanitarian intelligence,” bragging about everything under the sun. It is below the dignity of a press agency to exploit kidnappings to boost Scelli’s profile. I remember how the CRI field hospital was set up in Baghdad, escorted by the military and installed in a square around the corner from an existing hospital that could have been restored, which provoked the ire of many Iraqis and a disavowal by the International Red Cross.

At the Rome Film Festival, I was invited to the first showing of A Private War, which is now playing in theaters. It is a film that tells the story of the American journalist Marie Colvin, who worked for the Sunday Times and who was killed in 2012 in a bombing in Homs along with French photographer Rémi Ochlik.

Marie, whom I met in Baghdad in 1999, after which we crossed paths many times, was a brave woman who defied danger.

In the film, she is shown in all her stubbornness and professionalism as she went from one conflict to another in the Middle East, Africa and beyond. She lost her left eye in Sri Lanka, but that didn’t stop her: she wore a black eyepatch and continued her work, always on the front lines. Of course, the demands of the film medium require a certain glorification of the characters, but it also risks the facile and banal response, “You were looking for trouble.”

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