The impact of online violence against women journalists: a Q+A with Emilia Șercan

Many women and nonbinary journalists endure constant harassment, threats and abuse online, and this has real consequences for journalists’ wellbeing as well as press freedom at large. 

Emilia Șercan, a Romanian investigative journalist who has been the target of relentless online harassment, has experienced these effects firsthand. 
In January 2022, Șercan reported on a case of plagiarism by the Romanian Prime Minister, and she was targeted by numerous well-orchestrated smear campaigns. As a result of this abuse, the CAOV released a statement of support for Șercan in April 2022. She spoke to the many forms of support that helped her through this experience — and why she refuses to stop doing her job.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Coalition Against Online Violence: When you started experiencing threats over a year ago, how did the support of other women journalists help you to navigate it?

A year ago, when I was targeted, I didn’t know where to go or if I could trust the Romanian authorities. I just wanted to be sure that my phone was not hacked. A colleague from Romania put me in contact with Khadija Ismayilova from Azerbaijan who was also subject to an organized attack by the state. Her help was very important to me because she put me in contact with Amnesty Tech, Access Now and other organizations. I found some hope that I would be able to put pressure on the Romanian authorities to do a proper investigation against these crimes.

CAOV: What have been the outcomes from statements of support, including from the CAOV?

These statements were sent to the Romanian Prime Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the General Prosecutor, and the chief of Romanian police. They just show that I’m not alone, that I am supported by international organizations.

CAOV: Can you share a moment of hope where you felt proud of your work and your response to a very difficult situation?

Every time I publish a story, it’s a moment of pride because I know that it’s important for our society. And I’ve had some moments of hope when other journalists have come to me and told me that they want to do what I am doing, so I started to organize some workshops to learn how to investigate plagiarism.

It’s very important to find help from other journalists and other media organizations. Even if you don’t trust the authorities, you still have to find justice somehow because people need to be held accountable.”

CAOV: In the middle of severe attacks, you have continued to do your job as a reporter. Why is it important to you to continue doing investigative journalism?

We have very few investigative journalists in Romania who are independent. The mainstream media is paid for by the state and political parties, and this is a huge threat for our democracy. I think we have a parallel reality in Romania now. This is why I have to publish my stories and I have to write about what is happening with our political elite.

CAOV: After what you have faced this year, what advice do you have to other journalists who find themselves at the center of a smear campaign?

It’s very important to find help from other journalists and other media organizations. Even if you don’t trust the authorities, you still have to find justice somehow because people need to be held accountable. This is very important for places where democracy is under threat. 

CAOV: How can news organizations and their partners better support journalists who are targeted online?It’s important for news organizations to organize seminars or workshops for journalists to learn how to defend themselves online, what the threats are and where they come from, and how to react. I think it’s very important to have a specific task force that can help journalists legally, financially, and emotionally when something happens. This kind of workshop can make sure journalists know where to look for help.