CNN International Correspondent Arwa Damon said Wednesday that journalists in the Middle East today are “deliberately targeted — we are being slaughtered” and that their work is more risky and vital than ever.
Speaking at TheWrap‘s 6th annual Power Women Breakfast at the Montage in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, Damon told stories of horrific violence and personal courage she has encountered while reporting in the Middle East for a decade.
Damon, who on Tuesday won a Courage Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, described Syria and Iraq as far more dangerous since the Iraq War when “you could cross the frontlines.
“We can’t do that anymore,” Damon told the audience. “We have a price on our heads. We are deliberately being targeted. We are being slaughtered.”
She went on to say that people in the region used to need journalists to tell their stories, but with the advent of YouTube, terrorist groups like ISIS can draw attention to themselves online. “They can get just as much attention from a kidnapping or a beheading,” she explained.
Damon was honored at the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards on Tuesday. And she told the crowd on Wednesday why she continued to risk her life.
“It’s not so much the risk to my life, it’s the risk to my crews’ lives,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to die because I decided to go out and tell this story.” The correspondent explained that thanks to digital technology, people can now film themselves and upload to YouTube or she can also conduct Skype interviews to avoid putting further lives in danger.
She also noted that as a female correspondent she occupies a grey space in Middle Eastern culture.
“The men don’t know quite how to handle you. Every once in a while you have to wear a headscarf,” Damon explained, adding that she can move between groups of both genders and is sometimes invited to the men’s coffee circles, but also allowed to speak with women who wouldn’t otherwise open up to a male journalist.
Letting down her guard, Damon teared up at the recollection of talking to women in Syria and Iraq who were victims of rape or couldn’t protect their children as bombs rattled their homes. She noted that sometimes her job was like “screaming in the dark,” hoping that “maybe something I say will have an impact.”
The journalist recalled an uplifting story of a young boy she met in the region who was horribly scarred when five masked men inexplicably threw gasoline and burned him while he was playing in front of his house. “His little face was a frozen mask,” she recalled. “You could only poke through a grain of rice into his mouth.”
Through her reporting, strangers started to donate to his cause, leading to the best day of her career when she called his family and told them that he was going to America to get help.
“I didn’t know that much charity from strangers existed,” she said.
Watch the video below.