When the unspeakable happens, how do you handle it?
CBS News correspondent Lara Logan gave an interview tonight on CBS’s 60 Minutes, wherein she discussed her brutal sexual assault in Tahrir Square on February 11, 20011, including the aftermath and road to recovery.
Here is the interview from CBS News:
That fateful night, Ms. Logan was in Tahrir Square capturing the celebratory mood of Hosni Mubarak’s fall in Cairo. In the midst of the chaos, Ms. Logan was torn away from her camera team and brutally sexually assaulted by 200-300 men. Ms. Logan was rescued by a combination of male and female Egyptians and flown back to America to receive medical attention.
Lara described the assault, saying he mob began to grab her, pulling her away from her team. Logan explained her shock at the sadism of her attackers, “I’m screaming, thinking, if I scream, if they know, they’re going to stop, they’re going to know it’s wrong, and it was the opposite. The more I screamed, it turned them into a frenzy.” She had one arm on Ray (her security person), she had lost everyone but him.
She retold the horror of her attack, “Their hands raping me over and over again…. from the front or back….and I didn’t know if I could hang on to Ray….I didn’t want to let go of him. I thought I was going to die if I lost hold of him (Ray).”
But Ray, a former special forces soldier, was torn apart from her. Lara continued explaining the horror of the assault, “When I lost Ray, I thought that was the end….It was like, all the adrenaline left my body, I knew in his face, if he lost me, I was going to die. They were tearing my body in every direction, tearing my muscles, tearing off chunks of my scalp…literally trying to tear my scalp off my skull. I thought I’m gonna die here, and my next thought was, I can’t believe I just let them kill me, that was as much fight as I had, that I just gave in, that I gave up on my children so easily, how could you do that?”
“I had to fight for them (her children), and that’s when I said it’s about staying alive. I have to surrender to the sexual assault, what more can they do now? They’re inside of you, everywhere and fight for my life.”
The assault went on for 25 minutes. Ms Logan said, “There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the process of dying.” She thought it would be a tortuous death that would go on forever. She was taken along by the mob until they reached a fence, where a group of Egyptian women were camping out. “A woman put her arms around her and I can’t tell you what that moment was like for me.”
“The women closed ranks around me …the women were pouring water over the crowd and me because I couldn’t breathe, I was rasping.” Finally, soldiers fought their way through the crowd with batons, beating the mob back. Lara said she was thinking, “I have a chance to get out of here alive,” and she grabbed the first soldier and would not let go, “I was screaming like a wild thing….”
“The one solider threw me over his back…” He carried her out of the mob back to her producer, Max McClellan, and her camera team.
“I remember Max going down on his knees in front of me and going, ‘I’m so sorry’.”
Max, her producer, said, “She looked like a rag doll, completely limp, like someone who was physically, emotionally and mentally spent, overwhelmed.” She flew back to the US the next day and went straight to the hospital, where she stayed for four days.
Is she healing now? “Oh, definitely. I’m so much stronger.”
As she moves through her recovery, Lara is very proud of the fact that her female colleagues are saying that she broke the code of silence surrounding sexual assault of female journalists. Lara says that like her, her colleagues continue with their jobs because, “They do it because they believe in being journalists.”
Lara said that the thing that helped her heal the most was the messages she got from children, colleagues, the President, a General, and complete strangers. CBS reports,
After the assault, “it felt like I was lying in the dirt,” Lara recalls. “I was dirt.” She says those kind gestures from both colleagues and strangers helped restore her dignity day by day. “It wasn’t just another bouquet of flowers arriving at the door,” says Logan. “When you’re broken like that and they’ve just taken everything from you, it’s those gestures that help you.”
In the 60 Minutes Overtime segment, Lara said she wants to explain what happened to her – not make it worse than it was, not make it better than it was, not sensationalize it, but simply say this happens to women and it’s wrong.
Prior to this, Ms. Logan was known for her fearlessness in reporting from the battlefield and refusal to be defined by the patriarchal conditions of our modern society. All too often being raped becomes a reflection upon the woman and so coming forward can ruin one’s career, decimate years of hard work, and leave one defined as the woman who was raped instead of the woman who accomplished great things in her field. This feeds the code of silence surrounding sexual assault. Lara’s decision to not spare us her reality is opening willing eyes to the dangers women journalists face.
It also opened her eyes to the silent, shame-filled world of too many women.
Lara told the New York Times:
Before the assault, Ms. Logan said, she did not know about the levels of harassment and abuse that women in Egypt and other countries regularly experienced. “I would have paid more attention to it if I had had any sense of it,” she said. “When women are harassed and subjected to this in society, they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”
With this statement, Lara explains why rape and violence against women is so prevalent in too many cultures, our own included. Because of the shaming aimed at women who come forward, rape is the silent assault, the one hidden from public view. As Lara expressed so eloquently, with sexual violence, “You only have your word. The physical wounds heal. You don’t carry around the evidence the way you would if you had lost your leg or your arm in Afghanistan.”
Then there is the issue of loss. Lara pointed out that she doesn’t want to be defined by this assault, at the same time she is willing to shed light on the problem by being forthright about what happened to her. She faces losing all of the years of her work, to be defined as the girl who was raped. It is this loss that silences so many women; because this definition will change the way she is viewed in the future, even though it shouldn’t.
Rape is an act of violence, not lust. It is an act of asserting dominance and control over a woman. It is a brutal way of reminding a woman how vulnerable she is. While male journalists are beaten, female journalists are sexually assaulted. The effect is the same: intimidation, fear, control.
We will never know how Ms Logan managed to find the grace and courage to say what needed to be said here, but she did: “This happens to women, and it’s wrong.”
When the unthinkable happened to Ms Logan, she was able to bring her skill set as a journalist to the way she is coping with her attack. Trauma of this sort often impacts the ability to discuss what happened; the trauma is silenced by shame or inarticulate with pain. Those reactions are all human, normal and no less courageous, but in this instance, Lara has been able to give sexual assault victims the gift of her reporting skills by articulating with great dignity the reality of her brutal rape in a way that is clear, concise and undeniable. She has become a voice for those who previously had no voice.
Lara explained that while she does not want to be defined by this, she is now facing a fear she never had before; a fear she won’t let stop her from doing a job she loves. Ms Logan wants her work to define her, not something that happened to her to define her. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Ms. Logan has long been a heroine of mine, but never more than she is tonight. Well done, Ms Logan. You continue to be an inspiration to women everywhere and I know I am not alone in thanking you for your courage, bravery, and humanity.