Lara Logan was assaulted by a group of men in Egypt. What happened next was also shocking.

Warning: if you are a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault, this post may be particularly disturbing or triggering for you*. Lara Logan is a highly experienced war correspondent who works for the American CBS network. Two weeks ago she  was severely beaten and sexually assaulted by a crowd of men in the streets of Egypt as she reported on the resignation of their President.  Shockingly and horrifically.  And then she was abused again.  This time verbally by men and women in the media and via social media. Australian journalist and author, Julia Baird, writes:

Lara Logan

“How’s this for an introduction to a news story about a horrific assault on a female journalist?

“South African TV journalist Lara Logan, known for her shocking good looks and ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action, was brutally and repeatedly raped while a crowd of 200 celebrated the February 11 resignation of 30-year Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.”

Logan, a highly experienced CBS war correspondent, lay recovering in an American hospital while this story was written. It was penned by a LA Weekly blogger who somehow thought it necessary to lead a piece about violent abuse with reference to the victim’s “Hollywood good looks”. She’s a “warzone ‘It Girl’!” the headline giggled.

It was just one of the insensitive, and offensive reactions to this sobering, sickening act of violence. On the same day that the world was gasping at the toppling of Mubarak by an unrelenting, youthful and mostly peaceful mass protest, we learnt, the 39-year-old reporter was subjected to a “sustained and brutal assault” by up to 200 Egyptian men “in a frenzy”. She had been separated from her camera crew and security staff, and was assaulted for about 30 minutes before being rescued by a group of women and soldiers. She was flown back to the US and hospitalised.

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Many Egyptians have died and been badly beaten during these protests – and journalists have been targets of attack for weeks. But this is the first violent sexual assault of a prominent woman – Egyptian or Western – that we have been told of. Suddenly, what was being widely cheered as a victory for democracy had an ugly side. It was chilling. And unfortunate, given that women have played an unusually prominent part in the protests, defying those who said it was dangerous for them to gather in crowds.

But what happened to Logan is not an isolated incident. She is just brave enough to allow her story to be made public. A 2008 survey by the Centre for Women’s Rights found 83 per cent of Egyptian woman had been harassed. Almost every foreign woman surveyed there had also been harassed – 98 per cent. (Until recently, there was no word in Arabic for harassment; the word for flirting or teasing was used.)

Female war correspondents are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, and often keep silent about attacks for fear of being treated differently to male colleagues, according to a Columbia University journalism professor, Judith Matloff.

When the news broke about Logan, a spate of articles immediately appeared analysing archaic and dangerous misogyny in the Middle East. But just as quickly, some staggeringly sexist reports in America blamed Logan for being in a dangerous situation and highlighted her appearance and sexual history – which has long been tabloid fodder. (In light of what has happened, some of this past commentary seems particularly creepy. Earlier this month, for example, when Logan had been arrested by the Egyptian government, Mofo Politics wrote: “I would totally rape her.”)

Nir Rosen, a fellow at the NYU Centre for Law and Security, tweeted that she was “groped like thousands of other women”, that he “ran out of sympathy for her” and that if she is going to get all this attention and be a martyr, we should “remember her role as a major warmonger”. He added that we “have to find humour in the small things”. He has since resigned from his position.

Rosen was not alone. Far-right commentator Debbie Schlussel wrote, viciously: “So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Hope you’re enjoying the revolution, Lara!”

Repulsive. The attacks on Logan spread to Twitter, with coded versions of the above sentiments, most implying that it was her fault because women should not go in to war zones, and that this is what happens if you are young, hot and surrounded by Muslims. It’s hard to know where to start – the sexism, racism and lack of simple compassion are all stunning.

Thankfully, there have been loud roars of protest. National Public Radio had to delete so much hate speech on its comment stream, it put up a post saying, “Blaming the victim is an old, tired game. Please don’t.”

Can this really be 2011? Countries such as Australian and America pride themselves, with good reason, on the fact that women are liberated, free and, ostensibly, equal. Our officials have repeatedly said that women’s rights must be respected in the Middle East. But every time someone with an ugly heart, a closed mind or a misogynistic soul writes that women who are savagely assaulted deserve what they get, our entire culture is put to shame.”

[this piece originally appeared in Fairfax newspapers and at the National Times]


UPDATE: Nir Rosen has since apologised and resigned from his job.  You can read his apology here

Please note if this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone please call the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017.  It does not matter where about you live in Australia, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.