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A reporter and a mob's sexual assault

When talk eventually does turn to the attack, CBS correspondent Lara Logan makes one thing plain: She is not silenced by shame. • Her decision to limit interviews on the horrific incident in February where she was groped and sexually assaulted by a crowd of up to 300 men in Egypt isn't about being traumatized into speechlessness or beaten down emotionally. • Indeed, in the space of a 25-minute conversation, Logan speaks precisely and passionately about the aftermath of the incident, which came as she was covering the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime as chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS and a reporter for 60 Minutes. • The attack lasted nearly a half-hour. Her clothes were ripped from her body and she was pulled in so many directions at once that she feared she might not survive. • But, with more than 20 years' experience, Logan doesn't want one nightmarish event to define her or her journalism career. • More important, she doesn't want to look like she's profiting or benefiting in any way from telling the story.

"It's important to me that people understand I'm not afraid to talk about what they did to me," said Logan, 40. "I just don't want to look like, you know, every time you turn around, there she is again talking about it."

The greatest advantage to come from her story, detailed in vivid interviews published in the New York Times April 28 and aired on 60 Minutes May 1, could benefit journalists Logan never meets.

News of Logan's attack — along with accounts of New York Times photographer Lynsey Addario, who was repeatedly groped and threatened with murder after capture by pro-Gadhafi troops in Libya this spring — have pushed accounts of sexual assaults against reporters, especially women, into the limelight.

Outlets worldwide covered Logan's and Addario's assaults, followed by deeper stories on the issue everywhere from Atlantic Monthly, Forbes and the American Journalism Review to Glamour and Marie Claire magazines.

In June, the Committee to Protect Journalists released The Silencing Crime: Sexual Violence and Journalists, a report featuring material gathered from interviews with more than 50 journalists who were victims of sexual assault. The crimes often fell into three categories: crimes against specifically targeted journalists, mob violence and abuse committed in captivity or detention.

"Journalists all over the world said they largely kept assaults to themselves because of broad cultural stigmas and a lack of faith that authorities would act upon their complaints," wrote the report's author, Lauren Wolfe, who said she knew of at least two journalists taken off assignments because they came forward to talk about sexual assaults.

"I talked to women who said they were grabbed nearly every time they went out on assignments," said Wolfe, who discovered after Logan's attack that the CPJ had few statistics on sexual violence committed against journalists. "These women are in situations local women wouldn't be. It's not just Lara Logan; local journalists are sometimes in the most danger, because a foreign journalist can leave."

Wolfe wrote in the Atlantic of how Logan's willingness to come forward "cracked the bedrock that had kept the issue quietly underground," detailing efforts by a Colombian journalist who was gang raped 11 years ago while reporting on government corruption to find justice at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

Given all the talk about sexual violence in the news these days — from growing allegations of sexual harassment against GOP candidate Herman Cain to allegations Penn State officials didn't involve police while a football coach abused eight young boys over a 15-year period — it seems the country is fitfully struggling toward more discussion of such assaults in the public space.

"For me, that's the only good thing that came out of what happened … and it's a great thing," said Logan of the discussion about assaults against journalists. "I really, honestly thought I would be vilified, (that) some people would criticize me and question me; would want to know how I was behaving or what I was wearing. What I really didn't expect was how overwhelming the support would be."

Even now, she still sounds a bit awestruck. Female journalists at ABC News, led by correspondent Ann Compton, sent a box of supportive letters; the editor of the New Yorker expressed solidarity; and honors came from the National Press Club, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Chicago Journalists Association.

"My mother-in-law, who is from Texas, said to me, 'You know, you're lucky,' " said Logan, a native of South Africa. "I was thinking, 'Okay, didn't you hear the story?' And she said, 'Most people never get to hear this kind of thing about themselves. People say it at your funeral, and then it's too late.' "

• • •

At first, the video doesn't look particularly ominous.

Logan is looking off camera, standing in a group of men near Cairo's Tahrir Square on Feb. 11. That day, authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak had been dethroned by the "Arab spring" of popular protests.

Then, her cameraman, who is Egyptian, heard men murmuring about attacking her. Before they could leave, the crowd had swept her up, initiating a brutal attack that only stopped when a group of Egyptian women surrounded her and nearly two dozen soldiers beat back the crowd.

"In the first few minutes (afterward) … no one could look at me," Logan said. "The guys around me — it was all guys on my team — they're so distraught. ... I'm a complete and utter mess and I'm hysterical and nobody knows how to deal with this. They just wanna do the right thing for me, but they don't even know how to find the words."

She called her husband, Joseph Burkett, with two priorities. First, she had to tell him everything that happened. Then, he had to call her boss Jeff Fager, the executive producer of 60 Minutes and chairman of CBS News.

Within days, CBS issued a statement that Logan "suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating." Logan, who approved the statement from a hospital bed and declared "I stand by every single g—d— word of it," called the public disclosure "a relief."

Because it meant she didn't have to carry the burden of her assault alone.

"That was such a significant thing; to know my integrity and my actions would never be questioned by (Fager) and by CBS," she said. "It's the worst moment of your life and there's nothing left of you that you recognize … and your boss says to you, 'First of all, I understand and second of all, I'm standing by you.' "

Which means, Logan concludes, that other journalists can now demand the same support. "Is ABC or Reuters or the New York Times going to throw you under the bus after CBS stood up and said, 'We're taking a stand'? Every company needs to do that. If you send your people out, you have to stand by them."

• • •

Unfortunately, news of Logan's assault also brought some pointed reaction of a different sort.

Nir Rosen, a fellow at the New York University Center for Law and Security, eventually apologized and resigned his position after posting a series of harshly dismissive wisecracks about Logan's assault on Twitter, originally noting "I'm rolling my eyes at all the attention she'll get."

Temoris Grecko, a Mexico City-based journalist who says he was at the site of Logan's attack but could not see it directly because of the crowd, wrote blog posts questioning the details of CBS and Logan's stories, calling the accounts "misleading."

"My witnesses saw no women getting involved," wrote Grecko, who also suggested CBS may not have protected Logan adequately in Egypt or she may not have a kept a low enough profile in a dangerous situation. "I personally find it hard to believe that in such a frenzy, the wild male beasts she describes would have stopped just because a few of 'their women', as she puts it, 'closed ranks' around the almost naked sexy blond woman who was in their raping hands."

Grecko also wrote about resisting stereotypes about Egyptians and Muslims in sexual attacks against women, expressing concern that Logan's story fed into bigoted views. But in pushing back against concerns about Muslim stereotyping, Wolfe noted, Grecko suggested stereotypes about sexual assault victims.

Wolfe, who now heads a project examining sexualized violence in conflict for the Women's Media Center, said fear of a similar backlash can keep other journalists from speaking out about such assaults.

"I think it's really tough to be a blond, pretty woman in journalism," she added. "(This) may provoke newsrooms into creating some sort of policies, so journalists can talk about it without fear of retribution."

One hurdle for Logan — transitioning to work after detailing such an awful attack on national television — was handled by fate. The sane night the 60 Minutes report on her assault aired, news broke that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden.

"I'm still wearing Saturday night's makeup, and the next thing I know, I'm rushing to the office because they got him," said Logan, who appeared during CBS's reporting that night to help explain the ramifications of where bin Laden was found in Pakistan. "That's not a story I'm going to miss."

Since the attack, Logan has broadened her subjects, reporting on barehanded mountain climber Alex Honnold for 60 Minutes. One thing she hasn't done yet: return to the Middle East.

"I think I'm not ready to handle things going wrong," said Logan, who doubted she would ever return to Egypt, but hasn't ruled out someday reporting from the Middle East. "I need to make sure … I'm in a state where I'm not going to compromise my team. I could handle it if things are normal, but if they go wrong at all, I would probably fall apart."

Ask about world events, and Logan delivers similarly unvarnished assessments: "Of course" women in Afghanistan will lose their hard-won rights if American troops leave and the Taliban takes over. She also said "the U.S. gained nothing in Iraq" and should "get the hell out of there" at a quicker pace, because prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is an "Iranian proxy" anyway.

In speeches, she delivers these thoughts without notes or plans, speaking from her heart in the only way she seems capable.

"Lay the cards on the table and deal with it from there," said Logan, describing troop withdrawals from Iraq with words that could also describe her own approach to life.

"As long as you're pretending things aren't what they truly are, then you have no chance of dealing with it in the way it should be dealt with."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Contact Eric Deggans: deggans@sptimes; on Twitter at @Deggans; blog: tampabay.com/blogs/media.

"It's the worst moment of your life and there's nothing left of you that you recognize … and your boss says to you, 'First of all, I understand, and second of all, I'm standing by you.' "

Lara Logan, about the importance of knowing her bosses at CBS wouldn't question her integrity regarding the attack.

A reporter and a mob's sexual assault 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 3:31am]
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