Let's talk about rape


One can only imagine what terror flashed through the mind of CBS journalist Lara Logan the moment she was torn away from her producer and bodyguard by an angry mob while on assignment in Cairo.

One minute she was reporting on the fall of Hosni Mubarak's government in Tahrir Square, the next she was encircled by as many as 300 men who tore at her clothes, beat and subjected her to unfathomable sexual torture.

'There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the process of dying,' she said in a US 60 Minutes interview which aired in the US earlier this week. 'I thought not only am I going to die, but it's going to be just a torturous death that's going to go on forever.'

Logan estimates the attack went on for an unbearable 40 minutes before she was rescued by police and a group of civilians. As she told The New York Times in a separate interview, what struck her most about her attackers was how her 'pain and suffering' egged them on to further violence.

Logan's account makes for harrowing reading. To find yourself at the mercy of a pitiless crowd is the stuff of nightmares. Coming forward and talking about such a terrifying episode is courageous, but her nerve doesn't stop there. As she told the Times, she was adamant that 'this' not 'define' her.

It's fair to say Logan chose her words carefully. Rape is insidious and its effect, long-lasting. Survivors often speak about feeling disconnected; cut off, at least for a time, from those who can, and desperately want to, help. The act not only takes away free will. Its legacy is to strip away a person's defences and build around them a wall of connotation and innuendo.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008 on the aftermath of her rape at knifepoint in 1999, Sydney woman Helen Kauppi said she was 'called a slut, whore, prostitute, c-nt, dog, bitch and any other word of abuse you can ascribe to a woman'. Worse, she felt incredibly vulnerable and, to her eternal despair, struggled on silently.

It's no surprise that victims of rape were once so conspicuously absent from public debate. Indeed, our constitutional law suppresses their identities to protect their privacy, but this does little to remove the stain of their shame.

Certainly, this is one reason why women such as Logan are now entering the fray and baring their souls, and why this need to reclaim — or redefine — lives carries with it a palpable sense of urgency.

In Australia, recent high-profile cases such as the gang rape of Sydney teen Tegan Wagner, who waived her right to anonymity and whose heartrending testimony led to the prosecution of two of the Ashfield gang in 2006, attest to this.

In the US, there is arguably no greater public arena than The Oprah Winfrey Show. Last September, Sarah Kostovny sat on the couch beside Winfrey and relived the night she was tied up and raped by a stranger after her ex-boyfriend posted a lewd ad about her on Craigslist.

Acknowledging that the attack was something she will 'always remember', Kostnovy — now a self-appointed advocate for rape survivors — next echoed Logan, telling Winfrey that she, too, refused to let it 'define the person' she is.

Yes, language is a powerful thing. Despite the sunny assurances of the popular nursery rhyme about 'sticks and stones', words can indeed hurt, especially when used to defame or deny. Conversely, when harnessed, the right words can remove huge emotional barriers — brick by brick.

Speaking so candidly about such experiences offers a lifeline to others looking for a way out of the darkness, and encourages greater, more open dialogue. Mostly, though, these women's gut-wrenching accounts wrest us out of our complacency. Only when we step down as spectators can we bare witness to the shift in their world view.

As a long-standing war correspondent, Logan thought she stood safely behind her impartiality and objectivism. It took an unpredictable moment and a volatile outcome to change all that, but there was one thing she could still rely upon — her indignation. For 40 interminable, unimaginable minutes, Logan had been rendered silent. Little wonder when finally she spoke it came out like a roar.

Jen VukJen Vuk is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and The Good Weekend

Topic tags: Lara Loga, 60 minutes, Cairo, Mubarak, Sarah Kostovny, Oprah Winfrey, Tegan Wagner, Helen Kauppi, rape



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Existing comments

Your article has answered the indignation I feel for myself & other victims of abuse. It's the silence forced on us that perpetuate that abuse. I like your article Jen Vuk.
Kath Garraway | 06 May 2011

You're absolutely right. Rape silences the victim, either (as recently, in Libya) by the misuse of laws (the rapists sue the victim for 'defamation' for raising the issue publicly), or physical force (the complainant is 'missing'), or spiritually and psychologically. Thank you for this piece.
Moira Rayner | 06 May 2011

Such unspeakable brutality has to cease. Apart from the men who present Eureka Street, there are thus far no men on this forum uttering their disgust at the rape of the women you spoke of in this article or of any other rape you and I could possibly know of. How to help other women?
Joyce | 06 May 2011

One of my favorite articles about this case. Thanks for writing it.
elaine | 06 May 2011

Re the sentence "but this does little to remove the stain of their shame" While we have the mentality of the victims shame. The women will be victims. we should speak of the shame of the abuser
Helen Thacker | 06 May 2011

I don't think that the description 'Media' is accurate for this article. 'Violence', or 'hate crimes of men' would be more accurate.
Penelope Cottier | 06 May 2011

I've just opened up Eureka Street and am horrified reading this article and what happened to Lara Logan. I recall well, too, the horrific gang assaults on the Sydney women of a few years ago. As the writer mentions, how many did we not hear about in the past? Though of course not every man is a rapist, rape is a terrible shameful blot on the male gender, that sideline innocence does not manage to erase. All each decent male can do is to so act towards women that they never feel threatened or unrespected by them. Not that that erases actual hurts either. I hope these women can find healing.
Stephen Kellett | 07 May 2011

What courage Lara shows! In speaking out she defies the age-old practice of shifting the blame from perpetrator to victim, and demonstrates that the mens lust for power over her was thwarted, for she remains her own person, and strong with it. Contrast that with the cowardice of the men who attacked her in a pack, betraying their humanity by their actions. May God have mercy on their wives and daughters, many of whom have no voice and no rights, no means of escape, no recourse to justice or help.
Pirrial | 07 May 2011

Thank you Jen for this article, and highlighting the courage of Lara. Please understand that the vast majority of Australian men are appalled and angry about rape. We want to stand with the victims and do anything possible to prevent this terrible abuse.
James Edwards | 09 May 2011

As I read this and watched this the tears just came. They came as I thought of each of the people I know who have been raped, the woman, the men and the children.

The first time I heard of a rape it was of a male and told to me by another male I knew and had died from AIDS who had been raped. It was my friend’s way of starting to tell me about himself. That disclosure was the first of many I have heard. I have been shocked at the number of people both men and woman I know who have been raped by mainly men and some by woman. I had been so naieve.

Some have been within the families I know, others within the Church family and some by strangers.

When I was first told of a rape it was one of many I heard of before I decided to become a counsellor. And the disclosures have just continued and in the process I realised how close I too had come in the grooming process to the same place as my friend. It was close enough to feel the rage and roar.

Yes lets talk about rape and what it does to people. Lets not be afraid to talk about it and support all those who are affected. Rape tries to shame and silence and take away the persons sense of self. And when we collude with the silence we participate in the shaming silence.

A few weeks back I participated in a small gathering of connected families. It was a special day with a home mass and healing ritual in which betrayal and rape were named for what they are. The discussion that followed lead by the Jesuit priest allowed each person present to express how the rape of a family member had effected each of them. The process was supportive and healing for each of us. And it could only happen because the rape was spoken. The shame belongs where it belongs now. With the perpetrator.

For now I am signing by a pseudonym. Not because I am afraid to show my name, more a book is in the making with my friend. To tell this story tells his and many others. There are so many interconnected threads in the cloth we are weaving in this journey we have been taking together. The story unfolds gradually more shared and public and we wish it to be with respect and healing.


SAM | 10 May 2011

As a father of two girls and a boy and happily married for over 28 years I wish to add my support to the work of Jen. I also wish to state that rape of either gender horrifies and disgusts me. I also wish to add that the vast majority of men (and women) would not even consider such an action. I feel so sad when we are lumped together with the perpetrators-we feel violated too!
Gavin | 11 May 2011


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