In aftermath of Lara Logan attack, what to say about sexual assault

In the online comments about CBS reporter Lara Logan’s assault by an Egyptian mob, there are many examples of what not to say.

There is a lot of good writing about why such false logic persists. I won’t rehash it.

But what can you say about sexual assault? When bad information and horrible commentary are dominating a news story, I always find it helpful to look for facts that we know to be true and ask questions that might help our understanding.

  • Women are more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault. The statistics on this are conclusive, even though it’s hard to say what the real incidence of rape is. Because sexual assault is vastly under-reported to authorities, researchers turn to surveys to determine the actual incidence. Studies estimate that over the course of her lifetime, somewhere between 12 to 25 percent of women are sexually assaulted.
  • Children are commonly victims of sexual assault, so in that way, the attack on Logan, like most of the assaults that get news coverage, was out of the ordinary.
  • Sexual assault happens more often during times of war, civil unrest and in societies that don’t protect the civil rights of women. It is a crime used by oppressors as a weapon to intimidate and silence. Women in Egypt are talking about how common Logan’s experience is in their society.
  • It’s hard to say how many journalists are sexually assaulted in the course of doing their jobs. But female journalists face greater threats in some parts of the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented a handful of cases, according to communications director Gypsy Guillen Kaiser. “We are told about these things and it helps understand the risks,” she said. “We don’t always write about them, because sometimes we are told in confidentiality.” In 2005 CPJ documented a case where reporters covering Egyptian elections were beaten and at least one was threatened with rape.
  • We don’t know why Logan’s attackers assaulted her. Were they just an out-of-control mob? Were they pro-Mubarak supporters trying to intimidate outside journalists? Were they attacking her because of her ethnicity or a perception of her religion? We don’t know for sure. We might never know.
  • Most of the time, journalists do not reveal the names of survivors of sexual assault, because the crime is such an invasion of privacy. CBS officials said they released details of the assault on Logan after a reporter from the Associated Press called. One would assume Logan was part of that decision.
  • Most victims appreciate the privacy. Some do not. They feel that going nameless reinforces the notion that what happened to them wasn’t real, or wasn’t that bad, or was their fault.

My first instinct, when a reporter told me about Logan’s assault, was to be quiet. I thought about Logan’s privacy and about how I knew some would respond, blaming her for what happened. I didn’t want to add fuel to that fire.

But when we turn away from a sexual assault, we amplify the voices that would blame the victim or minimize the attack. Our instinct to avert our eyes leaves the victim to face a world of judgment on her own.

There is so much we can say about sexual assault. As a society, we rarely talk about it, until a particularly dramatic event. Then we talk about the circumstances of the event: Where was she? What happened? In asking those questions, we allow myths and suspicions to guide our conversations. But we forget to bring in all the facts that we do know.

So if we talk about Logan’s ordeal, let’s do so in the context of things we know to be true.

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  • Anonymous

    We need journalist like lara logan who can fight back and show their enthusiasm towards journalism

  • Anonymous

    I believe the commentary does justice in presenting the issue well. I concur with the author that the first instinct was to shut up respecting the privacy of the victim.
    There is one issue in such cases when the victim is named, the desk handling the report gets too casual “she is not worried about being named, so why bother, you can play it up or present details etc….” There is no respect for an individual in that situation.
    I think it would be doing justice to the people of Egypt in not generalising it to reflect their society. I believe rape is the worst form of intimidation perpetrated by cowards.

  • Anonymous

    As an attorney who has represented victims of sexual assault, I concur. Usually, such assaults occur in private and there are no independent witnesses, which makes prosecution difficult. Victims are hesitant to press charges for reasons we all know: conviction is difficult and victims must submit to humiliating interrogation regarding details. As Logan’s assault occurred during a broadly televised and recorded public event, however, so it is probable that witnesses and substantive evidence (cell phone recordings, photos) will turn up. For this reason, I would strongly encourage her to pursue prosecution. This could be a pilot case for prosecuting sexual assault in Egypt at a moment when the constitution is being revised to enhance civil rights.

  • Anonymous

    Reports that the mob shouted “Jew, Jew” have not been verified and there are questions about the legitimacy of those claims. (The mob was shouting at Logan in English? Who witnessed this? Critical analysis is in order.) That said, witnesses haven’t stepped forward yet and it is critical that they do as documenting the assault will be vital for prosecution. The attack took place during a public event that was as televised and recorded as the Super Bowl, so evidence will definitely turn up. Police thugs who detained Wael Ghonim and other protesters, for example, have been identified via cell phone recordings– it is amazing how well-documented the revolution was by average citizens.

  • Kelly McBride

    We link to a story that includes a witness stating that the crowd thought Logan was Jewish. But no one has duplicated the reporting yet, so I didn’t want to repeat the claim. A lot of time very inflammatory early facts in a story turn out to be distorted or out of context. So I’m waiting for more reporting to turn up. I’m hoping someone will eventually interview some of the women or the soldiers that rescued her, to hear what they have to say.

  • Anonymous

    Could someone please explain why the word “Jew” doesn’t appear anywhere in this article given the significance it played in the attack?

  • Anonymous

    Hey Boys! Do you remember your Mother is a Woman too?

  • Anonymous

    CBS needs to clarify this info as well as anyone including Kelly on reporting about the facts of this terrible incident….Reporters have the responsibilty to do better job on the facts of what actually happened…otherwise we end with a situation like Saddam attacked us on 911 or Obama a muslim

  • Kelly McBride

    Mojo Jojo,
    In most sexual assaults there is no physical evidence. I’ve worked with Joanne Archambault, a cop, who is an expert on this topic and trains other cops. Here’s her page: She says that there is no evidence that sexual assaults are falsely reported any more than any other felony crime, which is to say very rarely. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that in this case, just looking at the statistics alone.

    Usually the only way we publicly find out the answer to that question is if criminal charges are filed, given that the actual details of the assault are often considered intensely private.

  • Mojo Jojo

    There’s still no proof. The only thing in the world – you can google it – that suggests that lara logan was raped or sexually assaulted is lara logan claiming it. No witnesses, no scars, no bruises, no photographs, no video, no nothing. Where’s the proof that this woman was raped – it doesn’t seem to exist ouside of her mind. Sure rape is terrible, but isn’t making a false accusation of rape just as terrible. Look it up – the proof doesn’t exist, only copies of copies of her claim, nothing more.

  • Anonymous

    Was lara Logan raped or sexually assaulted…. why is there no clarity on this issue?

  • Anonymous

    It’s difficult, as a man, to feel all the empathy deserved by a woman victim of sexual assault. Kelly, I find your story to be beautiful and far more level-headed than anything else I’ve read or heard. My first reaction to hearing of a rape — either sex/any age — is a blind hatred for the perpetrators. There is no excuse for this oldest of crimes of intimidation. The fact that it continues is a remarkable observation on how little mankind has evolved.

  • John Selfridge

    Very thoughtful. Best of luck to Ms. Logan.

  • marducey

    Wonderfully written, Kelly.