Until It Happens To You. . .
CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault
By BRIAN STELTER
Published: April 28, 2011
Lara Logan thought she was going to die in Tahrir Square when she was sexually assaulted by a mob on the night that Hosni Mubarak’s government fell in Cairo.
Ms. Logan, a CBS News correspondent, was in the square preparing a report for “60 Minutes” on Feb. 11 when the celebratory mood suddenly turned threatening. She was ripped away from her producer and bodyguard by a group of men who tore at her clothes and groped and beat her body. “For an extended period of time, they raped me with their hands,” Ms. Logan said in an interview with The New York Times. She estimated that the attack involved 200 to 300 men.
Ms. Logan, who returned to work this month, is expected to speak at length about the assault on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.
Her experience in Cairo underscored the fact that female journalists often face a different kind of violence. While other forms of physical violence affecting journalists are widely covered — the traumatic brain injury ’suffered by the ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff in Iraq in 2006 was a front-page story at that time — sexual threats against women are rarely talked about within journalistic circles or in the news media.
With sexual violence, “you only have your word,” Ms. Logan said in the interview. “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.”
Little research has been conducted about the prevalence of sexual violence affecting journalists in conflict zones. But in the weeks following Ms. Logan’s assault, other women recounted being harassed and assaulted while working overseas, and groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists said they would revise their handbooks to better address sexual assault.
Jeff Fager, the chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said that the segment about the assault on Ms. Logan would raise awareness of the issue. “There’s a code of silence about it that I think is in Lara’s interest and in our interest to break,” he said.
Until now the only public comment about the assault came four days after it took place, when Ms. Logan was still in the hospital. She and Mr. Fager drafted a short statement that she had “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.”
That statement, Ms. Logan said, “didn’t leave me to carry the burden alone, like my dirty little secret, something that I had to be ashamed of.”
The assault happened the day that Ms. Logan returned to Cairo, having left a week earlier after being detained and interrogated by Egyptian forces. “The city was on fire with celebration” over Mr. Mubarak’s exit, she said, comparing it to a Super Bowl party. She and a camera crew traversed Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the celebrations, interviewing Egyptians and posing for photographs with people who wanted to be seen with an American journalist.
“There was a moment that everything went wrong,” she recalled.
As the cameraman, Richard Butler, was swapping out a battery, Egyptian colleagues who were accompanying the camera crew heard men nearby talking about wanting to take Ms. Logan’s pants off. She said: “Our local people with us said, ‘We’ve gotta get out of here.’ That was literally the moment the mob set on me.”
Mr. Butler, Ms. Logan’s producer, Max McClellan, and two locally hired drivers were “helpless,” Mr. Fager said, “because the mob was just so powerful.” A bodyguard who had been hired to accompany the team was able to stay with Ms. Logan for a brief period of time. “For Max to see the bodyguard come out of the pile without her, that was one of the worst parts,” Mr. Fager said. He said Ms. Logan “described how her hand was sore for days after — and the she realized it was from holding on so tight” to the bodyguard’s hand.
They estimated that they were separated from her for about 25 minutes.
“My clothes were torn to pieces,” Ms. Logan said.
She declined to go into more detail about the assault but said: “What really struck me was how merciless they were. They really enjoyed my pain and suffering. It incited them to more violence.”
After being rescued by a group of civilians and Egyptian soldiers, she was swiftly flown back to the United States. “She was quite traumatized, as you can imagine, for a period of time,” Mr. Fager said. Ms. Logan said she decided almost immediately that she would speak out about sexual violence both on behalf of other journalists and on behalf of “millions of voiceless women who are subjected to attacks like this and worse.”
More than a dozen journalists have been detained in Libya in the past two months, including four who were working for The Times. One of the Times journalists, Lynsey Addario, said she was repeatedly groped and harassed by her Libyan captors.
For Ms. Logan, learning about Ms. Addario’s experience was a “setback” in her recovery. While Ms. Logan, CBS’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, said she would definitely return to Afghanistan and other conflict zones, she said she had decided — for the moment — not to report from the Middle Eastern countries where protests were widespread. “The very nature of what we do — communicating information — is what’s undoing these regimes,” she said. “It makes us the enemy, whether we like it or not.”
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.”
After the “60 Minutes” segment is broadcast, though, she does not intend to give other interviews on the subject. “I don’t want this to define me,” she said.
She said that the kindness and support shown by Mr. Fager and others at CBS and by strangers — like the high school class in Texas and the group of women at ABC News who wrote letters to her — was a “very big part of picking myself up and restoring my dignity and my self-worth.”
Among the letters she received, she said, was one from a woman who lives in Canada who was raped in the back of a taxi in Cairo in early February, amid the protests there. “That poor woman had to go into the airport begging people to help her,” Ms. Logan recalled. When she returned home, “her family told her not to talk about it.”
Ms. Logan said that as she read the letter, she started to sob. “It was a reminder to me of how fortunate I was,” she said.