America’s Real Favorite Pastime? Judging Women

After the mob attack on Lara Logan, many commenters claimed she was partly to blame. Recalling her own experiences with sexual violence and public criticism, Deborah Copaken Kogan dissects the judgment game

by Deborah Copaken Kogan
deborah copaken cogan image
Photograph: Elinor Carucci

Once I started my career as a photojournalist, the assaults continued. A few months after the rabbi incident, I was beaten over the head with a telephone receiver in a Peshawar, Pakistan, hotel; later that summer, I was stabbed in the arm in Switzerland by heroin dealers who’d broken into my hotel room when they decided they didn’t like me snooping around with my Leica; a month after that, I was informed by a government official in Zimbabwe that he would grant me safe passage into an area of conflict only if I gave him a blow job. I declined his offer and made my way into the jungle alone.

I was 23 years old.

 

IT WAS THUS with more than passing interest that in February I read the finger-wagging reactions in the press to the assault on Lara Logan in Tahrir Square. That she was attacked twice—first in Egypt, then in the press—was sickening but not surprising. For just as sexual assault is an abuse of power, so too is our apparently favorite national pastime: judging women.

Think I’m exaggerating? Plug the phrase raped by the press into Google and see how many hits you get (almost 600,000, by my count). Of course, there are two important distinctions between sexual and verbal assaults: the former violates the body and soul, the latter just the soul; and while men are almost always the perpetrators of sexual assault, both women and men can, and do, carry out the verbal kind.

In Logan’s case, journalist Nir Rosen, a man, mocked her on Twitter: “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she’ll get.” (He later apologized and resigned his fellowship at New York University.) Conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel wrote, “No one told her to go there. She knew the risks . . . Hope you’re enjoying the revolution, Lara!” LA Weekly writer Simone Wilson, in a post titled “Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and Warzone ‘It Girl,’ Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration,” felt compelled to point out Logan’s “shocking good looks and ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action” before getting to the assault itself. On the New York Daily News website, anonymous commenters of unknown genders left droppings such as this one (later removed by the paper’s editors): “Don’t mean to be insensitive, but does she not know this is how a mob operates??? bringing a pretty female into a lawless mob is like showing up at Charlie Sheen’s carrying a ton of coke, thinking he won’t snort it all!” On approvalpolls.com, visitors were asked to answer yes or no to the question “Is Lara Logan to blame for her -sexual assault?” And in an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun (titled “Women with Young Kids Shouldn’t Be in War Zones”), Peter Worthington called Logan’s decision to cover the story “a form of self-indulgence and abdication of a higher responsibility to family.”

Logan would tell her story two and a half months later on 60 Minutes in May. But back in February, immediately after the offensive press reactions appeared, I was urged by a number of colleagues and acquaintances who knew of my history to speak out on TV, on the radio, in any forum where people would listen. I told them all, including the editor-in-chief of this magazine, that I couldn’t face it.

I didn’t want to be seen as profiting from another woman’s pain. Plus, I’d already broken the code of silence in my 2000 memoir, Shutterbabe, and had been duly and swiftly punished for it. I didn’t want to relive the trauma, either of the assaults themselves or of my thrashing in the press for publicly disclosing and wrestling with them. In fact, in some ways it was the press attack that in retrospect cut the deepest and left the most lasting scars. I was terrified that if I defended Lara Logan, I would expose myself to further invective.

But as the months passed, my silence began to feel cowardly, indefensible. I’ve had half my lifetime to contemplate my own assaults, a full decade to digest the fallout from having disclosed them. So here we are.

I ask only for your mercy.

 

First Published May 26, 2011

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Comments

Vanessa 08.15.2011

Thank you to the author for writing this important piece and for her courage speaking out. I picked up my first issue of MORE today and after reading this, I went online and bought a subscription.

Liana Preble08.01.2011

Great article! Thank you for sharing....
Liana Preble
CEO/Founder
www.victoriousmoms.org

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