In the hours and days following CBS reporter Lara Logan's brutal and repeated rape in Egypt, the world understandably wanted details. But Logan only released a brief statement with CBS News chairman Jeff Fager, revealing no more than that she had suffered a "brutal and sustained sexual assault" by Egyptian men in Tahrir Square amid the throes of anti-Mubarak celebration.
At the Weekly, we interpreted that to mean she was raped. See: "Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and Warzone 'It Girl,' Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration."
Now, Logan is taking her initial public disclosure a step further, telling the New York Times that "for an extended period of time," numerous attackers among a mob of 200 to 300 "raped me with their hands."
It's a courageous step for a woman who went through a horrific and degrading ordeal only two-and-a-half months ago. But in this age of 24-hour news, back in February, people wanted to know more -- and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as well as a smaller South African site called IOL News, gave them what they wanted.
Each paper quoted anonymous sources saying that Logan had not, in fact, been raped, with the key information coming from a single unnamed source described by the Journal as "a person familiar with the matter." The only other news outlet to claim a direct interview with insiders was IOL News, an obscure online paper that alleged it had spoken with her family -- who said Logan had merely been poked by flagpoles. Links to that post were widely shared on comment boards and used as argument.
The information was thin, the sourcing veiled -- and now, it turns out, the story was false.
From there, the media widely reported that there was no rape. Some media watchers (like Mediabug and PBS) soon started asking the Weekly to correct our use of the word "rape." Mark Follman went so far as to say he knew the truth: Logan had "apparently" not been raped.
That was highly unlikely from the outset.
Loyola Law School Los Angeles professor Laurie Levenson, an expert in the language of crime, told us at the time that the adjectives "brutal" and "sustained" implied "It was not one individual who took a shot at her; it was repeated contact, probably by several people." That's where "repeated" came in.
Though terminology differs by region in the U.S., "sexual assault" is generally used as an umbrella term for all sexual crimes, of which the most extreme case is rape. Three experts in legal language -- including Lawrence Solan and Peter Tiersma, the two authors of "Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice," as well as Levenson -- agreed that CBS' description of the assault on Logan implied that the attack upon her had been of the most extreme nature.
Levenson said CBS' initial account necessitated that "[the attackers] forced contact with any of her sexual organs, or forced her to have contact with any of their sexual organs." Due to the harsh description CBS initially provided, Levenson confirmed that it was highly unlikely that some form of rape (in California, "any sexual penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the crime") had not occurred.
The "assault" tag may have been minimizing and underplaying what had happened. That's partly why Logan's gutsy decision to tell the truth is now so interesting:
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. ...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."
So why was the media so quick to rely upon an anonymous source and drop the question of what really happened to Lara Logan? Even the Weekly ran a correction after intense public pressure, most of it from other media -- and none of it from the Logan camp.
"In everyday speech," Solan said, using "sexual assault" instead of "rape" would "sound like it's minimizing things."
In U.S. law and society, he says, the terms "sexual assault" and "rape" have been co-mingled for a reason: so that more minor sexual crimes can't be written off as less terrible, or brushed off with a "boys will be boys" attitude.
"There's kind of a tension as to how much we want to separate these things," he said. "We don't want to make distinctions in the language that are so big that any [sexual crime] appears minor."
But in Logan's case, the opposite occurred. A terrible crime was reported as a more minor one, due to the ambiguity of "sexual assault."
The 39-year-old mother from South Africa, inspired by the recent plight of New York Times journalist Lynsey Addario, detained and sexually battered in Libya, and other women who told Logan similar horrific anecdotes during her recovery period, now makes the brave and necessary decision to dispel the speculation.
She'll share the exact nature of her attack with the world on "60 Minutes" this Sunday night.
Here's what we know so far:
[The crew] estimated that they were separated from her for about 25 minutes.
"My clothes were torn to pieces," Ms. Logan said. ...
"What really struck me was how merciless they were. They really enjoyed my pain and suffering. It incited them to more violence."
Turns out, women journalists are often afraid to report the additional dangers they face in the field, fearing the boss will send a man next time instead. In 2007, foreign correspondent Judith Matloff wrote the following for the Columbia Journalism Review:
Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare. Yet the compulsion to be part of the macho club is so fierce that women often don't tell their bosses. Groping hands and lewd come-ons are stoically accepted as part of the job, especially in places where western women are viewed as promiscuous. War zones in particular seem to invite unwanted advances, and sometimes the creeps can be the drivers, guards, and even the sources that one depends on to do the job. Often they are drunk. But female journalists tend to grit their teeth and keep on working, unless it gets worse.
Women being able to talk about what really happens out there -- in this case, the rape of a smart, hard-hitting war reporter also famous for her looks and guts, because that's how many female journalists make it to the top -- is another step toward equality.
Props to Lara for sharing her story in full. It needs telling, and she's just the one for the job.
Update: Based on her no-holds-barred interview on "60 Minutes" last night, Logan's attack was even worse than we could have imagined.
She reported the mob ripping at her limbs, trying to tear off pieces of her scalp and raping her countless times with their hands, both in the back and the front.
Only once did Logan break into tears: When she remembered being separated from her bodyguard.
"I didn't want to let go of him," she told the world. "I thought I was going to die if I lost hold of him."