Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Treat Lara Logan sexual assault claim the same as any other: as an alleged sexual assault

CBS issued a statement yesterday that read as follows:

(CBSNews) On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a "60 Minutes" story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently home recovering.

Some offensive comments have been made about Ms. Logan. For example, LA Weekly writer Simone Wilson referred to Logan’s “shockingly good looks” and determined that the assaulting mob “apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter.”

Ms. Logan is entitled to be treated with respect, and her claim should not be disbelieved.

But it is important to note that her claim appears to be supported by no evidence beyond her word. None of her CBS crew were with her when she was swept up in the mob. No one, to my knowledge has obtained an interview with any of the persons in the mob, or with any eyewitnesses to the alleged sexual assault. 

The circumstances of Logan's claim should be investigated, to the extent possible, because much significance is being read into it. If it is to be cited as a symbol of female oppression, as some appear wont to make it (see here), we would do well to verify its veracity sooner rather than later. My suspicion is that sometime, probably soon, an eyewitness will come forward with his or her own version of what happened, and if it contradicts Ms. Logan's account, there will be a lot of disappointed people (think Duke lacrosse).

Clearly, what happened to Ms. Logan was a traumatic event -- we have substantiation that she was carried off into a mob, and that is something that, hopefully, none of us will ever be forced to experience.

And let's be clear: her assertion that she was sexually assaulted should not be disbelieved or rejected. Rather, her assertion should be regarded as exactly what it is: an alleged sexual assault.  We should keep an open mind about it while it is investigated.

Unfortunately, every news report of the alleged attack I've seen repeats the details revealed by CBS, and treats the incident as a fact.  A Washington Post reporter wrote: "Her sexual assault was clearly a brutal event, although the exact nature of it remains unclear."  (Read that again: "the exact nature of it remains unclear.")  The piece continues: "Whatever the case, a mob estimated to number around 200 attacked her in Tahir Square, separated her from her crew and bodyguards and severely sexually assaulted her. Ultimately, a group of Egyptian woman and about 20 soldiers rescued her."  See here.

The fact is, we have no idea what happened, aside from Ms. Logan's characterization of the event. Whenever we report on an alleged sexual assault that is under investigation, we insist that it be referred to as an alleged sexual assault. Words matter. We even have a sample form letter on the right side of this page to challenge news outlets that fail to make clear that an alleged assault is not a fact. We have even convinced the New York Times to change a story include that all-important word in one of its reports of such an alleged sexual assault.

My guess is that there will be those who scoff at our post and rhetorically ask, why would Logan exaggerate her ordeal or make up a sexual assault?  In fact, that should not be a rhetorical question.  If you want to see why people lie about rape (and not just women -- men and boys sometimes lie, too), spend a couple of weeks reading through the recent true-life accounts of false rape claims that are recounted on this site everyday.

Remember Heidi Jones?  She was looking for attention.  Another woman sent a man to prison for five years because, she said, she was bored. An 18-year-year-old boy was hauled out of class, arrested, and jailed for a month on a random false rape claim by a girl he had never even met. I could give you dozens of recent examples. Prof. Eugene Kanin identified "attention/sympathy" getting as one of the three reasons for making a false rape claim.

I suspect that I study the false rape phenomenon as closely as anyone in America. My unwillingness to accept an allegation as more than it is is based on a clear understanding of the reported cases, not ideology, guesswork. or misogyny.  I am sorry if this opinion does not fit with some people's political agendas.