We may never know Lara Logan’s or CBS News’s exact reasons for going public yesterday with the news that Logan was sexually assaulted while reporting in Egypt. Chances are, however, that the plan was not to provide an opportunity for the media to display its prejudice against victims of sexual crimes, and yet, this is exactly what happened.
The horrific and shameful backlash is well-documented today in Salon by Mary Elizabeth Williams, and you are better served by reading her piece yourself rather than my summary of her summary. What’s worse is that we’ve heard this sort of thing before about women who stand up and allege that they have been raped. In December, Michael Moore famously reduced the sexual assault charges against Julian Assange as a dispute over a condom that broke during consensual sex. (He later made a half-hearted, retraction-esque statement. In November, 14-year-old Samantha Kelly committed suicide after Fox News outed her as the accuser in a sexual misconduct case; she was also bullied online by the man she accused and further bullied at school once her name was released. When the Duke lacrosse team was accused of raping two strippers they hired for a house party, Rush Limbaugh referred to them as “hos.” When Debrahlee Lorenzana sued Citigroup last year for sexual harrassment, the media followed up with questions like, “Is this woman too hot to be a banker?” and focused on her plastic surgery which included breast augmentation to a size of 32D. The implicit text here is that she was somehow asking to be harassed, or disqualified for her job because of her looks.
None of this is to say that never in the history of the world has a woman falsely charged someone of rape. Of course it has happened, but in no way is it fair for media to counter-accuse that a woman somehow “deserves” to be raped because she is attractive, sexual, a feminist or because her work puts her in potentially dangerous situations. When a woman does press charges of rape or sexual misconduct, she needs to be treated with the same respect that we hope would be afforded to someone alleging they have been beaten or robbed. For the media to treat her any other way is not only reprehensible, but dangerous. Victims of sexual assault need to be able to stand up without fear of being first called a liar or a tramp, and it should be universally understood that sexual assault is wrong in any context. Any other response only perpetuates a vicious cycle of violence, abuse and discrimination.