In early February, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was covering the uprising in Egypt from Cairo's Tahrir Square when she was shoved out of the center of the square by a crowd of 200, beaten and sexually assaulted. One month later, I'm looking at a People cover advertising a feature about her (it's not the main cover story; that's Kate Middleton, obviously), and I can't help but note the picture of Logan they've chosen to use. The photo was taken before the incident; Logan's head is cocked slightly and she's resting the heel of her hand beneath her chin. Apparently, when running a story on a woman's brutal sexual assault, People finds it appropriate to go with a picture that implies nothing so much as “naughty secretary.”
People is not the first media outlet to have a bizarrely distasteful reaction to the crime, and it won't be the last. Shortly after Logan's assault, journalist Nir Rosen resigned from his position as a fellow at New York University after he complained via Twitter that Logan was “going to become a martyr and glorified” and added that “it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson [Cooper] too.” Right-wing blogger Debbie Schlussel, whose work has been published in The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, upped the ante by saying, “No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about.”
L.A. Weekly writer Simone Wilson showed less malice but equally horrendous judgment, claiming Logan had a “ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action” (because, you see, she put herself in danger). Beyond that, a disturbing amount of media coverage of the incident seems to think it's relevant to mention Logan's physical attractiveness or the fact that she has had an extramarital affair, or run a picture prominently displaying her cleavage.
As long as there has been rape or sexual harassment — for all of human history — there has been a segment of society that sees fit to blame its victims rather than its perpetrators, but in a still-young year, that mindset already seems to be reaching a fever pitch. We saw early rumblings of it late last year, when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's wife Virginia infamously called Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, to suggest that Hill apologize to Thomas.
Recently, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill, which had bipartisan sponsorship, proposed to restrict tax revenues funding abortions to cases of forcible rape, the implication being that rape involving coercion, drugs or underage girls was somehow less egregious. When this was publicized, the language was dropped, but is it unreasonable to be concerned about our elected representatives deciding this was a good idea in the first place?
Meanwhile, in Georgia, state Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican, is currently seeking to have all Georgia miscarriages investigated to confirm they weren't intentional, and has proposed changing the legal term for victims to accusers. A few weeks ago, noted feminist scholar Glenn Beck compared rape victims who get abortions to eugenicists.
And lest you think my aim is to single out Americans, in late February, a Manitoba judge acquitted an accused rapist, ruling that the victim had been braless during the attack, which meant “signals were sent that sex is in the air” and “this is a different case than one where there is no perceived invitation.”
I'm disheartened that this has to be said at all, but rapes are never in any way the victims' fault. That's why they're rape. They're the rapists' fault, period. I can't think of another violent crime in our society that generates this kind of debate. No one tries to justify murders by the victims' clothes, or claim that victims of theft were “sending signals” that they wanted to be robbed. And when you question the purity of a rape victim's motives, or imply that she “knew what she was getting into,” you not only make one of the most traumatic experiences of any woman's life infinitely worse, you embolden more rapists or potential rapists by giving them the idea that if they do it, they won't be held responsible.
As we work our way into a new year, our eyes should be on progress, not on this type of regressive, misogynistic thinking. A crime is a crime, and the perpetrator is the only one to blame for it, and it's troubling to think that the media and the politicians who govern us are having such difficulty understanding that. S
Zack Budryk is a journalism major at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.