CBS News correspondent Lara Logan brought her very personal story of rape and recovery to the “Women 2 Women” event last week, reducing the ballroom full of mostly women to intense quiet as she recounted her experiences as a woman journalist on the job in a foreign country.
“I was here two years ago at ‘Women 2 Women’ and I’m honored you asked me to return,” Logan said, reminding the audience of mostly ladies that she now calls Fredericksburg home and has relatives in the Hill Country area.
She was invited to be the guest speaker at the annual fundraising event for Kerrville’s Hill Country Crisis Council as the local group provides shelter, counseling and advocacy to women, men and children in this area who suffer domestic and physical abuse.
“There is life after death, so to speak. You can live powerfully,” Logan said, and quoted another victim of sexual abuse, saying, “They took so much of me. They don’t get my whole life.”
Logan’s introduction to her personal story was stark.
“I was gang-raped by about 200 men.”
She said she was on the job, covering events for CBS News in Egypt on Feb. 11, 2011, a repeat visit to Cairo after previous assignments there.
She was working with a cameraman and a security guard, and had returned to the Egyptian capital to cover what happened as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned, as many inside and outside the country expected him to do.
They stationed themselves in Tahrir Square where a large crowd had gathered to hear Mubarak was leaving office, she said; and she began reporting for a recorded news report on the mood and actions of the crowd.
She told the Kerrville audience she stayed close to her security guard and in the lights of the video camera. But she remembers everything changed almost in an instant when the cameraman’s battery died and the light went out, and he bent to the ground to fix that.
She said she felt hands touching her, and pulling at her clothes and hair; and tried to keep a grasp on the security guard’s shirt. She severely injured her right hand trying to hold on to him; and later needed surgery.
Logan said the incident involved about 200 men and estimated their attack on her lasted about half an hour. The men tore off her clothes and raped her with their hands.
She said she still remembers the sound her bra made when they tore it off and the straps broke; hearing her pants rip when they pulled them off, and how the night air felt on her bare skin when they had taken all her clothes off.
Logan said she was wearing a string of hand-picked pearls given to her by husband Joe Burkett, as she wore that necklace every day; and she remembers feeling the string break and the pearls falling.
She said the men began pulling her in different directions with some pulling on her hair so hard she felt as if they were trying to scalp her.
“I learned in those situations to watch all the signs around me; and you need to do the same. I learned I must know who I am and not to be afraid. And all of you can learn that, too,” Logan said.
And later she realized some in that mob had been taking photos of the assault on their cell phones, when photographs began to surface, posted on the worldwide internet.
They dragged her some distance across that square before the crowd was stopped by a fence, and finally a group of soldiers arrived and beat the men back and carried her out.
Reports in the aftermath said Logan was flown back to the United States the next day and hospitalized for four days; and CBS executives said her attackers were unidentified and it was unlikely any would be prosecuted.
Logan showed a few of those posted photos to the local audience, saying as a mother and stepmother to one son and two daughters, she still has to wrestle with knowing they will find those pictures someday. She said she tries to prepare to have that conversation someday, as she continues working in her job with “60 Minutes.”
“This is a blessing and a curse. Some people have minimized this afterward. But the ‘trigger’ is always with me. You can never go back to who you were before,” she said. “I’m okay with saying that sometimes when my husband touches me, that it reminds me of the worst night of my life. Sometimes that moment passes in a few minutes; sometimes it takes longer.”
Logan urged the Hill County Crisis Council supporters to do all they can for all victims of domestic violence and rape, using whatever resources they can gather or take advantage of.
“This is the Hill Country, and right here we have a lot of great camps. You could provide a camp experience for abused children,” she suggested.
Logan began her presentation with video clips of some of her past news and feature coverage, notably in the Mideast and Africa, covering wars, Ebola and Somalia, while highlighting the role of women journalists.
Logan, 46, was born in Durban, South Africa, and earned degrees in commerce and French language, culture and history. She worked as a news reporter in Durban; joined Reuters Television in Africa, then branched out to freelance journalism. Assignments as a reporter and producer came from CBS News, ABC News London, NBC and CNN, and her work increasingly involved reporting from war and disaster zones, according to a biographical piece.
CBS News offered her a full-fledged correspondent job in 2002 and in early 2006 she was promoted to chief foreign affairs correspondent for them, and contributes to CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
This year’s 14th annual “Women 2 Women” event had a “Moonlight over Hollywood” theme, with both a silent and a live auction, raffle chances on prizes and a “wine pull.”
More than 150 people attended; and some of the reserved tables were dedicated to famed actresses Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Reynolds. They all suffered domestic and/or sexual abuse at the hands of fathers, foster fathers and husbands in their lifetimes.
Much closer to home, at least a couple HCCC board members and volunteers have stories of their own about assault and domestic violence and use their experiences to relate to others reporting the same.