For nearly three decades Emmy Award winning broadcast journalist and 6o Minutes correspondent Lara Logan has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous war zones and hot spots.
Six years ago, while covering the Arab Spring in Egypt’s Tarik Square, a gang of men separated her from her camera crew and security and savagely raped and almost killed her.
As she was recovering from the assault at home in the United States, the mother of two young children was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Logan will share her inspiring story of survivorship when she is the keynote speaker at the 20th anniversary of Speaking of Women, to benefit The Center for Family Justice. The annual fundraising luncheon takes place on September 19 at The Waterview in Monroe.
CFJ provides crisis and supportive services to victims of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse in six communities in upper Fairfield County, including Fairfield.
Lara spoke by phone from her home in the Texas hill country, where she lives with her husband, son, daughter and stepdaughter.
FLM: The last six years have been incredibly challenging ones. Where did you find the strength and courage to get through it all?
Lara Logan: Well, I don’t think you have a choice. The choice is between living and not living. It doesn’t mean it’s easy.
FLM: A lot of survivors find it too difficult, even traumatizing, to speak about the sexual violence they’ve experienced. What compels you to be so open?
LL: After the attack I was lying in the arms of some Egyptian women who were trying to save my life. They were giving me water, trying to help. I was naked, humiliated and terrified beyond any physical description of terror that I could give you. I was dying, but I was conscious of every single thing that was happening. There was nothing that escaped me. And I even had a thought cross my mind about how incredible the human capacity to live is. But the fear and the humiliation never left me.
There were some Egyptian security guards who managed to work their way through the crowd to get to me, but because I was naked (and a woman) they wouldn’t help me because of my nakedness. So they went to get a black chador that they threw over me to cover my body. It was only then that they could take me away from there, and I often think about this: They gave me my life back, but they also erased me. And when I was attacked, I was buried under men who were raping me. So when I finally got to my Egyptian driver and as I spoke to him, I realized he couldn’t see what happened to me. When I got to my people, they couldn’t see that my clothes had been ripped off my body and the tatters of what was left. They couldn’t see my hair disheveled and torn from my head. They couldn’t see the marks on my breasts where my attackers had literally tried to rip them off my body. I understood in that moment that I had to give voice to what had happened. Speaking out is the only way for the truth to come out and for people to know what they did to me. That’s how I’ve lived my whole career. So I’m just doing what’s instinctive.
FLM: The Center for Family Justice provides crisis and support services to victims of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse. How important do you think it is for agencies like this to exist in local communities?
LL: You know when I was raped in Egypt, one of the things I thought about was that I could get to the airport and put as much distance between what happened and my attackers as humanly possible. That physical separation from the people who tortured me was very important and critical to my healing. I have often thought since, “What must be like if the people torturing live in your own home or in your community?” For me, I have an almost visceral reaction to that thought. Think about having to live with the person who abuses you. I have a habit, from my work, of trying to put myself in the shoes of the people I meet. And I don’t know how it’s possible for them to get on with their lives if they don’t have someplace safe to go where they are protected. I imagine what it would have been like if I had nowhere to go and it’s painful. For me it’s not an academic thing, but a real need.
FLM: What do you hope people take away from your keynote address at Speaking of Women?
LL: Something I’ve been really focused on lately is the idea that there are many phases to recovering from trauma. I hope I can inspire people to start thinking differently about what that means. It doesn’t mean you forget what happened to you, that you erase it from your memory as if it never happened. That’s impossible. And if you put that kind of pressure on yourself, how do you ever heal? I don’t know how you do that. I feel like overcoming it is such a better way to describe it. I’ve overcome it, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to me or I don’t have bad days, because I do.
When I was crying and depressed about my cancer, I was feeling so terrible and guilty that I was having such a hard time with it. My sister told it was okay to be that way. That I didn’t have to constantly be “so positive” because I certainly felt like I should be that way. Part of my message is that it’s okay to have bad moments. It doesn’t mean you are not recovering. But I made a decision that the people who traumatized me could not win. Some days, I still give in to what happened more than I would like, but I am determined that they will not win.
Editor’s Note: The conversation has been edited for length.
For tickets to Speaking of Women, please visit www.centerforfamilyjustice.org.