Suggested things to say when a woman is sexually assaulted:
Is there anything I can do?
I am so sorry this happened.
I am with you.
You would think suggestions would be unnecessary. You would think the essential fact of being human and knowing another human being has been hurt in one of the worst ways possible would make the words automatic. But the recent attack on Lara Logan of CBS News — beaten and assaulted while reporting on the uprising in Egypt — suggests that is not always the case.
“Lara Logan is lucky she’s alive,” wrote something named Jim Hoff, blogging on something called Gateway Pundit. “Her liberal belief system almost got her killed on Friday. . . . Why did this attractive blonde female reporter wander into Tahrir Square last Friday? Why did she think this was a good idea? . . . Was it her political correctness that about got her killed?”
Something named Debbie Schlussel, blogging on an eponymous website, used the attack as a launching pad for a screed against the “animals” Schlussel blamed — meaning not the attackers themselves, but Islam writ large. “So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about.”
On the other side of the bipolar American political divide, something named Nir Rosen — a journalist and a fellow at New York University — mocked Logan in a series of tweets as a “warmonger,” presumably for her coverage of the Iraq and/or Afghanistan wars, and said he was “rolling my eyes” at the attention she’d be getting.
Let us pass lightly on the specific “thoughts” — a term used advisedly here — raised by these individuals, except to note that, contrary to what Hoff and Schlussel imply, Logan did not wander aimlessly into that square. The woman is a reporter and she was doing what reporters do: going places, sometimes dicey, difficult or dangerous places, in order to originate the information that allows the rest of us to opine from the comfort of our chairs.
The suggestion that in doing her job, Logan somehow “deserved” what happened to her is appalling. As is Hoff’s political spin, Rosen’s mockery and Schlussel’s frothing bigotry.
But what is also appalling — arguably, more appalling — is the reflexive objectification of a woman who has been violently violated. To read these comments and the many more like them circulating the web, it is easy to forget that we are talking about a real attack upon a real woman who must now grapple with real consequences. It’s as if some feel Logan’s tragedy exists only as a vehicle for them to score political points.
One in every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. The number — it comes from the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network — bears repeating: one in six. Rape is nearly as common as the common cold. And can you imagine looking into the eyes of that one woman in six and saying something as asinine, as unfeeling, as heart dead and soul cold as, “So sad, too bad”?
Yet this sort of thing, this treating of other people’s traumas as if they were abstractions unworthy of reverence, is common now in the public forum. As in the vitriol that attended the deaths of Tony Snow, Robert Novak and Sen. Edward Kennedy. The great irony of the Internet era, the era that brought the world together, is that in some ways, we live at a greater remove from one another, from simple decency, and from our own humanity, than ever before.
Lara Logan was sexually assaulted. She is a real person — she exists somewhere at this very moment — and she is deserving of our compassion, our empathy and our prayers. There was a time that would have been unnecessary to say.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.