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The Culture of Victim-Blaming Assaults Lara Logan Again, Discourages Trauma Survivors From Speaking Out

By on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CBS reporter Lara Logan is barely out of the hospital after surviving being sexually assaulted and beaten  in Cairo last Friday, and already the victim-blaming and bashing have begun on media discussion boards and public forums.

An NYU fellow and author of a book about the Iraq war resigned his post earlier today over tweeting crude remarks when news of the attack broke.

I was horrified to read comments earlier today on the Wall Street Journal’s website about the attack on Logan that represented attitudes that one could only describe as Neanderthal, misogynistic, racist, bigoted and victim-blaming at their finest:

And what was a woman journalist — really, ANY journalist — doing in a sea of drunken, lawless people reveling in an overthrow of a 30 year dictatorship, in a third-world country, AFTER DARK?

Shame on CBS for allowing a (attractive) woman to travel to a nearly-like war zone in which women are 2nd class citizens! All for ratings.

Ms. Logan and CBS : What did you expect where entire families live on garbage landfills and women are considered chattel? That they were going to play by our American standards? What were you thinking sending a white woman into that situation? Would you have sent your daughter? I don’t think so. Your judgement and your rationale is entirely suspect.

And there is plenty more that’s way worse. What’s even crazier – is the Wall Street Journal actually requires people using its discussion forums to use their real names. So real people actually own up to making these horrific remarks posted above.

Bravo to NPR for deleting posts on npr.org about Logan and the attack that violated its community discussion rules. One can hope that the Wall Street Journal will follow suit.

Unfortunately, Logan is now getting dragged into the murky pool of commentary assault that some survivors of traumatic personal violence who speak out (or whose experiences are publicized) may be forced to endure.

This seems to occur more often to survivors of suicide, sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence. When survivors left behind after a suicide talk to the media about the warning signs they saw in their loved one in the hopes of preventing another death – internet trolls go on media discussion boards and anonymously post vile comments. Domestic violence victims who speak out after leaving a batterer and rebuilding their lives are blamed for tolerating abuse for “too many” years. A survivor of sexual trauma and gang rape testifies before a legislative body about her experience and changes needed, and she is called a slut, a whore and worse on public websites read by thousands of people. She finds the public commentary to be so vicious, that she later says she will advise other survivors to not speak out in public forums or to the media.

What these attacks on Logan and other survivors demonstrate – is that our society is often incapable of engaging in a dialogue that is respectful and appropriate when it comes to personal trauma violence. Even turning off the anonymous comment feature on media discussion boards, can’t prevent our dialogue from descending into a quagmire of victim-blaming and worse. Survivors of trauma are encouraged instead to hide their experiences behind cloaks of silence.

Yet many don’t get that option. Few trauma survivors, like Logan, have an assault announced to the world by their employer. CBS likely went public with news of the assault in a pre-emptive move. Perhaps Logan glimpsed cell phone cameras in the crowd during the assault. It was likely only a matter of time until news of the assault was publicized.

It’s a situation with no good decision: either wait until the shoe drops and news of the attack is announced by someone else, or pre-emptively make a statement with the minimal information you can tolerate. Unfortunately, that’s often the case when working with trauma survivors – we are trying to resurrect the best situation we can for a survivor from a crumbling nightmare. It’s an “all rocks” scenario – no choice that preserves privacy is even able to get onto the table.

As a public relations practitioner who has spent years working with organizations that provide services to help trauma survivors, the issues of victim-blaming and public reaction to a survivor’s story – cross my desk on a regular basis.

The thing I try to give survivors the most in working with them on media coverage issues- is the feeling of control of their own voice and their own story. It is their story. It is their life. They can make decisions about what is shared, how much is shared, and what they will talk about – from that moment forward. We can’t undo what’s already happened. We can’t control what other people – the public, the media, their attackers, will do.

The impact of public exposure on the trauma survivor – and the possibility of public ridicule after a media report for survivors of suicide, sexual assault and domestic violence – should be talked about up front with survivors and reporters as much as possible. When I meet someone who has been hurt by that exposure, we talk about ways to deal with it and cope with the aftermath.

Things can be done to minimize public exposure for survivors, but often only on the front end before a story is reported. I’ve requested anonymity for trauma survivors, put grief counselors in interviews to offer support, and asked media websites to remove comments that attacked survivors and went beyond the bounds of human decency.

I’ll be speaking for PRSA-NCC’s Nonprofit PR Day on March 9 on “We’re Not Victims, We’re Survivors: Lessons in Using Survivor Stories.” If you have suggestions or ideas for me to consider, please feel free to drop me a note or post a comment.

Today’s vicious commentaries about Lara Logan illustrate the problems faced by many survivors of trauma violence when their stories are aired in the media. News organizations offering public comment forums could crack down like NPR and enforce their terms of use and remove inappropriate remarks. People posting in these forums, might consider how they would write if they knew the person involved. Instead of blaming the survivor, they could offer up their concern and contribute to a meaningful dialogue.

If we learn nothing from this hubbub about a terrible trauma that happened to a respected journalist – then it’s truly a sad day.

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