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Brave Miss World: Summoning the Courage to Speak Out
Joyful Heart is grateful for this week's guest post by Neesha Arter, an author and survivor who recently wrote about her experience in Teen Vogue. Read Neesha's story here. Content awareness for readers: this blog and accompanying video contain detailed and graphic depictions of violence. Some stories may surface feelings, thoughts or memories that could be uncomfortable. Please know that reactions such as the ones described above are common and if you are feeling overwhelmed with the information, we encourage you to listen to your intuition.
“There is nothing to be scared of because the worst part already happened,” says Miss World 1998, Linor Abargil, in the new documentary Brave Miss World. Abargil is referencing the life-altering event that happened a mere six weeks before she was crowned. On a brief trip to Milan for modeling, the Israeli beauty queen was abducted and brutally raped at knifepoint by a travel agent. Once she earned the title of Miss World, she knew that her life’s mission was to speak out against sexual assault and rape.
At eighteen years old, Abargil was able to put a serial rapist behind bars, but it was only after she had to recount her traumatic experience during the trial. While taking the stand, she felt like she was reliving the rape for a second time and finally understood why so many people don’t report their incidents of assault. With incredible determination, Abargil was able to find the justice that many people seek. After her attacker was found guilty, she turned to the camera crew and said, "If it happened to you, don’t be afraid to report. If I can do this, you can, too." She gave courage to a nation of women, and the incidence of reports rose dramatically in the following year.
Cecilia Peck and Inbal Lessner’s new film follows Abargil’s harrowing journey as she travels the globe as an advocate for other rape survivors, battling the trauma that speaking out brings up. During a speech at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, she says, “Rape is so isolating because even if you tell them [friends/family,] they are afraid to mention it, so you're surrounded by silence.” After her speech, many survivors share their stories with her and she sees a unifying factor across cultures. “We all have the same pain, no matter where you're from,” she states.
Realizing how prevalent and underreported this crime is worldwide, Abargil stresses that rape can happen to anyone, no matter race, ethnicity or religion. She meets with victims in South Africa, the rape capital of the world; where women are more likely to be raped than educated. She travels to universities from UC Santa Barbara to Princeton, confronting a campus culture which blames victims for their assaults. Joan Collins shared the story of her rape at 17 by an older actor whom she went on to marry, confessing, “I really hated him, but I was so filled with guilt that he had done this.” Fran Drescher also spoke about her rape at gunpoint when she was 27. “The detective told us that we did everything right because we lived,” she recounts tearfully.
When I spoke to Cecilia Peck about victims of sexual assault, she wants them to know: “It wasn't your fault, you're not alone, and there are friends and help lines who will believe you, support you, and love you. It's so important to reach for help.”
Summoning the courage to speak out, in the belief that telling her story will help others seek help and report the crime, Linor Abargil gives a voice to survivors worldwide and reminds us that we are not alone. She says, “Speaking is the best pill; it heals you.” As a survivor myself, the first time I watched this film, I knew it was my part to share Linor’s story.
Brave Miss World is currently being screened across the world. To find a screening near you, click here. Tonight's screening, Thursday, Dec. 12, is open to the public at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. Click here for tickets.