EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was posted in full as a set of four comments on an earlier post about reaction to the Lara Logan story. We decided it was worth posting in its entirety here.
I was especially horrified to read of CBS journalist Lara Logan’s sex ordeal as she reported on Egyptians celebrating the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak – because I too was a victim. I was a few hundred yards away in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last Friday, unaware that Lara – whom I had worked with at GMTV – was then desperately fighting off a mob of 200 rabid men in a sustained sex assault.
Now I can say what I have only told a few friends since my return: That I too was subjected to several sexual harassment attacks at the scene. Although they cannot be compared to the trauma Lara suffered, they were deeply upsetting. The first happened soon after my arrival in the square with photographer Philip Ide. At first it had seemed just the merest accidental brush of a hand on my bottom but within seconds I felt another, less hesitant stroke. I ignored it and kept moving, firmly gripping Phil’s shirt so we would not be separated in the surge of bodies. The hand behind me thrust forward again, this time boldly grasping a fair amount of jeans-clad flesh.
I turned round sharply and glared at a young man who stood out in a crisp bright purple shirt but studiously avoided looking at me. He was no more than about 19. I suspected he was the culprit and in any other situation would have confronted him angrily. But in the mass of excitable men, their passions inflamed by hectoring chants and revolutionary songs blaring through speakers, I knew it could have resulted in an angry escalation.
Despite numerous twists and turns around this section of the vast square, the young man’s purple shirt remained a glint in the corner of my eye. Then, using the jostling of the crowd, he lunged forward clumsily and thrust his pelvis into my behind, while holding on to my shoulder with his right hand and attempting to encircle my waist with his left. I reacted instinctively, surprising him with a sharp elbow to his torso and was rewarded with a muffled grunt. Then I grabbed Phil, explained what had happened and asked him to walk behind me for the rest of the way.
Purple shirt soon gave up the chase. At this stage I didn’t feel particularly threatened or scared. Having travelled the world extensively for work and pleasure, I have been in more frightening situations. Even when several youths brushed against me in an intimidating way, some muttering suggestively in Arabic, I felt more annoyance than fear.
It was only later, as it grew dark and a younger, rowdier element arrived in the square, that the mood shifted to a more sinister undercurrent. These teenagers behaved like football hooligans, charging around in long conga lines. When I got caught in the middle of one particularly boisterous group, they mobbed me and several attempted to grope and fondle my body.
For a moment I was nervous – I could see Phil’s head but several bodies were between us – then I got angry and pushed back. Luckily, I managed to wriggle my way out of their grasps. From my previous experiences in the Arab world, I have accepted that a minor level of sexual harassment comes with the territory, so I brushed it off. It never occurred to me to complain to my bosses. I have never wanted to give male colleagues any reason to treat me differently.
But what happened to Lara has given women like me a chance to tell our story, like the time in South Africa when I fled a Zulu after he pushed his hand down my blouse. Or the occasion in Qatar when I fought off a sheikh in full traditional dress trying to force his way into my hotel room. I have had my breasts grabbed in Turkey, been chased by a gang of men while walking down the street in Morocco and generally treated like a piece of meat on a previous visit to Egypt. That was why I arrived in Tahrir Square armoured in jeans, a baggy, long sleeve top and with my hair covered with a knitted hat
No doubt, as a woman friend has said to me: ‘In their minds, you and Lara were just two “infidel whores”, the kind of sexually-liberated women they see in films and videos, or the ones who visit on holiday, get drunk and have liaisons with local men.’ There are those who believe women like Lara should not cover stories where they could find themselves in danger.
Some British and U.S. male commentators have suggested that in some way she was responsible for the attack because she’s petite and attractive. Others have suggested she has ‘form’ for dressing provocatively. I find such comment offensive. No one ever says a male journalist asked for it if he gets beaten up. And I could not have covered up more – apart from wearing a burka.