Monday, March 31, 2014

Miss World 1998: From Rape Victim to Women’s Rights Advocate

Advocacy projects that winners of high- profile international beauty pageants support & promote during their year of reign usually focuses on women’s  issues& rights, reproductive health, cancer& AIDS, education & environment.

But for Israeli beauty queen Linor Abargil who was crowned the 1998 Miss World in Seychelles, hers was totally unexpected for it involved a social taboo.

Linor unwittingly became the poster girl for rape & violence against women victims when she revealed to stunned authorities and pageant organizers that she was abducted and raped in Milan, Italy two months before being crowned Miss World in 1998

On hindsight, she realized that her participation and eventual victory in Miss World was meant to be. Aside from helping her to be distracted from the looming legal battle & the ensuing publicity, her triumph would give her more leverage in the trial against her attacker.

She said winning the 1998 Miss World crown would have meant nothing to her were it not for the platform it provided to speak out.

Unlike most victims of sexual assault, Abargil refused to keep quiet. She pressed charges, spoke out publicly and testified at a trial that sent her attacker to prison for 16 years. Her ordeal inspired other Israeli women to break their own silence and in the process, she became a national symbol who helped destigmatize rape in the country.

Now a globe-trotting victims’ advocate, Linor encourages others to stand against sexual violence by putting an end to their silence. She travels to speak with teens in South Africa, where girls are statistically more likely to be raped than educated. 

She visits U.S. college campuses where women describe a campus culture that fails to take assaults seriously. From rape crisis centers worldwide, to Hollywood’s living rooms, Linor is met with emotional support, but the advocacy work causes her own trauma to resurface.

Today, the 34-year-old mother of three's crusade against sexual violence is going global, thanks to an international speaking tour and new documentary, "Brave Miss World," in which she details her ordeal and speaks to dozens of other victims, many of whom shared their tales of terror for the first time. 

"There is something about Linor that gives credibility to rape survivors. They know that they will be believed, it helps relieve that burden of shame," said director Cecilia Peck, whose previous work includes "Shut Up and Sing," a documentary about the US country singers the Dixie Chicks.  

Peck, daughter of legendary actor Gregory Peck, said the film's name was a subtle allusion to Aldous Huxley's famous novel "Brave New World," in which the government tried to control even citizens' sex lives. 

 Abargil the model. 2008 (Photo: Anat Mossberg)
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, America's largest anti-sexual violence organization, one out of six American women has been the victim of rape or an attempted rape, with 60 percent of them unreported to police. The figures are similar in Israel and other Western nations and far higher in the developing world.

Peck said the film's website has become a focal point for victims to speak out. More than 300,000 people already have visited the site, with many writing about the abuse they experienced. Hundreds of emails arrive each day, she said.


Abargil's own story was just as horrific. She was in Milan, Italy, in October 1998 auditioning for modeling jobs when she asked Uri ShlomoNur, an Egyptian-born Israeli who ran a travel agency there, to arrange a flight back to Israel.

Nur told her there were no flights from Milan to Israel and offered to drive her to Rome where she could catch a plane. During the ride, Nur pulled the car into a thicket, stabbed her, strangled her and raped her at knifepoint. She managed to escape and call her mother.

Her attacker eventually landed in jail & is serving a 16 year prison term

Throughout the trial, Abargil refused to have her name concealed or her face or voice distorted in media coverage, insisting that there was no reason to be ashamed.

Miriam Schler, the director of the Tel Aviv rape crisis center, said Abargil gave rape a "human face" and her trial spurred a big boost in the number of women who sought help.

"She gives women legitimacy to come forward, to say 'I am not crazy, it's not my fault, if people believe her maybe someone will believe me,'" Schler said.

For victims of sexual assault, the journey toward wholeness never ends; still, Linor Abargil, the BRAVE MISS WORLD, continues her unflinching efforts to keep the nightmares at bay.
In 2010, Abargil married manager Oren Halfon

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