Miss World 1998 discusses sexual assault


March 27, 2015

Tuesday night, March 24, the Brandeis community gathered in Wasserman Cinematheque to view a screening of “Brave Miss World” and listen to Linor Abargil, Miss World 1998, speak after the film.

“Brave Miss World” is a documentary centering around Abargil, who survived a brutal assault and rape by her travel agent, only to be crowned Miss World six weeks later. Abargil used her fame as Miss World as a starting point to become a vocal activist against sexual violence. She created a website through which rape survivors can speak about their experiences and their struggles with coping. Millions of people have published their stories and spoken out through this forum.

The overarching theme of the documentary and her speech was that having conversations about sexual assault helps the survivor heal and gain the strength to speak out. Interspersed throughout the film are clips of survivors who spoke about their personal experiences. One of the women admitted that she did not want to tell her mother that someone had drugged and raped her at a party because that was “every mother’s worst nightmare.”

Following the screening, Abargil spoke for a few minutes about why she works to spread awareness about sexual assault. She told the audience that the women who gave her their stories inspired her to make the film. “The main reason I did this film is to make women and men speak out,” she said. “Rape is so isolating, because even if you tell people what happened, they are afraid to mention it, so you are surrounded by silence,” said Abargil. Not only has Abargil used talking about her experience as a way to heal, but she also hopes that other women will be able to do the same.

Throughout the documentary and during her talk, Abargil stressed how few people speak about rape, and that without speaking, there is no healing. Ignoring the experience, according to Abargil, causes it grows bigger and bigger “like a tumor,” and it will never go away until it “eats you alive.” She says that talking about it leaves a scar, but scars can heal over.

During the question-and-answer session following the screening, an audience member asked Abargil how to prevent sexual violence, and she answered, “Raise your kids not to rape.” Deviating from the traditional stance which offers advice on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of sexual assault, Abargil instead shifted the responsibility to those committing these crimes. She emphasized that children should be taught not to rape and should raised to be non-violent and to have respect for others.

An additional audience member asked Abargil how she viewed God’s role in her tragic stories, to which Abargil answered that one of the first responses she got after telling her story was that everything happens for a reason. For a long time, she had struggled with the question of, “How can you tell me what happened to me is good?” Now, however, she has come to the realization that people are only put through things that they can handle.

When asked if she ever felt guilty for reporting her rapist, Abargil replied that at no point did she ever feel sympathetic. She emphasized the importance of turning in rapists for both peace of mind and to prevent future women from being assaulted by the same man. While this in theory sounds good, Alex Shapiro ’18, did not agree with everything Abargil said. “I appreciate the fact she empowers women to share their stories and spread awareness … however, I don’t like how she acted as though victims of rape who do not handle it in the same way that she did are somehow wrong. I don’t believe every victim would get the same satisfaction from throwing their perpetrator in jail, and I also don’t think it’s fair to put the responsibility on victims to make sure their perpetrators don’t rape again.”

Although there was some controversy regarding all of Abargil’s beliefs, the documentary looks past the act of rape and examines how Abargil managed to move past the assault and through life—a moving story. “I find her message inspirational. It touches upon a topic that is of concern to our campus, and she delivers a very positive message,” said Alice Kelikian, director of the Film, Television and Interactive Media Program, and the woman responsible for bringing Abargil to campus. In an interview after the screening, Kelikian said she found Abargil “articulate, sardonic and moving” and “passionate about her cause.”

The event was funded by funded by the Edie and Lew Wasserman Fund; the Film, Television and Interactive Media Program; the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies; and the Office of Prevention Services. Sheila McMahon, Brandeis’ sexual assault services and prevention specialist, as well as students from the Rape Crisis Center attended the screening to provide support for any students, as did Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel.

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