The moment Former Miss World from Israel Linor Abargil was crowned Miss World, she was in floods of tears. Why? She recounted her rape from few weeks ago. Now, 16 years later, she tells the world her story through a film, encouraging female rape survivors to share their trials for the world to take a lesson from. That vicarious night in Italy, when he started to strangle her with a rope after concluding the act, Abargil thought she was not going to survive. But when he paused for a moment, she managed to convince him to leave her alive atleast. Hanging on to dear life, she barely escaped, and immediately reported it to the authorities. The Italian police let the rapist go due to a lack of proper evidence. When she was back in Israel, she informed the police again. The authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nur and he was tricked into returning to Israel.
Later, after a lengthy trial, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. At the time of investigations and trials, Abargil was crowned Miss World. She tearfully recounts, “When I stood on stage with the diadem on my head, I think it was the first time that I realised what happened to me three months ago – and that I needed to go back to my country, my home immediately,” she says. “I couldn’t stay there for a minute more. Going from the extremes of almost being killed to being on that gigantic stage, with millions of people watching was too much to handle. “I felt like dying, basically. I didn’t even care about anything really. But God had different plans. I guess this crown was for me to do what I’m doing today. I travelled the world and met amazing groups of men and women. As all Miss Worlds quote for the sake of quoting, I want to save the world. Well, I guess I took it seriously.” Today, after all these years, Abargil is 34-years-old, a mother of three and a qualified lawyer. She’s also a global advocate in the fight against sexual violence and created a documentary, Brave Miss World, about her rape and subsequent activism. Since she was raped, she’s been on a mission to ‘save the world’ which took 4 years to complete. In it, Abargil speaks to dozens of women who have also survived rape – including Hollywood stars Joan Collins and Fran Drescher. It’s being shown at the Jewish Film Festival in the UK and is available on Netflix too. In the documentary, which is directed by Gregory Peck’s daughter Cecilia, she goes on a personal journey of acceptance.
After two years of therapy in order to deal with her own rape, the intensity of hearing so many other women’s stories affected her. Most of the women she met with have also shared their stories on her website ‘Brave Miss World’ where she motivates rape survivors to speak up. This is Abargil’s main aim. “I think it’s very important to talk. Because these women who don’t speak, they don’t want to believe it ever happened at all. They’re scared at the mention of the word rape. “If anyone says that word, they can shake all over and faint. It controls them. And for what? A victim should never let the rapist control her mind for the rest of your life! “I think when you put what happened to you aside, and you’re not afraid to confront it, at that point you realise it’s not what makes you who you are.” Speaking out came naturally to Abargil: “I wasn’t like other girls. I never blamed myself, or thought it happened because of me. I never kept it inside.” “Earlier, what I did felt normal. But now I realise that it just wasn’t. Because most victims don’t speak, ever. I’m different in that way. I speak, I shout, I’m not afraid.” To report rape is an hugely difficult process. And, as Abargil found out while making the film, not every victim has that option. Abargil says: “I don’t think every girl has the strength to complain They don’t all have the support system needed. But I’m saying everyone should speak out to such people who can give them love, because love cures everything. If you know you can fall back on the people you love and they’ll be there for you, it’s worth everything.” “While making the film, thought I was going to save the world when I started. I thought it would be much easier,” she says. “But it was too much. I started to think this world was evil again and everything was only bad. The worst horror movies aren’t as bad as the stories as I heard. I saw women who were helpless – no one supported them.” We have to change our views on rape Her hope is that by speaking out about the reality of rape, we will see a worldwide change in the manner society views sexual assaults and its victims. “Nothing will change if you don’t speak. How will it?”
“ But I hope men will be afraid because they know we’re going to talk about it to everybody. I pray men learn to respect, and act like normal human beings, and not like animals. I hope that we’re going to raise kids who respect themselves and other humans alike.” She also hopes that women will start to change the way they view rape. That survivors will be able to speak about it, without any shame or stigma. Women should stop detesting and punishing themselves “Women should stop hating themselves, because we do that to ourselves in general. If something like this happens to us, we blame just blame our own selves. We’re raised in a society where we have to be perfect. Anything else is not accepted. “Instead of looking at us like a victim [people] look at us like we’re a problem – like we’re the rapist and did something wrong. I think it’s because we look at ourselves this way.” “Women do so many horrible things because of their shame,” says Abargil. “For example, the story of Joan Collins who was raped as a virgin and later married her rapist. After many women saw the film they said, ‘I married my rapist, too’. “They said, ‘I felt like I was worth nothing. I thought he was the only one who’s going to stay with me after what happened”
That’s Abargil’s only message is to rape survivors. She wants to talk directly to them and help them realise that they are not alone, and that there are people out there who want to help. And love will still prevail if only they wanted it to, and would keep their doors open for someone who would really be worthy.
by Dr. Aafreen Kotadiya