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What Lara Logan can learn from Elizabeth Smart

Published May 31, 2011 7:53 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Elizabeth Smart embodies the determination of a single woman to control her justice in the face of the instinct to be passive. The brutal assault and rape of Lara Logan in Tahir Square — the symbolic epicenter of the "Arab Spring"— brought Elizabeth Smart's unanticipated courage back to mind, and how she has impacted American justice in a way in which Lara Logan can potentially influence Egypt and beyond.

For six years, most details of what Elizabeth Smart endured for nine months at age 14 remained with her only. Prosecutors and her family discussed a plea agreement that would, reasoned the well-meaning, spare her the presumed indignity of a court appearance. It was Elizabeth who insisted that sex assault charges be maintained. She demanded everyone — including those protecting her — remember "He raped me."

Smart's tormentors had meanwhile been spirited into psychiatric hospitals as incompetent to stand trial. Prospects for their accountability almost evaporated from an entrenched six-year narrative of Brian David Mitchell being delusional.

After I was brought into the case by U.S. Attorneys Brett Tolman and Richard Lambert in 2009, I reached out to Smart, who spoke to me from London for five hours. She recounted dust-gathering details that remained raw in their trauma. But detailing her story became the cornerstone for Smart's later compelling testimony that exposed Mitchell for the indulgent, calculating child rapist that he was.

Smart painstakingly detailed evidence of insincerity of Mitchell's faith and his psychopathic cunning in ways that transcended his deception of psychologists.

When I testified at Mitchell's insanity trial, I worried whether my revealing details of Smart's ordeal would stain her. Would frank testimony of Mitchell's creepy hypersexuality pitch her into the abyss? I watched her in the gallery from the witness stand. Rather than wilt, Elizabeth Smart sat up straight and tall. This young woman knew she was pure, she was strong, she would prevail — no matter the verdict.

Smart's dignity proclaimed to those who humbly endure defilement from other self-styled prophets: You may be a child, but you are a person! You must not enable victimization with silence. Demand to be heard!

When victimized, Lara Logan was a confident senior CBS News correspondent. Reporting amidst the celebration of Egypt's people deposing a Westernizing autocrat, a misogynistic entitlement and bloodlusting anti-Semitism ensnared Lara Logan and attacked her with cries of "Jew, Jew, Jew!" In Logan's estimation, 200 men violated her.

This staggering spectacle of institutionalized degradation has been met with deafening silence from President Obama and congressional appropriations, from feminist organizations, even the all-powerful Western media. Logan herself has expressed reservations about speaking out about her experiences, lest she be defined by them. But she already has been defined by them, just as was Elizabeth.

What can Lara Logan learn from Elizabeth Smart? That one person can change the world even more than the broadcast journalism that defines Logan as well. That her necessary outcry will ensure that the actions that define her torturers will not go ignored. If Logan rises up and speaks out — indomitable and defiant as was young Elizabeth Smart — about the outrage of her violation, she will instigate more change than a "democratic" election in any Arab country ever will.

Freedom will never come to the Arab world without its being forced to confront the inhumanity of its devolved treatment of women and non-Muslims. Lara, demand to be heard, and you — and others who have no voice — will find justice and your own revolution.

Dr. Michael Welner was the principal forensic psychiatrist consulting to the prosecution of Brian David Mitchell; Smart was one of more than 60 people he interviewed before he concluded that Mitchell was an antisocial pedophile. Dr. Welner is chairman of The Forensic Panel and associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.