'Brave Miss World'
Film Screening speaks out against sexual violence
An earlier version of this article stated that Brandeis is one of three universities in the United States that Abargil has visited and that she has also been to Yale University and Princeton University. Abargil, has in fact, visited four universities in the United States and has been to Princeton, Columbia University and University of California Santa Barbara.
An earlier version of this article stated that Cecilia Peck was the director of the documentary. Cecilia Peck and Inbal Lessner produced the film and they continue to do the film outreach campaign together.
“I won this stupid crown for something,” Linor Abargil says playfully, captivating the audience with great composure in the Wasserman Cinematheque.
This stupid crown—the Miss World crown—has helped empower Linor Abargil to tell her story. Just weeks before being crowned Miss World 1998, Abargil was kidnapped, beaten and brutally raped at knifepoint by her travel agent in Milan. Now she advocates across the world, encouraging other victims to speak out.
Upon winning the Miss World pageant, Abargil spearheaded a global campaign that aims to eradicate the silence that often accompanies sexual violence. She flew from Tel Aviv to Boston last Tuesday to screen her documentary Brave Miss World and speak to the Brandeis community about the societal pressure that suppresses rape victims from speaking out.
“I’m here basically to make girls talk, to not be afraid, to go against the system—believe in themselves and in their truth,” Abargil said in an interview with the Justice. “This is what it’s all about for me. I mean really, to open up and save your life. If you don’t talk, your life is destroyed for sure.”
The 2013 film, which is available on Netflix and was recently nominated for an Emmy Award, portrays Abargil’s battle to change the way rape is dealt with. It begins with her recounting her attack, which occurred weeks before she won the title of Miss Israel. Her story quickly becomes one of perseverance as she continues on to win Miss World and uses her success to empower herself and many others.
According to the documentary, Abargil knew immediately that she was going to report her attack and pursue legal action. After leaving Italy, Linor returned home to Israel and reported her attack to Israeli authorities. Her attacker, Uri Schlomo Nur, was extradited to Israel and later convicted for rape and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The documentary noted that Schlomo was previously accused of two other rapes in Italy but that an offender is usually tried in court on his third incident of rape. Initially, Schlomo was detained by Italian authorities and soon released until being extradited to Israeli authorities.
Abargil attributes her strength to pursue legal action while still healing largely to her family’s support system. In the film, her friends and family are constantly featured next to her and play a big role in her personal success. The film shows her father explaining how difficult the attack was for him to accept and her mother becoming her primary source of support.
Throughout the film, Abargil conducts numerous interviews with people from around the world who are survivors of rape—over a dozen women and men. She also speaks with two celebrities who recounted their own experiences with rape: Joan Collins and Fran Drescher.
“It made me really, really sad to meet these women around the world that didn’t have the support that I did,” Abargil said to the audience at Brandeis, with her mother sitting in the front row before her.
It was in an interview with a student from Princeton University that Abargil realized how prominent the issue of rape is on college campuses. Included in the documentary, the female student’s face is blurred as she speaks to Abargil about being raped by a male student on the soccer team. The student explains that she fears speaking out against him and becoming publicly shamed.
“I met some girls there [at Princeton University] that told me horrible stories—the campus didn’t support them. I know the statistics of how bad it is and how things happen, and no one talks about it,” Abargil told the Justice. “Really, what’s going on on college campuses is going on all around the world. They blame the victim. ‘You are the one to be blamed, you did something wrong. It’s wrong to talk.’ This is what they teach us.”
Brandeis is one of four universities in the United States that Abargil has visited. She has also been to Columbia University, University of California Santa Barbara and Princeton University—where she hosted a “Take Back the Night” event.
Tuesday’s screening of Brave Miss World was brought to campus by Prof. Alice Kelikian (HIS, FTIM) and Ethan Stein ’15, an undergraduate departmental representative for the program in Film, Television and Interactive Media. Stein was inspired by the documentary after a friend of his wrote a blog post about how watching Brave Miss World saved her life, encouraging her to speak out about her own rape. Stein then mentioned the film to Kelikian, he said.
“Cecilia Peck, the director of the documentary, happened to be a fellow alumna from Princeton, so I reached out to her. Two days later we secured the film, and I asked [Abargil] to come to campus. She immediately accepted our invitation,” Kelikian wrote in an email to the Justice. Peck produced the film with Inbal Lessner and together they spent five years making the film. They continue to run the film's outreach campaign together.
Throughout the film, countless people are inspired by Abargil to talk about their assaults. During the question-and-answer session after the film, an audience member even raised her hand and shared her own story. Abargil and the audience clapped, and Abargil graciously thanked her for sharing her story.
“Oh, you don’t know how many [rape victims have spoken to me] since the film, how many stories of girls and women and men that come to me. It gives me a lot of strength because it feels like you’re not alone and that there is life afterwards. You see me in the film and you see me today—you understand that you can go through what happened to you and look at the half-full glass. If you’re still here, there’s a reason,” Linor explained to the Justice. “For, me that’s the best gift that I can get from this film and I think for life … I want to shout out my truth, and I want other girls to feel like I do and be strong.”
Peer advocates from the Brandeis Rape Crisis Center were present at the Brave Miss World screening in a private room nearby. Their presence was announced prior to the screening to offer support to people who might feel triggered. Marketing and Outreach Coordinator Victoria Jonas ’15 works with the center to provide direct support to members of the Brandeis community who are impacted by sexual violence.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to have Linor Abargil, who is so influential in sexual violence awareness and activism, come to Brandeis to share her story,” Jonas wrote in an email to the Justice. “It’s vital for communities like Brandeis to start having conversations about the ubiquity of sexual violence and shed the silence surrounding this sensitive topic; Abargil’s visit contributed to this important goal.”
A crowd flocked to hug and speak to Abargil after the screening. “I cried like the whole time ... you can ask my wife. I cried every three minutes,” Rabbi David Pardo told the Justice.
Brave Miss World and Abargil’s talk moved Brandeis community members in deep and personal ways. “We [fraternities] provide the space... where this stuff happens more often than in other spaces” Eli Harrison ’18, a new member of Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Brandeis chapter, said. “I see that as a responsibility and something that I take very, very seriously.”
Pardo realized that he too has “a bigger role to play” in rape awareness. “Being a rabbi on campus means a lot of things to a lot of people, and a lot of purposes, and a lot of roles to play ... I hadn’t thought about rape awareness as being one of them, and now I do.”
Others took away new understandings of sexual violence. “I had never thought of rape as such a dangerous thing. The way Linor brought light to that really was very important,” said Polina Dolgopolskaia ’17.
Even while traveling, sharing her own story and raising a family, Abargil has been able to grapple her way out of the past and move into the future. She is now a lawyer, hoping to help victims of rape. She is a wife and a mother of three. She has also decided to practice Orthodox Judaism for spiritual guidance.
Linor has also started a social media movement—#IAmBrave— encouraing victims of rape to publicly share their stories.
Whether through film, speaking engagements or Facebook, her message remains clear: speak out. She believes that everything changes for society and the individual when you start talking about it.
After the question-and-answer session, Abargil facetimed Stein’s friend, who essentially inspired the event, in the lobby of Wasserman theater with an anxious crowd awaiting before her and told her that she is a hero to her for speaking out.
—Mariya Greeley contributed reporting.