IN HER WORLD

07.03.13

‘Brave Miss World’ Linor Abargil’s Quest for Justice After Rape

Linor Abargil was raped seven weeks before winning Miss World in 1998. The film Brave Miss World follows her on her latest mission: getting survivors to talk about rape.

Linor Abargil's rapist took out a knife, punched her in the face, and raped her while repeatedly stabbing her. He then tied her up with rope and masking tape and raped her again. Finally, he put a plastic bag over her head and started to strangle her.

Linor Abargil
Linor Abargil (left) was invited to the White House in June to meet with Lynn Rosenthal, President Obama's adviser on Violence Against Women. (Courtesy of Embassy of Israel)

Seven weeks later, she was crowned Miss World 1998.

The type of abuse described above is all too familiar to the countless number of women and men who are victims of rape. Abargil was simply thrust into the spotlight, where she could use her position to be a voice for others. She began telling her story, started a website, and soon, rape survivors started opening up to her.

“It’s the same story, but a different person,” Abargil learned.

Her journey, chronicled over five years in the powerful new film Brave Miss World, took her around the globe—from living with her family in Israel to meeting with talkative young rape survivors in South Africa to attending a vigil at Princeton University in New Jersey and finally to Italy to face the place where her rape occurred.

“What was so compelling about Linor was her determination to keep speaking out and fighting for justice on behalf of other women no matter how hard it was on her,” the film’s director/producer Cecilia Peck (daughter of Gregory) told The Daily Beast. “She had to stop and shut down the cameras midway through, but she kept going, and that kind of courage is so inspiring.”

In 1998, Abargil was modeling in Milan, but she was lonely and homesick. So the 18-year-old was put in touch with travel agent Uri Shlomo to book her a flight back to Israel. He told her there were no flights available from Milan, but he offered to drive her to Rome instead. Abargil accepted without qualms, thus beginning what she described as “the longest hours of my life.”

Even though Shlomo was eventually exposed as a serial rapist and received a 16-year conviction, Peck points out that Abargil’s trauma is never far behind her. In the film, it is triggered again when Shlomo comes up for parole. And since she could not attend the parole board hearing due to Israeli laws (“A rapist has more rights to state his case than I have. It’s crazy!” she says), she goes on the hunt for his previous victims, in order to convince the board that he ought to stay in prison.

Abargil says public interest in her case gave her the power and strength to go to trial and feel like she could fight. As she tells one rape survivor in Brave Miss World, “There is nothing to be scared of, because the worst has already happened.”

Abargil even met with actress Joan Collins, who exclusively divulged the details of her alleged own rape for the first time on camera, according to Peck. Collins said she was a 17-year-old virgin when she was drugged by a “famous star” and raped on his couch. But she ended up marrying him, leaving viewers to assume that this is Maxwell Reed, Collins’s first husband.

Abargil also meets with actress Fran Drescher, who was raped at age 27—along with her friend—when armed robbers broke into her house and tied up her husband.

“We just did what we were told,” Drescher said while tearing up. “But the detective told us that we had done everything right because we lived.”

It is shocking to hear the details of the rapes of these big stars. But perhaps even more heart-wrenching are the stories of seemingly typical women and girls whom Abargil interviewed, which are interspersed throughout the film.

One woman said her case wasn’t “compelling” enough because there were no bruises on her face.

Another woman’s case went nowhere because she is blind and couldn’t describe the rapist to authorities.

Girls in South Africa told Abargil that men rape young virgins because they believe it rids them of HIV/AIDS.

And one girl said that when she sat down with authorities, the district attorney said she thought her alleged rapist was “cute.”

A lawyer now, Abargil says she knows firsthand that the justice system needs to be updated.

“Sentences for rape are so short. That has to be changed,” she says. “It’s hard to determine the truth—it’s always he said versus she said—and it’s hard for victims to come forward. There needs to be mandatory training for police in how to respond to reports of rape.”

Peck said she and Abargil recently went to Washington to meet with White House Adviser on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal, and Mala Adija, an adviser on human rights. Even though Peck said it is just the beginning of what she hopes is a larger dialogue, they plan to use the film as part of an educational screening series about rape prevention, since rape on college campuses seems to be at a critical level. They are partnering with women at universities across the country to help them file Title IX and Clery Act complaints in instances of rape.

Abargil encourages survivors to speak out and not let their rape define who they are. As proved in the film, it seems like once one victim of rape comes forward, others follow 10-fold.

“Speaking is the best medicine you can give yourself,” she says. “You cannot keep the pain inside; it will become bigger until it eats you alive. You need to take the bad out of your system, look at it, and deal with it. Otherwise, you carry it on your back for the rest of your life.”

Peck said the Brave Miss World team is currently considering several broadcast offers and hopes to have a theatrical release before the end of the year.