Poster and stills via the movie's official site
The documentary Brave Miss World follows Linor Abargil, who, in 1998, at the age of 18, won the titles of Miss Israel and Miss World. Six weeks before being crowned, Linor was stabbed and raped by a man disguised as a friend.
She was modeling in Milan, Italy, but during her time there was feeling homesick. She missed her family and home back in Israel. That's when travel agent Uri Shlomo booked her a flight back and offered to drive her to the airport himself. That drive turned into a living nightmare. He stopped at a remote location and repeatedly stabbed her while raping her. He then tied her up with rope, covered her mouth with masking tape, and raped her again. He also attempted to strangle her by putting a plastic bag over her head.
News broke of Linor's rape days after she won the title of Miss World. She put her rapist in jail after going through a very public trial. Ten years later, Linor decided that she was ready to reveal her story on a more global scale. She now devotes her life to sexual assault activism. She travels the world and encourages women to speak out. She wishes to make these crimes public, as both a means of healing, and as a means of seeking justice.
This is the film that Arizona preacher Dean Saxton, who was profiled on VICE, protested when it was being screened on the University of Arizona campus. Dean believes that women who get raped deserve it. He believes Linor deserved her rape.
I spoke with Cecilia Peck and Inbal B. Lessner, the two filmmakers who traveled with Linor and documented her story.
VICE: Were you present at all when the Arizona incident happened?
Inbal B. Lessner: We were not there in person, but we have a hash-tag campaign—#IAmBrave—which is what U of A was a part of. The film is screened on college campuses across the country to spark discussion abut the issue of rape. It's a real problem. Rape culture is a real problem on college campuses. For female students to be exposed to that language, even if it's just one person, uou don't know what that can do to a person who is vulnerable.
Cecilia Peck: The issue on college campuses is safety. We feel it's important to protect girls on college campuses. As mothers and filmmakers, that's our goal. That guy at U of A was just a distraction from the real issue, which is whether campuses are safe.
I'd like to delve more into the film itself. I noticed while watching it, that there is a large emphasis on speaking out and going public about assault if it happens to you.
Peck: Yes, Linor's goal is to encourage survivors of assault to speak up. Whether it's to family, or a friend, or a helpline. Not to stay silent and keep it inside. She believes that healing begins with speaking about it. In a bigger sense, that's the goal of the film too. Along with hopefully educating police departments, and college administrations on how to respond appropriately.
The way to respond? What is the right way to respond?
Lessner: Linor's mother [in the film] is the ultimate case study of what can happen when you behave properly. You say all the right things. She never asked her, “Why were you there? What were you wearing?” That first initial response is crucial. A therapist at one of our screenings, a clinical therapist who deals with sexual assault, stood up and said that at least 50 percent of sexual assault victims suffer from chronic PTSD symptoms for the rest of their lives. The difference between those who do and those who don't largely depends on their support group, and the initial response that they get. If that initial response is victim-blaming like what Sexton is doing at U of A, it can be very damaging.
Peck: The film is about the courage that it takes to report a rape. To undergo a trial, and to seek justice. It's not easy, but Linor's story is heroic. She managed to successfully convict a serial rapist. She believed that putting him in prison is one of the things that enabled her to heal. Not every victim is able to do that. But it begins with talking about it.
I'm curious about the production of this film. Who approached whom? How long did it take to film?
Peck: Where should we start? When Linor was 18, in the courtroom, she released a public statement to women in Israel and said, “If I can do this, you can too. Don't be afraid to press charges.” The reports of rape rose significantly in the following years. She gave a lot of women the courage to report what had happened. She always wanted to do it on a more global scale, but it took her ten years of healing from her rape and getting ready to speak out in a film. She came looking for a team of women filmmakers who would document her journey. Inbal and I went to meet her, and she was very compelling—her courage, her complete lack of shame around having survived a rape. We thought this was a really important message for an audience. So we made the commitment. We followed her and documented her fight for justice and her speaking out on behalf of other women. We compressed five years of her life into this one film.
Does she still travel and do this?
Lessner: Yes, she does, but now she also has three children all under the age of two. She speaks publicly both in Israel and abroad. She was just recently in India speaking at a top university there. Kanpur Institute of Technology. She was here in the US during Sexual Assault Awareness month. She did screenings for students. She travels and speaks publicly while pursuing a career as an attorney.
Another story line in the film is about her rapist. He was up for parole, and Linor worked furiously to postpone the hearing. Whatever happened with that? Did he eventually get a hearing?
Lessner: She did manage to put enough pressure on the parole committee to postpone his hearings and to deny his early release. He's actually scheduled to be released in July, ending his 16-year sentence. At the time this was the highest sentence ever given in a rape trial in Israel. I think the maximum in Israeli law is 20 years.
Peck: I think she'll need support when this happens. A reason for that story line is also that trauma doesn't go away. Even if you're lucky enough to convict the rapist, he'll get out of prison. The healing is a lifelong process, but with the right kind of therapy and help and support you can go on and have a good life.
Inbal: She's trying to remove him from her healing process. She feels like she is on her journey to healing whether or not he's in prison. That's what she also hopes survivors will get from her story. Whether they got justice or not, they can still be on the path to healing.
Is this the first project you two have worked on together?
Lessner: Yes, this is the first thing we've done together.
Cecilia: We thought it was going to be an easy short film, but it ended up taking longer than planned. We had to pause several times because it got too hard for Linor. We had to stop and raise money; the funding was really hard to come by. It ended up allowing us to watch her journey come full circle. From victim of a brutal crime to empowered lawyer and activist.
Has there been any other instances of backlash, similar to the Arizona preacher?
Peck: Nothing I can think of.
Lessner: Have we repressed anything?
Peck: I don't think so. For the most part this film has provided a forum for victims to come forward and talk about it. Maybe feel safe enough to go home and call a helpline.
Lessner: I think, in terms of resistance, we did feel resistance for a long time. As we said earlier, the funding was hard to come by.
Yeah? Why is that?
Lessner: They were concerned that this is not something audiences are going to want to see or buy a ticket for. We've been very happy to find that the complete opposite happened. Audiences are gravitating towards it.
Brave Miss World is now streaming on Netflix. You can follow the film on Facebook as well as participate in the #IamBrave hash tag on Twitter.
Follow Alison Stevenson on Twitter.