A month and a half before she was crowned Miss World in 1998, Linor Abargil survived a violent rape and stabbing at the hands of a fellow Israeli.
Unlike thousands of her fellow survivors, Abargil chose to speak out about her brutal experience, and her attacker, Uri Shlomo Nur, was sentenced to 16 years in jail. Using the prestige of becoming Miss Israel, then Miss World, she has been a tireless advocate for victims of sexual violence.
Abargil will tell her story at CHOICES, an event of Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, on Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Hilton Parsippany (see related story).
Two days later at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange, the NJ Jewish Film Festival — in partnership with the federation and the Rachel Coalition — will host an Extra! screening of Brave Miss World, the 2013 documentary about Abargil’s life and work. It will feature a post-screening discussion and dessert reception.
Abargil, who lives in Netanya with her husband and three children, was interviewed by phone.
NJJN: How are you reaching out to those who have survived rape?
Abargil: I am traveling like crazy right now, talking to victims in England, India, Italy, Australia, Canada, and in many parts of the United States. I can’t wait to come to everyplace in the world. We just have to reach every woman, and if we can get just one to open up and continue on with her life, this for me is my goal.
NJJN: What happens to the women who do not wish to discuss their experiences?
Abargil: If you shut up when something bad happens, it is the worst thing you can do. It is like a tumor. It only becomes bigger and bigger and bigger. This is what happens to most women. They don’t speak because they feel ashamed. They don’t even say the word “rape” out loud.
So many women do not have the confidence to walk out of their relationships. They don’t even want to talk about them. I believe if women around the world change and speak out, we can change the system that works against them. They are not the ones to blame. Being raped is not their fault.
NJJN: How do you address the “male culture” in many parts of the world that does not take the offense of rape seriously?
Abargil: I speak to men in the army in Israel, to crowds of 500 — only men. I believe it is about how you were raised as kids. If you lived in a house where your mother was treated like hell, of course you would treat women the same outside. You have to set your kids an example of how to be a good human being. I tell the men in the army, “Think of your sister. Think of the women you love the most.”
NJJN: What is the status of your attacker?
Abargil: Nur is expected to be released from prison in December. I think that most likely he will rape again. I wish convicted rapists would be given life sentences, but I don’t think that will ever happen.
NJJN: Have you ever met with Muslim women?
Abargil: Unfortunately I have not yet met with Muslim women. Because of the political situation, it is not happening so fast, but I believe it will. I really hope so.
NJJN: You grew up in a secular Jewish home and have become observant. Did the experience of your attack play a part in that decision?
Abargil: What I am today is not just the experience of being raped. But of course when I was 18 and almost lost my life, it made a difference. I asked a lot of questions about “Why am I here?” No one could answer me. But through the years I studied philosophic books and I decided to go into Kabala and religion. I found myself in a very spiritual way. It took a while. It didn’t happen in a day. I try to be a better person to my family and myself. This is hard work. It’s not like you put a yarmulke on your head and that makes you a better person.