NETANYA, Israel (AP) — When 18-year-old Israeli beauty queen Linor Abargil was crowned Miss World in 1998, the tears streaming down her cheeks appeared to be the overwhelming joy of a young woman fulfilling a childhood dream. Few knew the painful truth behind them — that just six weeks earlier she had been raped at knifepoint.
Unlike most victims of sexual assault, Abargil refused to keep quiet. She pressed charges, spoke out publicly and testified at a trial that sent her attacker to prison for 16 years. Her ordeal inspired other Israeli women to break their own silence and in the process, she became a national symbol who helped destigmatize rape in the country.
Today, the 34-year-old mother of three's crusade against sexual violence is going global, thanks to an international speaking tour and new documentary, "Brave Miss World," in which she details her ordeal and speaks to dozens of other victims, many of whom shared their tales of terror for the first time.
"If you go through something very bad or very hard, the only pill you can take is to tell, to take it out of your system. Because if you don't, it is like a tumor — it becomes bigger and bigger until it kills you," she told The Associated Press this week, shortly after returning from a visit to India. "I feel that I have this privilege to really help other women to open up."
In "Brave Miss World," director Cecilia Peck chronicles Abargil's journey from teenage rape victim to outspoken lawyer and activist and finally to wife and mother who discovered a newfound comfort in her Jewish faith. Interviews with her parents, her husband and even a former boyfriend shed light on how the rape altered her life but also how her strength helped transform her into an unlikely ambassador.