the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Keri Potts’ and Lara Logan’s Shared Ordeal: Sex Assault Overseas

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Keri A. Potts claims membership in an exclusive club.

But it’s a club she never wanted to join.

Potts is a sexual assault survivor. Her ordeal occurred in Rome, but it could have happened anywhere. On a college campus like Notre Dame. At a high school party in Texas. In Egypt while on a journalism assignment.

“I’m a sexual assault survivor,” said the svelte, curly-haired, 33-year-old. “That’s the first time I’ve said that in a room full of people.”

Potts was featured speaker at this week’s lunchtime lecture at the Clinton School for Public Service in Little Rock, Ark. Potts, an ESPN executive, displayed a range of emotions as she recounted her story. To be clear, she says, it is her story and when she speaks, she is not speaking on behalf of her employer.
The story she weaves horrifies and haunts.

It began on the last day of her vacation in Rome in 2009, where she’d gone with a girlfriend.

Here’s what Potts said happened:

On that day, she met an Italian artist she said was charming and well-known. He seemed interested in her. She seemed interested in him. They had drinks. He bought her three dozen yellow buds. He invited her back to his sixth-floor apartment. She made it clear she didn’t want sex. He insisted he just wanted to talk about art.

The night took a horrible turn.

He suddenly pulled her to him, and his unwanted advances escalated from refusing to release her to biting her lips to shoving his hand inside her underwear, Potts said.

He grew angry, and when Potts, who had taken a self-defense course years earlier, struck her attacker, he hit her back, she said. She pushed him to the floor and jumped from the balcony, landing on another one below. Like James Bond, she said, she jumped to another balcony and kept running.

Potts could have left the country and never told anyone. But she didn’t. She promptly went to the U.S. Embassy and began a two-year court battle to seek justice, she said.

“Sexual assault survivors are everywhere,” Potts explained to the audience. “I wanted to remove the fear and understand. I hoped to be a better person to my fellow woman.”

Potts also created a blog — A Fight Back Woman — where she chronicled her assault. Her mission is simple: She wants to tell women that they have power. They can defend themselves. “Women aren’t taught that,” she said. “Power is outsourced to men and guns.”

In Italy, she faced complications. Potts said she had to have an interpreter and a legal team. Initially, her police report contained four major errors because of language barriers. After she returned to the United States, she visited Italian embassies to deal with paperwork. This continued for a year while an investigation proceeded.

But Potts’ perseverance paid off. The man, whom she calls Marco, was initially charged with attempted sexual assault. That increased to sexual assault. A charge of assault was also added, meaning he could face additional prison time. But he plea-bargained and, last April, received a suspended sentence. He did not face jail time.

Potts said he is on probation for five years. If he commits a crime, he goes straight to prison. He had to pay her legal fees, she said.

CBS’ chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan’s recent sexual assault in Cairo deeply affected Potts, who had traveled alone to foreign countries before the Rome incident. She disagrees with Logan’s critics, who said she had no place covering the news in Egypt because she was a woman.

“The world needs women like Lara taking on roles that were exclusively male and making gender a non-issue in order to provide a different voice and perspective,” she said.

Potts said that “mob violence can happen anywhere, even here, where women are sexually assaulted. So saying it happened to her because she was in Egypt would be irresponsible.”

Recently, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee called upon the U.N. ambassador from Egypt “to apologize to Ms. Logan and apologize to the American people for the tragedy that happened to this woman who was doing her job — the sexual assault, the vicious sexual assault that occurred to her.”

But so much more needs to be done. Potts said that funding for education and programs that address this issue should be a top priority in Washington because the audience at risk of sexual assault is half the U.S. population.

“Right now, the [Department of Justice’s] Violence Against Women Office is not where I think it could be. Most women don’t know it even exists or who its leader is,” she said.

She’d also like to see some changes in the U.S. culture.

“The atmosphere of misogyny contributes to sexual assault,” she said. “From commercials that make women one of three roles: nagging, sexpots or ditzy, to limited, lesser roles women can play in TV or film — or even play in the business world — to making the conversation about how women must be perfect to avoid being raped instead of recruiting men to demand better of their sex, we fail women and men. We fail little girls.”

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Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 4:04 am

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