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Hillel film screening sheds light on sexual assault

By Hannah Fierle, Staff Writer

Hillel, the Jewish students' association, screened the critically acclaimed documentary "Brave Miss World" on Tuesday at the Armstrong pavilion. The event was also sponsored by Miami organizations including Jewish Family Service, GLBTQ Services, Women Helping Women, Miami University Women's Center, Office of Student Wellness and It's On Us.

Director Cecilia Peck visited Miami for the screening and led a discussion afterward. Peck's previous work includes "A Conversation with Gregory Peck" about her father, the iconic actor, and "Shut Up & Sing," a documentary about the Dixie Chicks that was shortlisted for the 2007 Academy Awards.

"As an organization, we like to bring programming to Miami that helps to educate others about Israeli culture," said Hila Katz, an Israeli fellow and Hillel advisor. "By showing 'Brave Miss World,' we also hoped to tap into the conversation about sexual assault on campus and have a strong and positive voice on the issue."

"Brave Miss World" is the incredible story of Linor Abargil, an Israeli beauty queen, who was crowned Miss World just six weeks after being brutally raped by a tour guide while traveling in Italy. The documentary follows Abargil's journey as she publicly announces the tragic incident ten years later and finds the strength, through family, friends and religion, to help others.

Over the course of the documentary, Abargil travels all over the world and eventually begins touring United States college campuses to tell her story and help other women in similar situations. Today, Abargil is happily married with three children and practices law in Netanya, Israel.

In addition to being an inspirational, groundbreaking documentary, "Brave Miss World" has started a campaign for awareness and education about sexual assault and rape. The film is screened at college campuses and has been shown to countries around the world. A program for high schools around the country is currently in development.

"For me, the film is a guide to how any first responder should act when confronted with a report of rape," said Peck. "The first words, whether from a parent, a friend or a campus advisor, or law enforcement, should be 'It wasn't your fault. I believe you, and I'm here to help you.'"

The "Brave Miss World" outreach campaign has served over three million survivors of sexual assault and rape. Any individual who submits a story to the website receives a curated response from a professional.

"I hope this film helps to shift the national dialogue on sexual assault, especially on college campuses," said Peck. "Women should not be held responsible in these situations, but instead young men should be educated on how to respect women so that these offenses can be prevented."

Before the film, President Gregory Crawford and his wife, Renate, gave a video message to the audience, voicing their hope that the film could help Miami continue to learn and combat sexual assault on campus. After the screening, a special video address recorded by Abargil was played, specifically addressed to Miami and Hillel, thanking the audience for their support.

Peck expressed her excitement that although the film has been shown at dozens of college campuses, Miami was the first to receive a personalized message from Abargil.

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Dr. Crawford's outspoken support comes at a time when many universities have been hesitant to form strong outreach campaigns for victims of sexual assault.

"I've found out that there is a lot of pushback from schools in finding perpetrators responsible for intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual assault," said Nikolai Levinsohn, former Hillel president, who has performed extensive research about on-campus sexual assault during his time at Miami. "I think this lack of action adds to the stigma that reporting sexual assault is looked down upon, which many victims are facing."

Hillel hopes to continue making positive strides toward making Miami a safer and more educated campus.

As a follow up to the film, Hillel will host a Kravmaga class, a traditional form of Israeli self-defense. With this program, they hope that women on campus will feel empowered and safer by knowing how to protect themselves.