Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Historic ruling on harassment

In a historic ruling, seven sexual harassers have been sentenced to life imprisonment, reports Reem Leila

South Cairo Criminal Court
South Cairo Criminal Court
Al-Ahram Weekly

The South Cairo Criminal Court sentenced seven of nine men accused of sexual harassment to life imprisonment last week, with the other two receiving sentences of 20 years in jail.

The men were charged with kidnapping, indecent assault, torture, attempted rape and murder. The incidents took place in Tahrir Square during celebrations to mark the election of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi two months ago.

The verdicts are the toughest penalties handed down for such crimes since the law was toughened up in such cases. Sexual harassment has increased in Egypt owing to the lack of security and stability that has existed in the country since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Assaults during the 25 January Revolution sparked groups and organisations to raise awareness of sexual harassment and protect women from it. Among these are the National Council for Women (NCW) and the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR).

The verdicts eased concerns that the authorities have not been doing enough to eliminate sexual harassment. Mervat Al-Tellawi, head of the NCW, expressed her contentment at the verdicts.

“It is the first time the authorities have actually admitted there is a problem and have provided a radical solution for it,” Al-Tellawi said, adding that sexual harassment was one of the country’s main problems, making women feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Al-Tellawi described the verdicts as “a victory,” saying that the NCW had already established a free hotline for women to report sexual harassment. Sexual harassers have not hesitated to attack women, young or old, she said.

“Sometimes veiled women have been sexually harassed more than unveiled ones, even those wearing the niqab [full face veil],” she said.

According to a report issued by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 99.3 per cent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment and 96.5 per cent have been sexually assaulted.

The report, issued in April 2013, documents at least 250 cases of attacks on women between November 2012 and January 2014 in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of political rallies, protests and celebrations since 2011.

On 3 June, a 42-year-old woman and her daughter were sexually attacked in Tahrir Square, with the women being stripped naked and attacked by assailants. A video taken of the assault went viral on the same night, showing a naked women being dragged through a large crowd towards an ambulance.

The video provoked a public outcry, leading other victims to come forward.

President Al-Sisi visited the victim in hospital, apologising to her and “to all Egyptian women” and saying that every “single case of assault is unacceptable.”

Nihad Abul-Qomsan, head of the ECWR, said that the verdicts would cause any man “to think a hundred times before perpetrating such a crime in future.”

Most incidents of public sexual harassment follow the same technique, she said. “The harassers start gradually isolating the victim from her group. Then they severely beat her, tear off her clothes, and start groping and touching every part of the body in a very humiliating way.”

This year’s attacks were not the first of their kind. In 2011, there were also reports of sexual assaults in Tahrir Square, but not as brutal as they are now. CBS reporter Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by men in Tahrir Square on 11 February 2011, the same day that former president Mubarak stood down from power.

“The Logan incident made its way into the newspaper headlines at the time as the first sexual assault in Tahrir Square,” Abul-Qomsan said.

Abul-Qomsan said that harassment had got worse over the last few decades. “Many people say that up until the 1970s there was very little harassment in Egypt, but things are very different now,” she said.

The recent cases represented a rare instance in Egypt of sexual assault suspects being detained, much less facing trial. “I believe it is about time to issue deterrent sentences against sexual attackers in Egypt. Sexual harassment is a chronic issue, and verdicts like these can help end it,” she said.

According to the National Centre for Sociological and Criminological Research (NCSCR), 90 per cent of the offenders are jobless men. There are many contributing factors to the increase in sexual harassment, it said, with unemployment being one of them.

Azza Korayem, a sociologist at the NCSCR who feels comfortable with the verdicts, said that the huge financial cost of marriage and the fact that sex outside marriage is forbidden might also explain the behaviour.

“Men take out their frustration, not just sexual, against women. Bullies who sexually harass women in the streets often take advantage of mob situations and the anonymity such situations provide,” Korayem said.

“These verdicts will help female victims to come forward with their complaints instead of feeling ashamed to face society,” she added.

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