Sexual Assaults Reportedly Rampant During Egypt Protests | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Sexual Assaults Reportedly Rampant During Egypt Protests

Play associated audio

From afar, Tahrir Square appears almost festive as protestors chant against the Islamist president who was overthrown by the Egyptian military last week.

But inside the crushing crowds, the scene can be a lot more sinister.

In a video posted by the Muslim Brotherhood, an unidentified woman cries out as men attack her. The group, from which former President Mohammed Morsi hails, claims the attack occurred in Tahrir Square in late June.

Human Rights Watch reports a sharp rise in sexual assaults here since anti-Morsi protestors took to the streets in record numbers last week. Activists report more than 100 sexual assaults in or near Tahrir Square during the past week alone, many of them gang rapes.

Most of the victims are Egyptian, although some are Western journalists here to cover the protest.

The rights group says the latest attacks follow an all too familiar pattern since mass protests began in 2011: A few men force a girl or woman away from the people she's with; rip off her clothes and assault her. Passersby join in the attacks, which range from groping to gang rapes that can last more than an hour.

Hania Moheeb, who was interviewed by Human Rights Watch, filed a criminal complaint in March about her attack.

"They made a very tight circle around me," Moheeb says. "They started moving their hands all over my body. They touched every inch of my body, they violated very inch of my body. I was so much traumatized I was only screaming at the time; I couldn't even speak. I couldn't cry help; I was just screaming."

Some onlookers tell the victims they are there to help, but instead attack them, says Heba Morayef, who is the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch.

Volunteer Groups Help Victims

"And the only way these women can be rescued is because volunteer groups and women's organizations have organized a system where once they're alerted, they send in volunteers to extract the woman from the mob around her," Morayef says.

One group is Operation Anti-Sexual Harrassment and Assault. Founded last November, the Cairo-based group operates at large protests and rallies at Tahrir Square, says one of its organizers, Yasmin al-Rifae.

She says the group's volunteers distribute flyers to women with a hotline number and send in co-ed teams to extract victims.

"They're not concerned with punishing harassers, or identifying them, or anything like that." al-Rifae says. "It is simply about getting women out of these situations and getting them to safety.

She adds that sometimes the rescuers are attacked themselves, so they wear helmets, gloves and padding.

Aalaam Wassef, a member of the extraction team, says the rescues take an emotional toll on the rescuers.

"Life gets sucked out of you," Wassef says. "It's terrifying."

The volunteer adds that compounding the viciousness of the attacks is how victims are treated by Egyptian authorities. He recalls a case last Tuesday of a young woman in her 20's who was dragged into the subway station at Tahrir Square. There, she was stripped and gang-raped.

Afterward, she was taken to the police station, where the traumatized woman demanded her attackers be punished, Wassef.

"And she was presented to a doctor who wanted to practice a virginity test in the police station itself," he says. "That led this young woman to completely break down in tears."

Blaming The Victim

His colleague, Yasmin al Rifae, says the behavior of the police and the attackers are in part the result of Egyptian society's tendency to blame the victims in sex crimes. The attitude is: "These women are asking for it by being in the square instead of staying at home." Activists say to date, no one has been prosecuted for — let alone convicted of — sexual attacks in Tahrir Square.

She says even more disgraceful is how key players in the current political crisis are using the attacks for political leverage.

"You have the Muslim Brotherhood using footage of these attacks online and at their own rallies to basically point the finger at Tahrir, and say: 'See—the opposition are all a bunch of thugs,'" al Rifae says. "And then you have a lot of the opposition forces essentially denying these assaults."

Activists say to date, no one has been prosecuted for — let alone convicted of — sexual attacks in Tahrir Square.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Curb Your Appetite: Save Bread For The End Of The Meal

A hot bread basket is a tasty way to start off dinner. But all those carbs before the main fare can amp up appetite and spike blood sugar. Saving the carbs for the end of the meal can help avert that.
NPR

Why You Should Thank A Caterpillar For Your Mustard And Wasabi

Eons ago, cabbage butterfly larvae and the plants they eat began an evolutionary arms race. The result: "mustard oil bombs" that give the plants, and condiments we make from them, distinctive flavors.
WAMU 88.5

Troubles In Puerto Rico And Greece And What They Mean For Other Economies

Puerto Rico's governor says the U.S. territory cannot pay its billions in debt. Like Greece, it faces a long road to stability. We look at the fundamental economic problems in Puerto Rico and Greece, and how they could affect economies in the U.S. and worldwide.

WAMU 88.5

Pop Culture Trends in Video Gaming

More women on screen and more exploration are among the trends in video gaming this year. Tech Tuesday explores how pop culture and new technology are changing the gaming experience.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.