[The following press release was issued by Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH) on 2 July 2013.]
Press Release: Mob Sexual Assaults Reported to OpAntiSH during June 30th Demonstrations Hit Catastrophic Skies
Mob sexual assaults reported to OpAntiSH during June 30th demonstrations hit catastrophic skies. Organizers bear responsibility and the Muslim Brotherhood reaches a new political low by politically exploiting reports.
During the massive demonstrations that swept Egypt to overturn Mohamed Morsi, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH) received 46 reports of mob sexual assaults on women in the vicinity of Tahrir Square. The seriousness of the assaults ranged from mob sexual harassment and assault, to raping female protestors using knives and sharp objects. The incidents started occurring from around 6:00pm Sunday evening and continued until around 2am. The most common areas for the targeted sexual assaults to occur were around the multiple entrances leading into Tahrir square.
Some survivors suffering from shock as a result of the attacks received psychological support and numerous cases required medical intervention, including one surgery. These 46cases only represent those which were reported to OpAntiSH, which the group was able to follow-up on and intervene in. However, OpAntiSH estimates that this number is likely to be much lower than the actual number of assaults that occurred. Nevertheless, one case of mob sexual assault should be sufficient to prompt the entire society to fight sexual harassment and assaults. A woman’s life and the inviolability of her body are neither numbers nor statistics.
OpAntiSH observed cases of physical attacks against women by men using sticks at the entrance/exit to the Sadat metro station in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken and received reports of women being kidnapped in vehicles. The increasing seriousness of sexual assaults on female protestors is a reflection of the increasing sexual violence against women in general, perpetrated by both society and the state, which negatively impacts women`s participation in the public sphere.
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault expresses its disappointment in the government’s response to mob sexual assaults on female protestors. While the presidency has exploited the incidents for political gain in the media, a source at the Ministry of Health violated the privacy of one of the survivors, publishing details of the assault, her name, and the name of the hospital in which she was receiving treatment, in a blatant violation of the most basic rules and ethics of the medical profession.
The exploitation of these assaults bythe presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood is a further violation of these women. In this regard, OpAntiSH rejects the use of its statements for political gains or objectives. Throughout the past year, the presidency has not only failed to respond to such incidents, but has placed responsibility for the assaults on the women who were attacked. On February 11, 2013, members of the Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee put the responsibility for harassment and rape on the women themselves for participating in the protests, and described what occurred in some of the tents in the square as “prostitution”. General Adel Afifi, a member of the committee, criticized women, saying, “Girls who join [the protests]do so knowing they are in the middle of thugs and street types. She must protect herself before asking the Ministry of Interior to do so. Sometimes a girl contributes 100% to her rape because she puts herself in those circumstances." He added that what happens in some of the tents in the squares is prostitution.
While the Presidency has paid attention to the recent assaults for political gain, it cannot be believed that they have developed a sudden concern for women’s physical safety or their full right to protest, when their position on issues of equality and women`s rights is well known. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has suddenly become deeply concerned about the safety of female protestors, is the same Muslim Brotherhood that considers female genital mutilation a custom and cultural trait, and whose ministries and governors lacked women. Their animosity towards women has reached the extent that in previous months they opposed the document on violence against women issued by the United Nations. We should not forget that female protestors joined the protests to oppose patriarchy.
It’s worth mentioning that reports of sexual harassment and assaults have not only been marginalized and not taken seriously by the government, but those who try to submit are port against sexual violence often endure insults and mockery, and in some cases even harassment. The current regime also continues in the tradition of the Mubarak regime and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to use sexual violence as a means to torture and terrify men and women in prisons and police stations.
At a time when we are all aware that the security of the square is the collective responsibility of everyone in it, we cannot ignore the failure on the part of political parties and groups, which call for large demonstrations, to take an interest in securing the square. We have repeatedly demanded that the security of female protestors must be put on the agendas of the political parties during the coordination of protests and sit-ins, but without seeing any actual or tangible results on the ground. Therefore, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault repeats its call to political parties and groups to take responsibility, not by issuing statements of condemnation and regret, but rather by taking tangible steps, such as illuminating the entrances to the square, especially where incidents of sexual assault repeatedly occur like Mohammed Mahmoud Street and the entrance by the Arab League. The parties should also push their members and youths to actively participate in large numbers in the initiatives to combat mob sexual harassment and assaults. Last but not least, the parties and groups organizing these protests must not fall into the trap of politicizing the issue of harassment and assault to heap accusations upon opposing political groups without basis or proof.
OpAntiSH also calls on the media to distance itself from treating these issues as sexually or socially provocative subjects, and we assert the importance of respecting the privacy of the survivors and their desire not to appear before the media. We again stress that an obsession with statistics isn`t a suitable entry point for such issues, but rather that the focus should be on the seriousness of the assault and the need to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Finally, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault would like to salute all the women in the squares of Egypt, as well as the male and female volunteers in the groups (Tahrir Bodyguard & OpAntiSH) who protect Tahrir Square and intervene in cases of mob sexual harassment and assault, despite the great risks they face.
Please note that this press release is about the June 30th protests only. On Monday July 1st, OpAntiSH documented over 17 cases, but a final count is underway.