Almost 100 women were sexually assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the past four days of protests against Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, according to Human Rights Watch. It's unclear whether most of the rapist mobs are trying to scare women off from joining the protests and give the anti-government demonstrations a menacing reputation, or just taking advantage of the melee. Either way, the government isn't helping matters.
The organization criticized Egypt's government and all political parties for failing "to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.”
One woman required surgery after being raped with a “sharp object,” according to volunteers with Egyptian women's rights groups. Others were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. Some were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they could get away. Here's a horrifying summary from HRW:
Based on survivor and witness accounts, it appears that the attacks have tended to follow similar patterns. Typically a handful of young men at demonstrations single out a woman and encircle her, separating her from her friends. During the attacks – which have lasted from a few minutes to more than an hour – the number of attackers increases and they grope the woman’s body and try to remove her clothing. The attackers often drag the woman to a different location while continuing to attack her.
In some cases, the attackers have assaulted other women and activists with sticks and knives for trying to rescue the victims. Survivors and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that some of the men claiming to help the women during the attacks were in fact taking part, further disorienting victims, who could not assess who was in fact assisting them.
Few women have spoken out publicly about being raped during the protests, but this is from Yasmine El Baramawy, a 30-year-old musician who was assaulted last November:
At the height of the attack, I looked up and saw 30 individuals on a fence. All of them had smiling faces, and they were recording me with their cellphones. They saw a naked woman, covered in sewage, who was being assaulted and beaten, and I don’t know what was funny about that. This is a question that I’m still thinking about, I can’t stop my mind from thinking about it.
Police officers and hospital officials also regularly share information with the media about the identity of survivors without their consent; earlier this week, the Muslim Brotherhood's website and print newspaper identified one survivor by name and nationality, which they got from a “Ministry of Health representative." So glad the government is helping out. That rep did more than the police ever do, even during more peaceful times.
“Impunity for sexual violence against women in the public sphere in Egypt is the norm,” Stork said. “Women in Egypt rarely report to the police when they have been sexually assaulted because they have no reason to believe that there will be a serious investigation.”
For more info, visit HWC.
Image via AP.