Creative Solutions to Sexual Crime

Women's march in Cairo
Arabic: There is no need for men only. (Photograph: Virginie Nguyen, via Mada Masr.)

Official Egyptian statistics departments have recently published sobering numbers concerning domestic violence:

At least 18 percent of adult Egyptian women have reportedly experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of family members or close acquaintances in 2015, according to official estimates by Egypt’s Economic Cost of Gender Based Violence Survey (ECGBVS), published in June 2016.

Around 46 percent of married women aged 18 to 64 years in Egypt have experienced some form of spousal violence, whether physical, emotional or sexual, according to the same survey, which was conducted by Egypt’s official statistic body the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the National Council of Women (NCW) and the United Nations Fund for Population Agency (UNFPA).

One out of four married women has been subjected to physical violence at one point in their lives by their current or former husband, according to 2014 statistics from the Demographic and Health Survey.

(via Ahram Online)

And according to the UN, it is even worse for women outside the home. Back in 2014 I wrote about a Sunday School teacher training children to defend themselves against sexual harassment, and conveyed these figures:

According to a survey published by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, more than 99 percent of Egyptian women have been subjected to sexual harassment.

This goes far beyond playful catcalls, with 96 percent reporting their bodies have been touched and 55 percent of these having had their breasts groped.

Egyptian society and government recognizes the problem and has recently increased fines and jail terms for offenders. But this article by Mada Masr concerns a victim who thought beyond punishment into transformation. And she went the extra mile to secure a greater justice.

When one woman was sexually harassed this month in Cairo, she made an unusual move: she came to an informal agreement with her attacker’s family and juvenile prosecution to drop charges on condition that the boy get therapy and do community service.

Having caught the boy who groped her hard from behind, after quite a chase, Mariam felt more confused than victorious. Quite a crowd gathered when she caught him. It was the evening of a match and having run through a few streets, the boy tripped by a full café.

“People assumed that I was chasing him because he’d stolen something from me. They asked me and I said yes, he stole something very important, my dignity.” Some of those who had gathered suggested she leave it now, she had caught, hit and insulted him, that he was young and she should forgive him. But those who stayed on the scene, all men Mariam says, encouraged her.

Then, when the police came and the 14-year-old was being put in the van, they hit him on the back of his neck. “I freaked out,” Mariam recounts. “We all know what happens in Egyptian prisons and police stations and detention centers. I felt I was caught between two fires. Either I get my rights and this boy is subjected to violence, or I let him go, he will carry on doing it, I’ll be passive and other things I can’t accept for myself.”

Fortunately, she found allies in the 14-year-old’s parents, and in the public prosecutor. They worked out an arrangement, one the court may even return to:

She told the prosecutor about HarassMap, an NGO that encourages bystanders and institutions to speak up against harassers and have a zero-tolerance attitude toward harassment. He was not dismissive, as she had expected, and took a contact so that he could deal with HarassMap in similar cases, also informally.

There are many problems in Egypt, but also good people. And often unreported are the small changes that ripple through society, as these good people labor on:

“There has been a huge shift, primarily around the question of who should be ashamed,” Abdel Hameed says.

Perhaps one day, none will need be.

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