Poisoned environment


The story of Lara Logan’s sexual assault in Tahrir Square is a sad footnote to democratic triumphalism following President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.  Logan is a CBS correspondent who was—just days earlier—detained (along with her crew) by Egyptian security forces as a supposed spy.  After her release, she and her crew returned to Cairo to continue covering the story, and there they were set upon by evildoers in the crowd.

On Friday, Feb. 11, the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a “60 Minutes” story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy.

In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.

There will be no further comment from CBS News and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.

– “CBS News’ Lara Logan assaulted during Egypt protests.” CBS News, 15 February 2011.

As always, the traditional bromides apply:  extrapolation is unwise, and blame should not be attributed beyond this isolated group of individuals, et cetera.  But it’s worth noting that even before this, Egypt (and Cairo in particular) had gained some notoriety in recent years for horrifying attacks on women during the days of Eid.  The perceived increase in harassment was feared to have a chilling effect on tourism, and a particularly shocking case of sexual assault had even been noted by the United Nations’ humanitarian news agency IRIN:

CAIRO, 19 February 2008 (IRIN) – Egypt was scandalised last summer when an 11-year-old girl named Hend Farghali was allegedly raped by a 21-year-old man. Petrified, the girl did not tell anyone until she was five months pregnant.

Such extreme cases involving children may be beginning to change attitudes to rape in general which, though illegal, has traditionally been seen as more of a family misfortune rather than a crime.

…”We want to change traditions, but it is not easy,” Rania Hamid, manager of the family counselling unit at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), said. “These traditions are not 20 years old, they’re ancient. You have to change them bit by bit.”

Hend is one of 20,000 women or girls raped every year, according to Egypt’s Interior Ministry, a figure which implies that an average of about 55 women are raped every day. However, owing to the fear of social disgrace, victims are reluctant to report cases, and experts say the number may be much higher.

– “Egypt: Are attitudes to rape beginning to change?“  Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) / UNHCR, 19 February 2008.

Thanks to groups like the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), in-country attitudes toward sexual harassment were highlighted in media reports (such as this one from the BBC).  The ECWR report (Clouds in Egypt’s Sky, 2008) measured a sample of 2,020 Egyptian participants (half male, half female) and 109 foreign women living and travelling in Egypt; it paints a rather dreary picture, some of which I will excerpt here.  Any emphasis [in bold] is mine.  I believe the report is valuable because it illustrates my contention (previously outlined in this post) that Egyptians may want the efficiency, accountability and transparency of liberal democracy, but they are a long way from desiring significant social liberalism.

First we have a sample image of various women, differently attired.  Survey respondents were asked to identify the clothing choices they perceived as most vulnerable to harassment, while researchers noted the actual type of clothing they were wearing when surveyed.  I have added some survey results directly to the image, although the report’s original imagery does not:

General appearance of women who get sexually harassed: what women wear. (Clouds in Egypt's Sky—Sexual Harassment: from Verbal Harassment to Rape, 2008)

Participants’ views on the most important features of a victim of sexual harassment:

48.4% of Egyptian and 51.4% of foreign women that women of all ages are subjected to sexual harassment. However, the majority of the male sample 62.2% indicated that women in the age groups 19 – 25 years old are most susceptible to sexual harassment. This difference in the views of women and men may be due to the experiences that women have had with sexual harassment. If it happens to them, they are likely to believe that any woman at any age could be vulnerable to harassment, that it is not confined to young women and girls.

In terms of general appearance of the victim, 62.5% of the Egyptian women and 65.3% of men involved in the study stated that Figure 2 (see above) is the most common appearance of women vulnerable to harassment. 44% of foreign women rejected this notion, suggesting, rather, that all women are commonly harassed. They think that the female in Figure 2 will be subject to harassment, but they also thought that the women in Figures 5 or 6 were also likely to be harassed. Generally, foreign women agreed that a woman’s appearance is not a determinant of harassment.

These two points are interesting because they indicate a male-female divergence of perception (males thinking that only young women typically get harassed) and a domestic-foreign divergence as well.

Views  of  the  public  on  the  most  important features of a harasser:

Public opinion research showed that most harassers are young males, between 19-24 years old.

In terms of occupation, the study showed that male microbus and taxi drivers are the most likely to be harassers. However, the vast majority of foreign women emphasized that police and security personnel are the most likely to engage in sexual harassment.

The reaction of foreign women is notable because, of course, some of those uniformed worthies will be the very people now running “democratic” Egypt.

Manifestations  of  exposure  to  sexual harassment:

Results of the study found high rates of exposure to sexual harassment. 83% of Egyptian women reported exposure to harassment, while 98% of foreign women stated they had been sexually harassed while in Egypt.

Results also revealed that 46.1% of Egyptian women and 52.3% of foreign women are subjected to harassment on a daily basis.

According to the results of the study, 91.5% of Egyptian women and 96.3% of foreign women faced sexual harassment on the street and public transportation most often. Second most common were tourist destinations and foreign educational institutions.

This ought to be a major concern of the Interior Ministry and all of Egypt’s tourism/hospitality industries.  The convergence of police and security doing the harassing—with tourist destinations and expat universities being some of the likely areas for it to occur—ought to be an economic blight waiting to erupt.

General  appearance  of women who  get  sexually harassed: what women wear

31.9% of women who reported sexual harassment were dressed like figure 1, wearing a blouse, long skirt and veil. 21.0% of women were wearing a longer blouse, pants, and veil like figure 3. Figure 4 was third, where women were wearing a cloak and veil (20 %), then figure 6 (19.6%). These results disprove the belief that sexual harassment is linked to the way women dress (women are sexually harassed when dressed ?indecently? or are not veiled ? in the words of some participants), since 72.5% of victims surveyed were veiled.

…Participants believed that figures 2 and 4 would get harassed more than the others because these figures were not wearing the veil and were wearing short clothes, but the results prove that this is mistaken, as the majority of women we interviewed were dressed like the figures 1, 3, 4 and 5 – but still experienced sexual harassment.

How  the  Victim,  Witness and  Security  Officers  Deal  with  the Problem of Sexual Harassment:

…Only 2.4% of Egyptian women and 7.5% of foreign women reported the crime.  …Some police officers the mock these women or harass them as well. The vast majority of women – 96.7% of Egyptian women and 86.9% of foreign women – did not seek police assistance because they didn’?t think it was important or because no one would help them. …The vast majority of foreigners confirmed that many times the harasser was himself a police officer – further deterring them from requesting assistance.

Men and sexual harassment:

Results show that the vast majority – 62.4% of the male audience surveyed – confirmed that they have perpetrated and/or continue to perpetrate one or more of the forms of harassment. 49.8% being ogling women’s bodies, 27.7% whistling and shouting comments, 15.9% shouting sexually explicit comments, 15.4% phone harassment, 13.4 unwanted touching of women?s bodies, 12.2% following and stalking, 4.3% exposed or pointed out his penis.

The vast preponderance of inappropriate ogling is to be expected, as it is the easiest to execute without fear of significant consequences.  I am a little bit surprised by the non-trivial numbers of people engaging in phone harassment (97 out of 1012), groping (84), and whipping out the wang (27).

Results indicate that 53.8% of men blame men’s sexual harassment of women on the women. They interpret the cause of sexual harassment primarily as a result of women dressing indecently (unveiled). However, our study shows that most victims of harassment wear headscarves, illustrating the falseness of this claim. 42.4% of men also attributed harassment to women’s beauty.

88% of the sample saw someone harassing a woman. …The reactions of these to seeing such incidents where negative, but that 61.4% ignored the issue completely and failed to provide any assistance to the victim or separate the harasser from her. 29.4% sympathized with the victim and only 0.1% reported trying to help the victim (verbally, physically, or by helping the victim to file a police report).

Reasons that most of the sample ignored harassment and refused to help the victim included: 47.8% indicated that they don’t care, others said that women enjoy harassment, and others replied that since they harass women themselves, they have no right to prevent others from doing the same.

Blaming the Victim:

Most Egyptian women interviewed agreed that it is wrong for a woman to go to the police station to report harassment or to talk about being harassed. Some men in the sample both agreed and disagreed with these ideas.

Most of the Egyptian women and men agreed that women should be at home by 8 p.m.

As for the foreign women participants, we find that the vast majority rejected all these views. They do not provide excuses for the harasser to commit these behaviors, and reject blaming women for being harassed.

The Egyptian government’s own efforts to curb sexual harassment are of course mired in the belief that prevention and self-restraint are the duty of the woman—not the men that wish to pester her.  No image can convey this astonishing attitude as effectively as their own poster campaign:

2008's "Veil Your Lollipop" campaign. Poster text reads "You can't stop them, but you can protect yourself."

ECWR’s study ought to put paid to such notions, since it clearly demonstrates that modest dress is no protection from lascivious conduct.   But the myth persists and it’s not uncommon, both in the West and abroad.  I’ve encountered it in emails and comments discussing previous posts on Islam and the role of women, and the best response is probably that delivered by Susan Carland writing at AltMuslimah:

And as long as Muslims try to make the argument that hijab is the magical protection against sexual harassment and rape, then they continue to place the blame on the victim/survivor and are buying into the “she was asking for it by dressing like that” argument, and not where it squarely belongs: on the man.

– Carland, Susan.  “Sexual harassment, Egypt and the hijab.”  AltMuslimah.com, 15 February 2011.

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