Positive Steps Against Sexual Harassment in Tahrir

Yesterday the number of people who responded to the call for mass protest against Mohammed Morsy is staggering. Many consider this the largest protest in the history of Egypt. But sadly there were news of deaths and injuries due to violence. Forty four cases of mob sexual harassment took place in Tahrir.

Since 11 February 2011, Tahrir square has been marred by incidents of sexual harassment. In these incidents masses of highly violent men attack women physically in every imaginable way. The women are defenceless most of the time. Many bystanders chose not to intervene for fear of injury and those who do are often overpowered by the attackers. Even the use of force doesn't deter them. Often the woman is dragged somehow while in the midst of the sea of chaos to the entrance of a building or an ambulance for her safety. If this doesn't happen, several cases of gang rape took place in the dark streets that surround Tahrir.

Sadly, sexual harassment is a problem that is going to stay with us for a while. Either the petty groping and street harassment in public areas during a normal day to the violent mass harassment or rape in special events. The reason for the problem staying for some time is the very high income inequality and the increasing number of young people. Additionally, the ability of the perpetrators to escape justice due to legal, cultural and executive failures. I don't agree that there are political motives behind these incidents.

The inability to bring perpetrators to justice means that this behaviour will continue to be self rewarding and the calls to use violence against the perpetrators result in perpetrators becoming more violent or armed and leads to a dangerous cycle of escalation.

Until the state and society are rehabilitated, we have an endemic sexual violence problem. Since late 2011 several initiatives started to respond to the rising sexual aggression within the square. These initiatives are brilliant and are full of brave and dedicated women and men.

If the keys to avoiding the occurrence of this disease aren't with us, secondary prevention is possible. Secondary prevention are steps taken in early stages of an illness to prevent complications. And this is what is being provided now by NGOs and volunteers. The volunteers in the square are able, risking their lives and safety, to snatch women from between the criminals preventing the worst from happening.

Psychological and highly specialised medical care are available. Medical care includes vaccines and other medications that aim to prevent serious complications such as sexually transmitted diseases.

Psychological care help women cope with their acute stress reaction, instils hope and promotes resilience. Although rape is highly traumatic not all women will suffer psychological problems for the rest of their lives and any distress they are suffering from now will hopefully not last. For the first few weeks nightmares, flashbacks, fear and anxiety are all natural response to such unprecedented event. Often this doesn't last for more than a month and the woman can bounce back to her normal functioning. Many channel their experiences in a positive way and in helping other women.

People working in helping survivors of sexual violence, I raise my hat and congratulate you on your dedication and courage. Don't be sad that you couldn't prevent the few cases that took place from happening. Seeing millions of people including so many women protest safely and join the streets is what you should be very proud of. Your work is highly important and you should continue doing it.

Others reading this can help. Inform women of the availability of care or directly support these NGOs.

Nazra's hotline for psychological and medical care: 010-119-109-17