So today is "blog and tweet about sexual harassment day." I decided to write about my most traumatic sexual harassment experience.
A year and a half ago I was at a colleagues wedding and while standing outside the church (in an upper class neighborhood called Heliopolis) a guy came by grabbed my ass and walked away. In a split second reaction I ran after the guy (in heels), grabbed his shirt, and started screaming for the police.
I was extremely lucky because half of my office was right next to me and witnessed the incident and my reaction.
After about 15 minutes of me holding onto this guys shirt, a huge group surrounding us, several calls to the police (and them telling us the nearest station was extremely far away), the guy ripped himself from my grip and started running. One of my friends/colleagues ran after him, tackled him, enabling us to drag him to the nearest police station (which, incidentally, was around the corner).
The priests from the church had found out about the incident, saw the guy, and recognized him as someone many of the women at the church had complained about as being a serial ass grabber. Of course this stoked my desire to get the guy into some serious trouble.
Let me tell you, I really believe that the only way this problem will get better is if more women stand up and say something. But honestly, I don't know that I would want to go through this experience of dragging a guy to a police station again.
After an hour of yelling, crying, aplogizing, arguing, the guy's father was brought in to "aplogize." He's a lawyer, the father explained, and he's about to get married - if you press charges you'll ruin his life - please accept my aplogy so that he can go free(the father spoke English and was an engineer - assumption: he's educated). The father even went on to say his son had just been praying at the mosque down the street (not sure what his point was...).
Apparantely, in Egypt, if someone commits a crime against you, the person can be released without charges if you "forgive" that person. Victim's rights? Ha!
I didn't cave, and the next day me and my two friends who were my "witnesses" showed up at the district attorney's office to give our official statements.
First, the DA pretended that he didn't speak English forcing me to explain my side of the story in Arabic. This included a re-enactment of how the guy grabbed me using the bottom of a pencil holder. It wasn't until he was talking to one of my two witnesses who didn't speak any Arabic that he revealed he spoke English.
Then the guy was brought in wearing the same clothes from the night before. The DA told my native-Arabic speaking friend that the guy would probably spend 20 years in jail and be sodomized before asking my friend if he was really really sure that he saw what he saw.
It doesn't end there.
The next day I get a number that keeps calling me. I finally pick up and it's a woman on the phone. She didn't speak much English, so I handed the phone to a colleague. It was the finace of the guy I had just pressed charges against. She and her family wanted to meet me to "work things out." She was afraid this was going to ruin her fiance's life. And it was an accident she said.
How did they get my cell number? The friendly local police station gave the family the police report that had my phone number, address, and passport number. I moved in with a friend for a week in case they tried to show up. I also soon moved out of that apartment, partially from fear that the whole clan of sexual harassment promoters would show up at my doorstep. I'm assuming because they didn't, they managed to have him released.
Being grabbed by a stranger is one of the humiliating, degrading feelings I have ever encountered. It's horrible and depressing. It shatters your self-esteem and after the encounter with the guy's family and being accused of ruining his life, I felt guilt over something I did not do.
I haven't left Egypt over the harassment and when I eventually leave this won't be the cause for my departure. But harassment sucks and I hope and pray that Egyptian women can find the strength to continue standing up this enormous problem.
egypt, middle+east, arab+spring, women