A number of human rights groups placed the blame on the government for a recent mass sexual harassment incident that took place at Cairo University last week.
The groups said in a joint statement the incident was the latest “in a series of continuing government failures to protect women’s right to freedom of movement, physical safety and freedom from violence.”
The statement added that it also shows the state’s continued failure to address these crimes as well as a lack of effort to hold perpetrators accountable, “coupled with the complete absence of the necessary political will to resolve this issue, contenting itself with temporary cosmetic solutions.”
Last Monday, a female law student was mobbed by a group of male students, groped and sexually assaulted, shortly after she entered the campus. The victim escaped from her attackers by hiding in a women’s bathroom nearby, but that did little to discourage the students from surrounding her inside.
University security guards eventually moved to disperse the crowd from around the bathroom and escorted the girl off campus.
The groups, which include Nazra for Feminist Studies, HarassMap, the Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights, El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture and Tahrir Bodyguard, hold the state, as represented by the Ministry of Higher Education, responsible for taking disciplinary action against the students involved in these acts, and called for them to be referred to criminal prosecutors.
Following the incident, a wave of victim-blaming swept TV channels, most notably when Gaber Nassar, president of Cairo University, spoke with privately owned ONtv satellite channel, and claimed that such an incident of sexual harassment on campus is “exceptional.”
Nassar added that Cairo University is a respectable institution that upholds a respectable dress code, implying that the student had brought this assault upon herself as a result of the tight clothing she was wearing, while maintaining that “there is no justification for harassment.”
The university president later retracted his remarks in a statement to the media this week, adding that there is no excuse for sexual harassment and that the student who was assaulted will not be investigated. Instead, Nassar claimed, the university will hear her testimony as a witness.
The rights groups said that placing the blame on the victim removes culpability from the perpetrators and enforces the social normalization of sexual violence against women. It also grants “state consent” for committing such crimes against women, “not only in defiance of the law but in reversal of it,” the statement continued.
The groups demanded that Nassar apologize to the victim and apply strict policies to fight sexual harassment as well as offer support for the victims.
“The position and responsibility of the university president dictate that he be aware of the scope of sexual violence especially towards young women, and to promote the right to dignity rather than engage in finding excuses for this social epidemic,” the statement read.
The groups also condemned statements by TV presenter Tamer Amin, who criticized Cairo University’s statement regarding “the personal freedom of attire.”
“Clothing is not a personal freedom unless it is worn at home or in private; not in places like public universities or schools,” Amin said. “An employee cannot go to work dressed in their shorts, for example.”
The TV presenter went on to blame the victim further by claiming that the female student in question was “dressed like a belly dancer.” Amin asked, “How was it that university guards allowed her to enter campus in such garb, which exposed more than it covered?”
Amin further justified the mob’s sexual assault by claiming that the “student was dressed like a slut,” and so it was her attire which aroused, encouraged and instigated the assault against her.
The statement described the media coverage as “catastrophic,” saying it either minimizes or sensationalizes incidents of harassment, thereby justifying the failure of the authorities to resolve the issue.
The statement finally calls on the authorities to “adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat such incidents by reforming its security apparatus, and by amending school curricula to promote equality between the genders and the values of dignity and physical inviolability.”
It also urges the government to launch a national campaign to counter misconceptions of sexual violence, based on perceptions of women as a source of temptation, thus holding them responsible for any discrimination or violence they are subjected to.
“Until there is a law which punishes the harasser the present laws and regulations should be enforced to punish the assaulters,” the statement read.