A Lesson on Rape Culture from the Egyptian Protests

*Trigger Alert*

Last week Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the military, and the protests continue in Tahrir Square as pro-Morsi demonstrators decry the military’s actions. The change in government has been anything but peaceful. For instance, dozens of agitators were killed this morning outside a Republican Guard facility in Cairo, but one of the groups most affected by the tumultuous political climate is women–particularly female protestors and journalists.

According to NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, there have been “100 sexual assaults in or near Tahrir Square during the past week alone, many of them gang rapes.” As if the crimes themselves weren’t tragic enough, the country’s response to the sexual violence compounds the problem. Egyptian authorities remind us that rape culture is a global issue with each ignorant excuse for their inaction.

The response from Egyptian authorities remind us of three things no one should ever ask about a victim of sexual assault:

1. Why was she in that place?

The Egyptian authorities aren’t following through on prosecution (understatement of the century: they haven’t prosecuted a single perpetrator), and they are using the location of the assault as justification. How you ask? Those women, the victims of sexual assault, they could’ve avoided it all if they had just stayed home!

Bullshit.

Don’t ask why a victim of sexual assault was in a particular place at a particular time. Try asking why someone felt it was acceptable to violate her bodily autonomy instead.

2. Was she a virgin?

One Egyptian woman was taken to the police station where, “She was presented to a doctor who wanted to [carry out] a virginity test in the police station itself.” The use of virginity tests conveys the misguided belief that virginity/chastity precludes a person from sexual assault. It doesn’t, and it doesn’t matter how many sexual partners a woman has had in the past. It isn’t sex unless a person gives you enthusiastic consent–it’s rape.

3. Did she fight back?

One survivor of the violence in Tahrir Square explains how, “I was so much traumatized I was only screaming at the time; I couldn’t even speak. I couldn’t cry help; I was just screaming.” Remember that bit above about “enthusiastic consent?” Yeah, we meant it. You don’t need to fight tooth and nail for it to be rape–all you need is a lack of consent. End of story.

The first three things any survivor should hear are: I believe you, how can I help you feel safe, and it wasn’t your fault, but as usual, the authorities are re-victimizing people who just experienced the most traumatic event of their lives. Don’t be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution, and keep those three bullet-point questions out of your mouth when speaking with or about a survivor.

Our hearts go out to the survivors in Egypt. It wasn’t your fault, and you don’t deserve the treatment you’re receiving.

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