Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault condemns the attacks on female protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday January 25th, the
On Friday the 25th of January 2013, in the midst of large demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, horrific sexual crimes were committed against women in and around Tahrir square. Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (Opantish) received 19 reports of group sexual assaults against women in the area, which included the use of life-threatening violence in some cases. The group was able to intervene in 15 cases, managing to rescue women from the attackers and escort them to safe houses or hospitals to receive the necessary medical attention.
These attacks represent a startling escalation of violence against women in Tahrir Square in terms of the number of incidents and the extremity of the violence which took place. In some cases blades and other weapons were used against women, Opantish volunteers, and other people who tried to intervene. This phenomenon requires urgent attention and treatment, and is linked to the broader social problem of endemic and daily sexual harassment and assault of women.
Opantish expresses extreme disappointment with revolutionary groups and political parties which call for demonstrations in Tahrir square and use the large turnouts for their political bargaining, but neglect their responsibility in securing the square and addressing these repeated sexual assaults against female participants. This reflects a reprehensible attitude of indifference towards violent sexual crimes which aim to terrorize women and prevent them from participating in demonstrations.
Despite the participation of some passersby, Opantish views these assaults as inseparable from the long list of repressive tactics which have targeted Egyptian activists. Opantish stresses that continuing to ignore the dangers women face in the ongoing struggle for justice in this country jeopardizes not only women's participation but the very success of the revolution. At a time when the very presence of women in Tahrir square carries the same level of risk and danger as approaching the front lines of battle, the women who insist on exercising their rights to participate in demonstrations should be respectfully viewed as a source of courage and inspiration. We are dismayed by the dismissive attitude taken by most political movements to their injuries.
Opantish condemns the unprofessional way in which some of the media has dealt with the attacks, violating women’s privacy and ignoring the sensitivity of the issue. A number of media outlets have insisted on publishing the personal details of women who were attacked last Friday. This threatens the physical and psychological recovery of women by creating added pressure from media attention, and the unauthorized public dissemination of their personal information.
The group also condemns the position taken by the National Council for Women. A lawyer working for the Council disseminated inaccurate information regarding the whereabouts of women who had been assaulted, and circulated personal information about one of the assaulted women without her permission.
Women who survive these painful experiences face social judgment and derogatory comments and questions about their attire or their reasons for being in the street. Sexual violence is surrounded by a culture of silence, denial, and victim-blaming in our society. Opantish denounces any and all expressions of shaming, trivialization, or contempt of sexual assaults against women in Tahrir square or anywhere else.
Finally, Opantish would like to applaud and thank all of the volunteers who risked their own safety in order to intervene in cases of assault against women in and around Tahrir Square last Friday. We are awed by male and female volunteers who were themselves physically and sexual assaulted in the course of rescue attempts and yet insisted on continuing to participate to support women. Opantish also expresses its utmost support for the women who were attacked in the square: we are deeply sorry for the injury you have suffered and aim to support you in every way that we can. We salute you amongst all others who have been wounded in the ongoing fight for the demands of the revolution. Opantish announces that it will continue its efforts to prevent and end these assaults. We will not stop defending women’s rights to their streets, sidewalks, and squares, and their rights to participate in all forms of activism and public life.
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault Mission Statement
Who we are:
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault was formed in November 2012 with the aim of working to end group sexual assaults against women in Tahrir Square and the surrounding area. The group was formed through the collaboration of many individuals, organizations, and initiatives. We do not deny or dismiss cases of verbal or physical assault by individuals against women, but our focus is on cases of sexual assaults by groups in the area.
Testimonies by those who suffered such attacks and by our own volunteers in the square indicate that most attacks are organized. We recognize that any organized attack depends on the widespread and chronic harassment of women that exists on Egyptian streets, a problem which deserves equal attention and treatment.
These attacks aim to exclude women from public life and punish them for participating in political activism and demonstrations. They are also an attempt to ruin the image of Tahrir square and demonstrators in general. We view these attacks as an extension of tactics used by the state against female activists since the events known as “Black Wednesday” in 2005.
Opantish aims to combat incidents of group sexual harassment or assault of women in Tahrir during protests, sit-ins, or confrontations in the area by rescuing women who are exposed to attacks and transporting them to safety. The group also aims to prevent attacks by actively monitoring the square and intervening quickly in the early stages of mob formation. Opantish also provides follow up medical, legal, and psychological support to women who are attacked in coordination with many individual activists and organizations, including:
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Nazra for Feminist Studies
Al Masry al Hor
Shoft taharosh (I saw harassment) initiative by the Fouada Watch
The Bussy Project
Nefssy Iniative against sexual harassment
Baheyya ya Masr
The Nadeem Center
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World