The world is fixated on the political turmoil in Egypt, but one aspect continues to simmer with little attention. These protests have also seen a sharp rise in sexual attacks on women in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protests. Since November 2011 the police have avoided Tahrir Square especially during the bigger protests to avoid clashes with protesters which has left women unprotected and the gangs of men secure that they will not be arrested for their attacks or rapes. Women’s rights groups report 19 cases of sexual gang violence in January including 6 women who required urgent medical care one of whom was raped with a bladed weapon that cut her genitals.
Sexual harassment and violence is an epidemic in Egypt with over 80 reports of mob violence in June and 99.3% of women claiming to have suffered some form of it. However Egypt by no means has a monopoly on sexual violence. We tend to view other societies gender violence as the problem of the “other.”
When a 23-year-old woman is brutally gang raped and beaten in Delphi, the headlines speak of India’s women problem but when a 16-year-old girl is raped and filmed by peers–who share the images on the internet–we treat it like an unfortunate but isolated event.
Need more evidence of a prevalent rape culture? Look at the recent pop songs from artists Robin Thicke and Kayne West. In his latest single “Give it 2 U” Thicke soulfully croons about giving women what they really want…his big dick. Kayne goes further by describing today’s leaders by saying, “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”
When we brush our own inequality under the rug and view sexual violence as the problem of the “other” we dismiss the need for protests or investigations in the nation where 26,000 military service members reported sexual assault in 2012. There are no cultural inquires into the nation that ranks 13th for rape and our Vice Presidential candidates discuss “legitimate rape.” Not to mention the coaches and priests that go on for decades hiding their own sexual abuses and eventually become their own victims.
The sexual violence in Egypt is as abysmal as it is unique, but like the acts of rape in the U.S. it did not emerge overnight. It is the product of years of our leaders, both political and social, ignoring the real causes of sexual abuse…power. In the act of violating someone’s person there is a search for power and control.