The First Time I Was Harassed: Controversial hashtag reveals women’s suffering
Protest against sexual harassment - YOUM7 (Archive)

CAIRO: Egyptian activists created a hashtag on Twitter called “The first time I was harassed” (#اول_محاولة_تحرش_كان_عمري) two days ago, inspiring hundreds to tweet their first experience of being sexually harassed in Egypt.

Sexual harassment is a deeply entrenched phenomenon of Egyptian society, and the vast majority of Egyptian women have faced harassment, with a 2013 UN study revealing that 99.3 percent of women have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment.

As such, many of the activists, who were themselves victims of this widespread phenomenon, surfaced on the media platforms, stating that they are subjected to sexual harassment simply upon leaving their homes.

Yet, perhaps what is most shocking about the hashtag is that the majority of the tweets reveal that the first incident of sexual harassment occurred during the victims’ childhood, with some citing ages as young as four (including one @TahaniShaban).

One tweeter @tokabee said her first time to be harassed was when she was “almost 10 years old, I was waiting for my neighbor when an old man touched me from behind, and I just stood still.”

Meanwhile, @nouramn said “I was 12 years, and it was my computer teacher who works at a famous private company,” and @MaNo_YaSSeR said she was “about 10 years, where someone exposed his penis in public, and I do not understand to this day the point of [what he did].”

Furthermore, the hashtag also revealed that young boys have been widely subjected to sexual harassment, including @TheAmazingSalah, who was 11 during the incident, and @AmrKhairi, who also said that he was, “11 years in a Giza-Boulaq bus, and I did not understand why this 40-year-old jackass was [standing so close] to me.”

Others who faced sexual harassment included @SheroukkAhmed, who said she “was nine years, alone at the Super Market, and the man was 40 years old. I did not understand what was going on, but people began yelling at him, [while] I stood silent and shocked.”

Further, @Riham_Habeb said she was, “wearing a skirt for the first time since years, where a man in a car slapped my behind and left. The problem is that he had children in the car, and everyone beside me was laughing.”

Yet, while the majority recounted their own experience with being sexually harassed, others speculated over the phenomenon, with one @belal_ashoor stated that while he used to believe that  the reason behind harassment is “unveiled women, but after this hashtag, I saw girls [facing harassment] when they were 6, 7, 8 and 9 years old.”

Further, ‏@DrSamiraWilliam stated that “[indecent] clothing is a form of harassment against those who see them.”

Others still tweeted mocking statements, such as @3bdL3azez , who stated that “the first time [he] was harassed was when he was 23, and [he] was very passive, or rather, [he] enjoyed it very much.”

A dangerous phenomenon in Egypt

HarassMap, an initiative aiming at mapping places with the highest intensity of sexual harassment throughout Egypt, defines harassment as “any form of unwelcome words and/or actions of a sexual nature that violate a person’s body, privacy, or feelings and make that person feel uncomfortable, threatened, insecure, scared, disrespected, startled, insulted, intimidated, abused, offended, or objectified.”

However, despite the psychological and physical consequences to the female victims, and the wide social backlash they face, “most of the women who are subjected to any kind harassment or sexual abuse are now gathering the courage to report the abuser and the incident,” said Mohamed Fathy, the coordinator of the “I Saw Harassment” initiative.

Fathy told The Cairo Post Sunday that their adopted slogan for 2014 is “Criminalize Harassment.”

According to a study by the initiative, set to be released by the end of March, and based on 70 cases, Fathy stated that most cases of harassment occur in the large urban cities, such as Cairo, Alexandria and Giza. He noted that public transportation sees the highest rates of sexual harassment.

Recently, the third annual poll conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation indicated that Egypt ranked last out of 22 Arab states for women’s rights, whereby approximately 27.2 million of Egyptian women are victims of female genital mutilation, according to a report by UNICEF in 2013.

The hashtag was inspired after a video circulated widely on social media Monday, about a young woman who was sexually harassed by a group of law students at Cairo University. A controversy arose after the video inspired major discussion over the woman’s inappropriate clothes, rather than the sexual harassment itself.

Various media figures, such as TV anchor Tamer Amin, were largely in favor of justifying the acts, and directing harsh accusations against the girl due to her statedly indecent clothing and demeanor.

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