The Mob Sexual Assault at Cairo University – another episode in the government’s failure to protect women’s bodies; Authorities espouse victim-blaming narrative

Press Release

23 March 2014

The undersigned groups and organizations declare their condemnation of the incident of mob sexual assault that took place inside the Cairo University campus on Sunday, March 16, 2014.A group of students from the Faculty of Law followed a female student verbally and physically assaulting her. She was able to escape before they succeeded in stripping her clothes off. Mob sexual assaults have become a familiar scenes in Egypt in recent years.   

This incident is the latest episode in a series of continuing government failures to protect women’s right to freedom of movement, physical safety and freedom from violence, in addition to the state’s continued failure to address such crimes and lack of genuine efforts to bring perpetrators to justice, coupled with the complete absence of the necessary political will to resolve this issue, contenting itself with temporary cosmetic solutions. The undersigned groups hold the state, as represented by the Ministry of Higher Education, demand the state to take disciplinary action against the students involved in such acts and refer them to criminal prosecution in accordance with the Penal code.

The surprising part was the statement made by the President of Cairo University, Dr. Gaber Nassar to a television channel. His statement, rather than addressing the spread of this dangerous phenomenon to university campuses, a place meant to provide a safe and protective environment for male and female students, adopted a reactionary narrative excusing the perpetrators and blaming the victim. He claimed that the victim’s “inappropriate clothing” had brought about the assault. The President did not stop there, he stated that those proven to have been involved in the incident– whether the perpetrators or the student assaulted– would be disciplined. Nassar withdrew this from his statement to the media yesterday stating that sexual harassment is inexcusable and that the student who was harassed will not be investigated but the university will listen to her testimony as a witness. said he added that administrative and legislative procedures will be taken against whoever committed the assault. Nassar said that his previous statement was due to the severity of the situation and the confusion between the faculty members.

Assuming that a girl physically assaulted could in any way be responsible for what happened to her removes perpetrators responsibility of the crimes and places it on the victim, thus continuing the social normalization of sexual violence against women, and granting state consent to its citizens for committing crimes of that nature against women, not only in defiance of the law but reversing it by punishing the victim rather than the perpetrator.

The position and responsibility of the university president dictate his awareness 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. Therefore, the undersigned organizations and groups demand that the university president apologize to the victim and correct his error by applying strict policies and regulations to combat sexual harassment and violence and provide support to survivors and those assaulted.

Additionally, the undersigned organizations confirm the catastrophic nature of the media coverage of incidents of sexual violence, which tends to minimize such incidents or sensationalize them, and excuses the inaction and failure of authorities in resolving the issue. The peak of which was when a TV host described the girl in the aforementioned incident as a “prostitute” because her clothing was inappropriate for university in his personal opinion.

Women’s clothing does not justify any violation that women are subjected to as appearance cannot be considered an invitation to non-consensual practices, which are criminalized under the Egyptian Penal Code and international conventions and treaties which Egypt has ratified.

The undersigned organizations urge the Egyptian 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; and to launch a national campaign to change erroneous understandings regarding sexual violence that are based on perceiving women as a source of temptation and holding them responsible for any discrimination or violence they are subjected to, and until there is a law which punishes the harasser the present laws and regulations should be enforced to punish the assaulters.

Signed by:

  • I Saw Harassment
  • Operation Anti Sexual Harassment/Assault
  • Nazra For Feminist Studies
  • El Nadeem
  • Against Harassment
  • HARASSmap
  • Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights
  • The New Woman
  • Basma
  • Tahrir Bodyguard