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Op-Ed: Standing up to harassers and sexual predators worldwide

Members of the Me Too Movement who protest against harassment and sexual abuse are not “weak” and are not “looking for attention” but rather are heroines speaking out for justice.    

American actress Lindsey Lohan recently came under fire after she proclaimed that women who speak up about sexual harassment “look weak” and that some women go to the police “for the attention.”  Although she later on apologized for her remarks, it is still a major blow for all women worldwide to have a woman of her status come out and make such remarks.   The lack of compassion she demonstrated in her remarks highlight that she has lived a privileged life and is out of touch with many women across the world, who have fallen victim to harassment and sexual abuse in the hands of men and yet can only dream of having the privilege of reporting them to the police, who will then proceed to have an impartial investigation.

Take the story of Iranian journalist Neda Amin, who is living as a political refugee in Israel.  Twice, she was raped by the Iranian regime due to her activities against the ruling Islamist government.  According to her, she did not even have the privilege of reporting the rapes to the police for the Iranian regime was on the side of the rapists.  If she had proceeded to report the rapes, she could have found herself criminally prosecuted. In 2014, Iran hanged Reyhaneh Jabbari, a victim of an attempted rape who fought back against her rapist and killed him.   The Iranian regime accused her of committing an unwarranted murder.   According to NCRI Women’s Committee, when 41 women and girls were gang raped recently in Iranshahr in Balochistan Province by the Basij militia, it was the whistleblower and a Baloch man who staged a sit-in protesting against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that were prosecuted.   The gang rapists got off without punishment.

Iran is far from the only regime where the government is not on the side of the victims.  According to the UN, Syrian government forces and militias have raped and sexually abused women and girls in order to punish opposition communities in 20 governmental and intelligence branches, Reuters reported.  Of course, with Assad almost completely winning the Syrian Civil War, the victims of Assad are unlike to obtain justice in Syria.  Although a UN report recommended that Syria be tried for these grave war crimes at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, to date, this has not happened.  Syria is not a signatory of the Rome Statute and thus Assad can only be brought to The Hague if the UN Security Council mandates it.  Since Assad is allied with both China and Russia, this is unlikely to happen.  As a result, some victims of Assad’s regime are seeking justice in German courts but without the support of The Hague, comprehensive justice for the victims is unlikely.   Assad has literally gotten away with perhaps the worst democide of the 21st century so far.

Not having the freedom to publicly speak out against such sexual violence and to obtain justice for such horrific crimes can emotionally kill a woman or girl.  According to Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, a Christian woman in Bangladesh who was the victim of sexual harassment recently committed suicide.  Basu claimed that a mob had entered into her home, demanding money.  According to the report, when the woman refused to give them the money, they tortured her and forced her to pose for a nude video.  They told her that they would give her three days to give them the money or else they would post the video online on social media.   Due to the despair that this incident caused her and the fact that she could not expect justice if she proceeded to prosecute the sexual harassers with the police, Basu stated that she committed suicide, emphasizing that this Christian woman was merely one of many such victims in Bangladesh.

Basu blames the ruling government in Bangladesh for such incidents, accusing them of systematic human rights violations against their own people: “They sell arms to the Rohingya rebels, steal votes, engage in bank robbery, coal theft, gold theft, diamond theft, wage a shameful attack on ordinary peaceful students and engage in rampant corruption across the country.  In addition, they rape minorities, gang rape minorities, force a father, son and uncle to gang rape a mother and daughter, torture, take possession of Hindu crematoriums, evict Hindus from their homes, rape female students while taking a video of it, give sponsorship to terror groups like ISIS, harass ordinary people and for such things, ordinary people cannot escape.”

Compared to female victims who live in countries like Iran, Syria and Bangladesh, every American female should consider herself privileged.   However, even in Western countries like the US and Israel, a woman who is a victim of harassment and sexual violence still is in a disadvantaged position.  I know this from personal experience.  When I was 7 years old, I was raped by my brother’s best friend, which robbed me of anything resembling a normal childhood.  When I finally grew up enough to report the rape to the police, the rapist managed to get off with community service and a fine payable to the US government.  I never saw any of the money.  If it was physical damage caused by a traffic accident, I would have received financial compensation but not for the emotional scars of getting raped at age 7.   What was their justification?  He was a minor when he committed the crime, as if it mattered to me as the victim what age the rapist was.   I was no exception.   According to a 2014 Psychology Today report, there is only a 16% chance that a rapist will ever spend a day in jail in America.

Of course, Israel is no better than the US.   In the 1990’s, 7 teenage boys gang raped a 14-year-old girl on Kibbutz Shomrat in Israel.   To make matters worse, instead of supporting the victim, the kibbutz did everything they could in order to cover up the rape.  According to an academic article that was published in the International Journal of Conflict and Violence, the Kibbutz media at the time blamed the victim for the incident instead of the rapist.  Furthermore, she was completely ostracized by her community for harming the name of the kibbutz.  Even worse, the legal system did not support her as the victim in the way that they should have.  The submission of the indictment was delayed by a number of years due to the mental health condition of the victim.   Originally, the 7 boys were acquitted in the District Court but the Israeli Supreme Court intervened in the case and sentenced them to two to three years in prison.  That’s it.  Two to three years for completely destroying the life of the victim.  To date, the victim is not able to function.  She never managed to get her life back together but the perpetrators only got two to three years behind bars.

Although these incidents happened many years ago, I fear that not much has changed since then.  As a Middle East based journalist, I routinely have been harassed online for over a year now.   Although the harassment is not sexual in nature, the manner in which people here in Israel try to shut me up whenever I wish to speak out about it is sort of similar to how the Kibbutz tried to shut up the poor 14-year-old gang rape victim on Kibbutz Shomrat, whom Israeli society attempted to silence since her story destroyed the visionary dream of the Kibbutz movement.  I am told to suffer silently and to give into the dictates of my male harasser and his friends merely due to his prominent position in society.  My life story during this past year apparently destroys the halo effect around this prominent individual.  Therefore, too many people are trying to silence me as the victim.   And this is precisely why the world needs a Me Too Movement in order to empower female victims to stand up for themselves and to demand justice now.  It is not easy for a victim to make such demands.  Any victim of sexual abuse or harassment will tell you that going public is one of the most difficult things to do in a society that always blames the victim.  Therefore, any woman who goes public exposing such abuse is a heroine, not someone who is weak or a drama queen.

In fact, standing up for justice for victims of harassment and sexual abuse is an important virtue.  As American poet Suzy Kassem proclaimed, “Stand up to hypocrisy. If you don’t, the hypocrites will teach. Stand up to ignorance, because if you don’t, the ignorant will run free to spread ignorance like a disease. Stand up for truth. If you don’t, then there is no truth to your existence. If you don’t stand up for all that is right, then understand that you are part of the reason why there is so much wrong in the world.”For this reason, American actress Lindsey Lohan personally insulted countless women across the world with her statement.

 

Author

Rachel Avraham
Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. In addition, she is a contributing writer at the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group. For over 6 years, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Syria, Iran, Kurdistan and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.

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