New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that during the rallies protesting now ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square over four days beginning on Sunday.
HRW received some of the reports from the Egyptian group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault which runs a rape hotline and tries to stop attacks. The Egyptian group confirmed 46 attacks on Sunday, 17 on Monday, and 23 on Tuesday all in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Volunteers evacuated women from the clutch of their attackers 31 times, HRW reports. Of those women, at least one required surgery as she was raped with a “sharp object.”
“In other cases, women were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. In some cases they were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they were able to escape,” HRW reports.
HRW is taking Egyptian authorities to task for failing to stop the scourge. It accuses the former government of downplaying the problem. It also blames police for lack of effectiveness in protecting victims and prosecuting attackers.
HRW writes in a statement released Wednesday, “Since November 2011, police have stayed away from Tahrir Square during bigger protests, to avoid clashes with protesters. This has left women protesters unprotected, and the men involved in the gang attacks and rapes secure in the knowledge that they will not be arrested or identified by police.”
Opposition leaders were so concerned rapes would occur at the June 30 Tahrir Square rally that they cordoned off a separate area for women and positioned guards to protect them.
As TheBlaze reported earlier this week, Egyptian media wrote that a Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square, an attack that injured her so severely she had to undergo surgery.
HRW also describes incompetence in dealing with rape, reporting that the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party’s website wrote about one rape on Monday, but violated the victim’s privacy by publishing her name and nationality. Even worse, it cited a Ministry of Health official as having provided the information.
Public statements by elected officials also don’t help. HRW reports that in February 2012, Egyptian legislators blamed women for the mob assaults against them. Shura Council Member General Adel Afifi said, “Women contribute 100 percent in their rape because they put themselves in such circumstances.”
HRW describes a pattern common to many of the attacks:
Typically a handful of young men at demonstrations single out a woman and encircle her, separating her from her friends. During the attacks – which have lasted from a few minutes to more than an hour – the number of attackers increases and they grope the woman’s body and try to remove her clothing. The attackers often drag the woman to a different location while continuing to attack her.
In some cases, the attackers have assaulted other women and activists with sticks and knives for trying to rescue the victims. Survivors and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that some of the men claiming to help the women during the attacks were in fact taking part, further disorienting victims, who could not assess who was in fact assisting them.
HRW reports that a woman in her early 20s was attacked by a crowd of men near Tahrir and raped with “fingers and a sharp object.” Karim Massoud who volunteers with the Egyptian rape crisis group said “hundreds of men” were involved, attacking not only the woman but those trying to help extricate her from the situation.
“They used weapons to attack us. We got her inside a café, she didn’t have trousers on, so we dressed her. The window was our only way out. I escorted her to the ambulance, which was also attacked by the mobs. She was badly bleeding in the ambulance, but she was conscious. When we got the hospital, the doctor said that she had to undergo a surgery to stop the vaginal bleeding,” Massoud said.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, says, “The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces.”
He describes the assaults as “serious crimes.”