Middle East

Iranian women go online to break silence over sexual abuse

Issued on: 29/08/2020 – 17:00

Dozens of Iranian women have taken to social media to share their stories of sexual harassment and rape, breaking years of silence and shedding light on a legal system that is weighted against the victims.

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For 14 years, Sara Omatali kept her personal trauma under wraps, unable to speak out about the ordeal she suffered in Tehran in the summer of 2006. The former journalist, who now lives in the United States, was sexually assaulted while interviewing a prominent artist in the Iranian capital. A week ago, she finally decided to break her silence on Twitter.

Omatali is among dozens of Iranian women who have recently taken to social media to denounce the sexual harassment and abuse they suffered. Some have used the #MeToo hashtag, coined in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

نوشتن این چند سطر از سخت‌ترین کارهایی است که کرده‌ام. قرار است ماجرایی را بخوانید که ممکن است آدمی را که نزد خیلی‌هایتان فردی خردمند و فرهیخته و داناست و از روشنفکرهای محبوب، به کل زیر سؤال ببرد. این روایت را سال‌ها حمل کرده‌ام و دیگر دلیلی برای حمل مصلحت‌اندیشانه‌شان نمی‌بینم/

— Sara Omatali (@SOmatali) August 22, 2020

Omatali was encouraged to speak out after reading the account of another young woman who said she was raped three years ago by a Tehran socialite. In her account posted on Instagram in mid-August, the woman said she woke up naked after her assailant had drugged and raped her. Her post soon went viral and more than a dozen women have since come forward to claim they were attacked by the same man.

Faced with the backlash, Tehran police arrested the suspect on August 25. In a rare twist, Iranian authorities have encouraged women to come forward and press charges.

"We assure the anonymity of all complaints," said Hossein Rahimi, Tehran's police chief, in remarks carried by the IRNA state news agency.

In recent weeks, other Iranian women have taken to Instagram and Twitter to name their alleged assailants. The accused include a university professor as well as prominent artists, actors and writers.

Several of the victims said they were minors at the time of the abuse. Some, mostly journalists, have dared to speak out without using a pseudonym.

Their accounts have elicited a wave of support on social media. In some cases, lawyers have offered legal advice, mindful that the accusations could turn against the plaintiffs. Some have offered to counsel victims pro bono.

“If you have been raped, you should tell the police you were a virgin before the assault,” read one comment on a victims post, according to French daily Le Monde.

Under Iranian law, sexual intercourse before marriage is punishable by 99 lashes and alcohol consumption is also banned.

A biased legal system

The flurry of accounts on social media has helped to crack a long-standing taboo and raise awareness of rampant sexual abuse, Omatali said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“In the absence of systematic education about sexual issues in Iran, this group movement improves the atmosphere for a public discussion and creates a precious opportunity for education,” she said.

"All these years I remained silent, as I was afraid of those who would tell me I had no evidence to prove my claim … but now, I feel that it is below my dignity to stay silent out of fear," the Washington-based educator added on Twitter.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USMn_XVvibg?feature=oembed&w=480&h=270]

It is not only the personal trauma and the fear of social stigma that force victims into silence. The laws of the Islamic Republic also act as a deterrent for many victims, according to lawyer Mohammad Oliaeifard.

In remarks carried by Persian-language website Read More – Source




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