Egypt: activists raped, both men and women victims

08 March, 19:20

Women's Day in Cairo Women's Day in Cairo

(ANSAmed) - ROME - Women are being systematically raped in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Egyptian activist and psychiatrist Sally Toma told a March 8 conference organized here by Democratic Party (PD) MEP Silvia Costa. But also men are sexually abused by men in uniform.

Organized groups are roaming Tahrir Square, raping women in order to scare half the population away from demonstrating, while men are being beaten and raped in military barracks and police stations: they might outnumber the female sexual assault victims, Toma told in her update on the situation of women two years after the revolution.

In Cairo, women activists and demonstrators are being targeted by civilians. ''They are sent by extremist groups led by the Salafist movement or by the (Muslim) Brotherhood'', explained Toma. ''They move in groups of five to six people, molesting not for sexual gratification, but for the pleasure of harming others''. Women told her ''they had knives held to their vaginas, while others were abducted, stripped and driven around the city, exposed to public shame,'' Toma recounted. This is a way to keep at least half the demonstrators away, she said. ''Women decide to leave Tahrir Square in fear of what has already happened to other women and to their friends.'' But the women of Tahrir ''are tough'', said the activist, who coordinated marches and meetings even before January 25.

''We women will remain,'' she told ANSAmed in an interview. The sexual assaults against male activists are something new, Toma went on. Abducted off the streets, they are dragged to police stations and military barracks, where they are sexually abused by men in uniform. Many of these male victims are among her patients, said Toma, who now works almost full time helping these rape victims overcome the trauma. ''I deal with post-traumatic situations. I've always worked with victims of sexual abuse and torture'', she explained, adding that many young activists are coming to her to tell her their stories. ''There is no official data'', but the violence has increased in the past two months, Toma added. While many victims refuse to come forward out of shame, she estimates there were 1,000 rapes last year. ''I work with my patients on how to channel the rage, sadness or shame, trying to reduce the desire for revenge'', said Toma, adding that many return to the street, only to be raped again. ''This has happened to many of my patients. Some of these kids got raped two, three times in a row. We want to stop this vicious circle''. Toma currently directs the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, which is supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund and which educates activists on how to act on the political level. It also provides training on how to form pressure groups at the local level in cities outside Cairo. ''The revolution must move forward throughout the country, not just in Tahrir. We train them, we teach them how to denounce abuses and violations, how to contact NGOs and humanitarian organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. We have trained a large network of activists. It is made up of small cells, in which everyone knows one another and supports one another''.

Meanwhile, women activists are not giving up the streets: today's March 8 women's demonstration in Cairo has been called to protest the Muslim Brotherhood, Toma said. (ANSAmed).