A man received a five-year prison sentence Sunday for sexually harassing a woman on public transport in Cairo, a rare victory for anti-harassment groups that struggle to take cases through court.
The Abdeen Court found the man guilty of “indecency” for harassment on a microbus in an incident dating back to 2013.
Following the attack, the man attempted to jump from the window of the moving vehicle. However, he was apprehended by fellow passengers, according to information given to Daily News Egypt from the Cairo Center for Development (CCD) support group. The man was taken to a police station, where a case was immediately filed against him.
“I was on a microbus from Moqattam to Sayeda Zeinab when he attacked me from behind. I yelled and screamed and he tried to escape from the bus, but luckily he was caught and we were by a police station,” Neama Gamal, the woman who experienced the harassment, told Daily News Egypt.
Sexual harassment is a significant social problem in Egypt. In April 2013, the United Nations (UN) issued a report of a survey conducted of women in seven Egyptian governorates, suggesting that 99.3% of women have experienced it.
Asked why the case took two years to come to a verdict, Gamal said: “I wish the procedures were quick and easy, but I understand that the court had to do a lot of work. The process of hearing the witnesses was very slow, they had to wait to be called upon first by the prosecution and then to court.”
During the investigation, it was discovered that the man, identified only as AB, had previous cases of indecent behaviour on record.
Intsar Saeed, a lawyer with the CCD who represented Gamal in the legal process, told Daily News Egypt: “The number of legal cases that are filed are insignificant compared to the proportion of women that suffer sexual harassment in Egypt.”
“At the CCD, we receive around 260 cases a year of general domestic violence and gender abuse but only around ten to 20 of those are harassment cases and only about two or three of those result in successful verdicts against the accused,” Saeed said.
“In the last trial session, the man was not in court as he was free on bail, he didn’t take the case seriously and thought that he was going to be acquitted, he didn’t even enlist a lawyer,” Gamal said.
Before this incident, similar harassment happened to her on two occasions, “but there were no witnesses and the harasser was not arrested at the time so the cases fell through”. She reports that this case reached a verdict because the attacker was arrested on scene and there were witnesses who were willing to testify to police and court. Gamal also praised the support she had from the CCD.
“Cases fall apart because of pressure from the community, fear of bad reputation, and often because we can’t gather enough witnesses or they withdraw,” the CCD’s Saeed said. However, she believes public opinion is slowly beginning to change. “The problem is that an individual’s local networks are still unsupportive. So even if the government is starting to deal better with these cases, there is still a social taboo that makes it difficult to gather witnesses and proof.”
In June last year, Egypt’s interim cabinet amended the harassment law and included it within the country’s penal code. The new amendments increase the penalty for any form of verbal or nonverbal sexual harassment to at least six months imprisonment and a fine of between EGP 3,000 and EGP 5,000.
During the last 100 days of 2014, at least 1,191 cases of sexual assault and harassment took place across Egypt according to figures collected by the Appropriate Communication Techniques (ACT) organisation and ‘I Saw Harassment’ civil pressure group.
During the recent national festival of Sham El-Nessim, the campaign group ‘I Saw Harassment’ took to Cairo’s downtown streets to intervene and document cases of assault. The group documented two physical sexual harassment and 28 verbal harassment incidents, according to the initiative, which monitored downtown Cairo between 12pm and 8pm. It is known in Egypt that during public holidays the level of sexual harassment dramatically escalates.
In December, a 19-year-old girl drowned in the River Nile, reportedly jumping in to the river in an attempt to flee from a street harasser, after efforts to rescue her failed.