Women in Saudi Arabia risk being sexually harassed in public, just like almost any place in the world. While authorities are aware of this issue, activists argue they only take serious action when footage capturing assault trends online. This includes a harassment case that captured quite the attention online over the weekend, moving the police to issue an arrest warrant against the perpetrator.
CCTV footage captured the assault, which took place in the kingdom's Wadi ad-Dawasir. In it, a man can be seen approaching and groping a woman standing outside a store at a shopping center. After she shoves him away, the attacker keeps on walking until he returns to strike again. The victim then slaps him; he walks away once more, only to return yet again and forcibly hugs the woman before escaping the scene.
The revolting attack understandably angered thousands of Saudis and led many to report the incident to authorities. Though people are glad the police have launched a search for the harasser, others think it simply isn't enough.
Though most Saudis were appalled by the incident and lambasted the man's revolting actions, there were still those who tried to play the victim-blaming game and made excuses for him.
To them, the woman is to blame because she somehow incited the attack. Luckily, their comments were quickly shut down by many who took a stand against sexual harassment.
"I must put together all the excuses people made up under this hashtag"
"I'll then put them in a book titled 'Victim blaming.' The amount of excuses people are making for the harasser is unbelievable."
"We repeat again: What a woman is wearing has nothing to do with being harassed"
"This man deserves to be punished"
"There's a code of silence among victims of sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia"
Activists working with sexual harassment victims in the kingdom believe that only a complete transformation of the way Saudi society deals with the issue will help prevent similar cases from taking place. One of these women, a social worker named Leen, told us why that is.
"There's a code of silence among victims of sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia because women here are made to fear that they'll be blamed for being attacked if and when they report an assault. The truth is we can't really help bring down rates of these attacks before we stop blaming victims and forcing them into hiding," she explained to us.
"Harassers are arrested when video evidence against them is made available to police but what happens in the millions of other cases where there is no filmed footage of an assault? The truth is we don't know and no one does," Leen added.
Like several other women's rights activists in the kingdom, Leen commends recent reforms that have granted women some of their rights. Yet the road towards freedom is still long and won't end before the country's male guardianship system is abolished. Under this system, victims of sexual harassment can only report assaults with the permission of a male guardian who is usually a father, brother, uncle, or husband.
Not the only similar case reported this weekend
On Saturday, Saudi authorities in Arar governorate arrested two men for harassing a woman walking on a pavement.
This came after footage the victim filmed was uploaded on Twitter. In it, the men are heard catcalling her and then hurling insults at her for ignoring them.
Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia passed an anti-harassment law, incidents similar to the two reported this weekend still occur on a daily basis. According to a 2014 study, nearly 80 percent of women (aged 18 to 48) said they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the kingdom.
The Institute for International Research, a Canadian institute specialized in research and field studies, found that Saudi Arabia witnessed an 11.4-percent increase in sexual harassment cases in 2016, compared to 2014.