A 15-year-old Egyptian girl could be charged with stabbing a bus driver to death after he allegedly tried to rape her. Though the final indictment has yet to be made, the case is reigniting concern over the way Egypt's legal system treats victims of sexual harassment.
The teen told police the man had attempted to assault her at knifepoint during the terrifying incident which dates back to July. She explained that the bus driver kidnapped and drove her to a deserted rural area close to Cairo. When he tried to assault her, she used a knife found in his vehicle to stab him in a bid to defend herself. She was later arrested by the police. Though she was granted bail by the court last month, an investigating judge later upheld an appeal to detain her for another 30 days.
Local women's rights groups have been campaigning for the girl's release, demanding she be charged with something less than murder as her actions came in an act of self-defense against sexual assault. Activists have also been offering her legal assistance.
Shortly after her arrest, authorities requested that the young girl undergo a virginity test which determined she was a virgin.
The fact that authorities requested the "invasive procedure that in itself amounts to sexual assault" angered hundreds of women's rights activists across the country. While many stated that the procedure's results could be helpful for the girl's legal position in a country that interlinks virginity with innocence and purity, others just couldn't find the logic in that.
Speaking out against the virginity test the girl was forced to undergo, Intissar Saeed, president of the Cairo Foundation for Law and Development, explained: "She [the girl] said [the bus driver] tried to rape her but did not so I believe there was no need for this examination."
This case highlights the region's double standards and misogyny
Saeed, whose organization is part of the teen's defense team, added she believes this case "reveals the dualism in Egyptian society."
"I myself have sympathized with her since day one. But when I wrote about her on my Facebook page some male lawyers attacked the girl on my page saying she was not a decent woman."
"This is the first time we have a girl that goes as far as killing the man who tried to rape her. If the court rules in her favor, it will be a historic precedent for the Egyptian judicial system," she added.
During interrogation, the teen said she was on a date with her boyfriend before getting on the bus. The young man is now in custody and is being investigated for any potential link to the crime. Given that many fragments of Egyptian society still frown upon women dating, this statement could affect the defendant's credibility. If it were a male being prosecuted, this wouldn't have influenced legal proceedings.
This case truly highlights the region's double standards when it comes to prosecuting men and women in legal courts. It also reflects how female victims of sexual harassment are chastised by the public when they come forward or try to defend themselves. Instead of being protected, they're often questioned, subjected to humiliating medical tests, and blamed for being harassed.
In her comment on the case, Mozn Hassan, founder of Nazra for Feminist Studies - a group that provides legal and psychological support to women who had to undergo a virginity test - explained how the country's laws treat men and women differently.
"There is a frightening misogynistic sense of solidarity in the society. The law takes into consideration the emotional status of a man when he rises to defend his honor, which is very patriarchal. However, this (has not been) applicable to women," she explained.
The country's investigating magistrate is set to receive a detailed forensic report of the crime before its officials decide on charges against the teen. Her lawyers now hope she will be charged with a so-called "honor killing," an act of vengeance usually committed by male family members against female relatives deemed to have dishonored their family.
Why are the teen's legal representatives hoping for this charge in specific? Because usually, men charged with honor killings receive lighter sentences under Egypt's penal code. Though activists have been fighting against such discrimination for years, some of them now hope it'll benefit a young woman who tried to fight against sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is a major issue in Egypt
A recent study conducted by UN Women and Promundo, a Brazilian organization campaigning for gender equality, also revealed that around 43 percent of men in Egypt actually believe women enjoy getting attention and have no problem with being harassed. Others blame women for inciting the assaults they endure, claiming victims who wear tight clothing are "asking for harassment."
Egypt considers sexual harassment a crime punishable by law. If a woman takes her harasser to court and he is convicted, he can face a minimum of six months in prison. If a harasser is found to be a repeat offender, he could potentially face up to five years in prison.
The issue isn't only widespread in Egypt, though, it's also prevalent in other Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Bahrain.