Things have been changing at the speed of light in Saudi Arabia with the country going from completely segregating all public events to hosting mixed-gender festivals and concerts.
Over the past few days, people have been speaking out about being sexually harassed at recently launched functions they attended in the country. One of them is the MDL Beast electronic festival, which saw the attendance of around 400,000 people in three days.
Under the hashtag "Harassment MDL Beast," hundreds of women, men and individuals with physical disabilities broke their silence over harrowing assaults they were subjected to while attending the festival's events.
The spike in sexual and physical harassment cases at these events can partly be blamed on the fast pace at which changes are being implemented in the country.
After all, it was barely a year back that men and women in the kingdom were fully segregated everywhere including cinemas, concerts, and restaurants; it will take time for the adjustments to set in. That said, it doesn't take the blame off harassers who attempt to abuse people at public events.
This isn't the only reason behind the rise in similar cases. Another is the fact that some forms of sexual harassment like groping or catcalling aren't seen as gross offenses among locals and have somewhat been normalized. However, let's just say this once and for all, grabbing a woman's abaya (floor-length garment), pushing and shoving a man, or attempting to touch a person on a wheel chair all constitute harassment and are not to be taken lightly.
This specific point is now being reiterated by thousands of Saudis and tourists who were left shaken by what they experienced or witnessed at MDL Beast.
"The level of sexual harassment was just ridiculous"
One of those who spoke up about their experience at MDL Beast is an online user known as Denean. The young woman praised the event as a whole especially when it comes to the way it was designed and organized but criticized the levels of sexual harassment some of its attendants experienced.
"I hated the crowd, the level of sexual harassment at that concert was just ridiculous. Like, so ridiculous." she said in the video.
Denean added that throughout the concert she attended, men would try to grope women who were dancing to the music or just standing in the crowd. She also explained that she saw hijabis being groped and harassed.
Her testament was widely circulated on Saudi Twitter, with some mistranslating her words. On Sunday, the tweep wrote that she was receiving threats because she spoke out about her experience.
"I’m literally getting threats because I said girls don’t want guys to feel on their private parts at a concert," she tweeted.
Sexual harassment is not excusable
Hundreds who amped up the courage to share their stories were faced with the victim-blaming rhetoric that unfortunately still exists in our region.
Some blamed women for attending the mixed-gender event, others said those who were dancing in public "deserved what they got."
Problem is, it wasn't only women who were harassed at these concerts, men and even those with disabilities were also targeted.
A Saudi man on a wheelchair attended MDL Beast on Thursday and Friday. He was harassed by groups of people in the crowd and refrained from going to the event's closing night.
"I didn't go on Saturday even though I had bought tickets. All this because of the goons who crowded around me and left me disgusted. They'd just gather around, some would kiss me, others would grab my foot and dance around with it. A few tried to grab my arms and pull me up to dance. If I could dance I wouldn't have come to the event in a wheelchair," he said.
This proves the following pretty straightforward point: Harassers aren't provoked to assault victims, they're criminals who choose to behave this way. What a victim is wearing, doing, or saying has nothing to do with them being attacked.
Action must be taken against harassers, not victims
Those speaking up are concerned that their testimonies will lead to action against victims - mainly women who attend public events - under the pretext of society wanting to protect them.
However, that shouldn't be the case because for one, it wasn't only women who were harassed at MDL Beast and for two, such action won't curb harassment levels.
What will? Taking harassment seriously, punishing harassers, and making it clear that anyone accused of such abuse will be held accountable under the kingdom's anti-sexual harassment law.
People are also calling on event organizers to provide more security officials inside event premises so that they can identify and take proper action against harassers right on the spot.