Systematic sexual abuse against women prisoners of conscience in Egypt

A group of Egyptian women in detention accused their country’s authorities of systematic sexual violations after their arrest on the basis of activities against the authorities, according to an investigation by The New York Times. Some of these attacks occurred during routine body inspection by police or prison guards, while others were carried out by State doctors who were asked to perform physical examinations, including so-called virginity checks.

There are no public statistics on the number of such incidents that rights groups say considered it as torture and sexual abuse. Women in Egypt rarely report such incidents because victims of sexual abuse are often ostracized and humiliated because of the country’s prevailing customs and traditions. 

According to the New York Times, at least dozen women reported having had similar experiences, refusing to reveal their names out of fear of society. However, an Egyptian former police officer stressed that sexual abuse of women occurred everywhere, and that the aim of the body inspection was not to gather evidence or seek possession of illicit items, but to insult their humanity. He added that violations took place with these women after they were arrested for expressing an opinion or because they went to the authorities to report a crime.

In each case, accused women, had been sexually abused by those who are responsible for their protection. Whether they are victims, witnesses or accusers, women dealing with the criminal justice system in Egypt face the risk of being stripped of their clothes, felt bodies and violated.

Although this treatment is not legal, women are usually unable to do anything about it in a country governed by a male authoritarian regime, according to the New York Times newspaper.

The newspaper posted in video on its website, these women speaking publicly for the first time. They described the sexual abuse they had been subjected to in police stations, prisons and hospitals. According to rights groups in Egypt, these inspections are brutal and inhumane and are criminalized under the international law.

An official security source denied the accuracy of the newspaper’s report, describing the women who spoke about these violations as “erotic elements”, and said that what was circulated in this regard is completely untrue. Government officials in Egypt used to deny the accounts of the systematic abuse, stressing that the regular inspections that they conduct is approved by the law and indispensable either to serve the investigation or to prevent the entry of prohibitions into prisons.

Body examination may be acceptable in certain contexts as part of security measures, says Ms. Rothna Begum, senior researcher in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. She stated that women spoke to the newspaper about their feelings of weakness and isolation in face of these humiliating practices.

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