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Journalism community comes under spotlight as sexual assault allegations emerge - Daily News Egypt

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Journalism community comes under spotlight as sexual assault allegations emerge

Several female journalists, from Egypt and elsewhere in Middle East, have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations

Many of reports on sexual harassment has focused on workplaces outside journalism community, but recent testimonies emerged suggesting that journalists should not be considered an exception and that they face similar rates of sexual assault.

Only a matter of days ago, Egypt’s social media and journalism communities were abuzz with a new hashtag pointing to sexual violence against women.

The hashtag, aimed at a well-known Egyptian journalist with a significant local and international reputation, has seen allegations of sexual assault and rape from at least five female journalists.

The latest allegations of sexual misconduct in Egypt started on 17 August, when anonymous testimony was published on the blog Daftar El hekyat (“Storybook”). In the testimony, a female journalist accused the well known investigative journalist of rape in an incident that occurred nine years ago. The victim did not publish the name of the alleged rapist, but just put his initials.

In her testimony, the female journalist said that she was encouraged to contact the alleged rapist through a friend she had made at a journalism course and with whom she had shared some of her writing. The new friend recommended her to get in touch with the journalist would be able to help her in her chosen career path, and would help solve her problems. 

“All my problems during that period relate to the fact that I was a girl from a closed family, and I had to learn how to face the community as I am studying journalism, ” the victim said.

According to the published testimony, the girl met the alleged rapist for the first time while he was undertaking radio and TV interviews. The victim says that, when they met on this first occasion, the alleged rapist claimed he had studied psychology, and began questioning her about the sexual harassment she faces on public transport. 

The victim says that, during this initial meeting, there was no reason for her to feel uncomfortable, as he was dealing with her professionally, butin a superior way.

It was at their second meeting, which occurred at a residential area still under construction that the alleged rapist took her to, that things took a turn for the worse. The apartment at which the second meeting occurred was, in the words of the alleged rapist, a meeting point he used frequently. It was also at this meeting that he convinced her that they would be meeting some important people

“He entered the apartment while I was standing on the side, and although he called out many names, no one appeared,” the victim said, “Suddenly he came out with a belt in his hand and started to hit me and ask me to take off my clothes.”

“I started taking off my chemise and jacket, but I was still wearing my scarf, my pants and my underwear,” she continued, “So he started hitting more violent, I think he forced my mouth shut when I screamed and asked him to stop.”

She also said that the journalist pushed her against a sofa and she was left unable to move due to her position. The young lady was left traumatised by convulsions, due to her shock at the attack, so the alleged rapist gave up and was unable to complete the rape.

To add an even more uncomfortable side to the victim’s report, she was also forced to ride with the alleged rapist in his car. This was in part due to her shock at the incident, and in part because she felt she had no other choice in such an isolated area. She added that he dropped her off at a prominent bridge in Cairo, and threw EGP 20 at her after insulting her, leaving her feeling ashamed and guilty.

A sea of testimonies

The anonymous testimony caused large ripples of shock across social media, especially in the journalism community. Since then a number of accusations were posted, either on the blog or through the personal social media accounts of well-known female journalists.

Hours after the first testimony was published, Egyptian journalist Eman Ouf published a group of screenshots on her personal Facebook account. The pictures are said to show messages between the same alleged rapist and another victim, in which he tried to lure her by claiming that he was following Freudian psychological methods. He used this excuse, and the ruse that he had a diploma in the psychology of sexual behaviour, to ask her questions of a sexual nature.

“I shared the first testimony, and I was surprised that after only an hour, a colleague told me that the same alleged rapist sexually harassed her using the same method,” Ouf told Daily News Egypt.

“I took the screenshots of an online conversation between her and the rapist, removed any details that could reveal the identities of the victim and the alleged rapist, and then I published her testimony writing a caption that the first testimony was anonymous, but this time I know the girl well,” she added. “The screenshots show that in March 2013, he demanded the girl go to a compound on the Ismailia Desert Road for a training session, but the girl refused.”

Ouf added that, like the first anonymous case, the alleged rapist again claimed that he studied psychology. For treatment sake, he asked her to engage in a game where she answers all his questions, many of which were sexual in nature.

She told Daily News Egypt that, when she saw the screenshots from the second victim and compared it with the first testimony, she did not doubt that it is the same alleged rapist. Similar methods were used, including the same ruse that he had studied psychology to justify asking sexually explicit questions. He also used his journalism experience to exploit the victims by offering training sessions.

None of the testimonies mention the alleged rapist directly by name, instead using his initials. On 18 August, however, a well known investigative journalist revealed himself as the accused  via a post on his personal Facebook account, as he has the same initials. In the post, which he later deleted, he denied all the allegations, and pledged to sue anyone trying to defame him without proof.

Are testimonies credible?

In response to questions of the first testimony’s credibility, the Daftar El hekyat blog published testimony from a second victim on 18 August.  According to this, the second victim was sexually harassed by the alleged rapist as he drove her to a spot near her home following her attendance at one of his workshops. As she approached her home, the alleged rapist squeezed his hand violently between the girl’s legs and pressed violently on her genitals.

“After publishing the second testimony, the victim contacted me and introduced herself that she is the second victim,” Ouf told Daily News Egypt.

Ouf said that she has no doubts on the credibility of both testimonies, as she personally knows both victims well. Since the publication of these two initial testimonies, Ouf has come across a number of further accusations against the same alleged rapist, reported by victims of different nationalities. This is in addition to the six testimonies currently on the blog. 

Ouf said that Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim contacted her and told her that she has collected and verified three testimonies from several different victims, and has published them on Facebook. The last three testimonies that Erhaim shared on her account show that the alleged journalist lured junior journalists during training and professional meetings to his car or room under the pretext of searching for a quiet place to talk.

This was, however, to isolate and harass them or push them to respond to him under the pretext that he was able to save them from a “difficult marital life” and provide a “warm embrace for a woman who has decided that she needs his support”, the testimonies noted.

“It’s difficult to say that these testimonies are fabricated, as it’s not easy to make journalists in Syria and in Egypt all accuse the same person of being the alleged rapist, narrating the same methods, and they do not even know each other,” Ouf said.

Also, Ouf said that she doesnot know the owners of the blog but now she has known testimonies from known people.

Daily News Egypt contacted Erahim who said that she verifies testimonies through publicly available sources, including the identity of the victims, certificates, and papers. She added that, for example, if the victim claimed she was sexually harassed during a specific course, Erahim ensures through the public sources that the girl really did attend this course through the list of the attendees, the certificates issued, and the like.

“It was important for male and female journalists known for their credibility to participate in this case,” Erhaim said, “I believe that we have contributed to enhancing the credibility of survivors, especially as the testimonies were anonymous.”

Erhaim pointed to the blog website being relatively unknown as helpful to improving the credibility of the testimonies provided.

“This enabled us to reverse the equation and prevent the alleged rapist from casting aspersions on the website’s authenticity and transforming the process into a torpedoing of all testimonies, especially since those who shared additional testimonies have the trust of colleagues,” Erhaim said.

Alleged rapist gives fresh response

On 22 August, after a fourth testimony was published, the alleged rapist provided a fresh response through a video clip entitled “How to assassinate a journalist”. In the video, which he published on his personal social media accounts before removed this response as well, two young women appeared denying all the charges against him.

In the video, one of the young women said that she had fabricated one of the testimonies sent to the blog , and that she had also fabricated the screenshots of a conversation with the alleged rapist. She added that she had fabricated the testimony on the blog to publicly prove that the website’s verification process is not accurate.

Then surprisingly, a Syrian journalist  named Rama Deep who participated in the video also published a post on her own personal Facebook account, but said she had no role in writing, editing or choosing the title of the video. She also described it as “misleading”, and explained that her work was limited to corresponding with the blog website, which published three testimonies accusing a male Egyptian Journalist of sexual abuse.  She added that she had received requests from Egyptian journalists who informed her of their work on an investigation regarding the blog.

Commenting on this video, Ouf said that this video is an evidence that convict him, he used illegal way to strike all the testimonies in the blog.

“After the colleague published a video about the fabrication of one of the testimonies on the blog, a close colleague and long-time friend contacted me and said that she was the owner of one of the testimonies published on the blog and asked me to publish it,” Egyptian journalist Mohamed Abou Elgheit wrote on Facebook. “Although I know the colleague well, I asked her for details, and I checked the time range and location mentioned in the incident with the available circumstantial evidence, and they were all indeed identical.”

He added that this backs up Erhaim’s research on assaults by the alleged rapist, some of which occurred in Jordan.

Other responses

Meanwhile, Egypt’s National Council of Women (NCW) issued a statement saying that it is monitoring the situation closely. It also called on all victims to file official reports, whilst also announcing that it is ready to provide legal and psychological support for victims through its complaints office.

The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, in turn, issued a statement confirming its total rejection and absolute condemnation of harassment and sexual assault. It called on all colleagues who have any knowledge or evidence of crimes that have occurred in Egypt, or who wish to make complaints, to provide these to the Public Prosecution. The Syndicate noted that it would also undertake the appropriate action against any members found guilty of such crimes, and cancel their membership.

Some of the entities and locations where he offered training and who had dealings with him either journalistic intuitions or universities  have announced their support for the victims and hold their dealing with him. Daily News Egypt contacted one of these locations, the Union of Media Women in Egypt, to ask if they had received any testimonies.

“The last workshop he held with us was three years ago, but there were no complaints against him at that time, as we take anonymous feedback at all of our training sessions on which we build the next training session,” according to the Union’s Executive Director Safaa Abdel Hamid. 

“After following up on the testimonies that were published, we made an internal investigation, and asked a lot of trainees if they faced anything, and we received a lot of testimonies,” she said, adding, “As a party, we do not have a mechanism for verifying the reality of complaint, as we are not an investigation party.” So we called on all of the survivors to file complaints.”

Meanwhile, female Egyptian journalists have started a signature collection campaign demanding that an investigation be opened at all institutions and universities at which the alleged rapist is currently or has previously worked. They have included the Journalist Syndicate.  demanding a punitive action to be taken and announced publicly.

in addition to demanding an independent committee for women at the Journalists Syndicate tobe formed, which includes female members of the Syndicate’s General Assembly and female lawyers specialising in women’s issues from outside the Syndicate. The committee will investigate the allegations and any similar incidents in the future.

Moreover,  they demanded the Journalists Syndicate to immediately stop  , any training sessions led by the alleged rapist, pending an investigation into allegations against him.In addition to that it should adopt a policy combatting harassment and sexual violence against female journalists, whether they are syndicate members or non-syndicate workers in the field.

They also called on all female journalists who have been subjected to these crimes to publish testimonies against the prepartors and sumbit complains to the judicial investigation authorities.

What`s next?

The Public Prosecution is unable to open an investigation without official complaints from survivors first being made, according to Administrative Prosecution Authority Spokesperson Mohamed Samir.

“Except in rape cases, proving harassment and molestation is very difficult, as in these cases there are no material effects on the victim that could be analysed,” Samir said. “It is also difficult to find witnesses unless the incident happened in the street or was filmed, but most of the time it happens in a enclosed area where there are no witnesses, and it is only in rape cases that we have DNA evidence to analyse.”

He added that if others come forward with allegations against the accused, and there is no evidence of a personal relationship between them or conflict of interest, the prosecution considers this as evidence of the crimes committed and sends the issue to the court.

How the court will react to the accusations, however, depends on a range of issues, particularly if solid evidence is lacking. It, instead, depends on the court’s authority in terms of giving precedence to guilt or innocence. The basic principle here is that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

By asking if not all of them make official complaints, he said that if one or two of them having evidence like screenshots, or any evidence linking the alleged rapist to the incident outlined in the testimonies, it will be okay, but it`s always better to have more than one testimony to support the incident more but if not and there is an evidence will be okay.

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