By Corinna Barnard
Thursday, February 17, 2011
A ghastly sex assault in Cairo should not boil down to the idea that the "Middle East remains dangerous for women," writes WeNews editor Corinna Barnard. Women everywhere face sex-assault danger and reporters run constant risk.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Women's eNews would like to express strong concern for Lara Logan, the CBS News chief foreign correspondent who “sustained sexual attack" in the middle of the Cairo, Egypt, demonstrations on Feb. 11. Logan was working on a program for “60 Minutes" when she was surrounded by a mob, separated from her colleagues and assaulted.
As of now there are few other details on the nature of her attackers or the attack. CBS has said a group of women and about 20 soldiers moved in to protect her.
Despite the upsetting news of this attack, Howard Kurtz's conclusion about the incident in Tuesday's Daily Beast seems way off base. The assault "underscores that the Middle East remains a dangerous place for women," Kurtz wrote.
That seems like a big, hasty jump from the specific to the general.
The Middle East is a large region and many places, according to one of our female correspondents, are much more comfortable for women than others and--let"s face it--than many parts of the United States.
"It's different by country--safer more so in Beirut, Amman or Damascus than Cairo," our correspondent Iman Azzi wrote me today.
Azzi lives in Beirut, Lebanon, and was in Cairo this week to report a story for Women's eNews.
"Cairo may be safe but it is not easy. Cairo is legendary for harassment and I know Egyptian women are also victims of it constantly--mostly verbal harassment but often groping on the streets and by passersby. The attention on the streets is exhausting but I've never really felt in danger. The main problem is the lack of reaction from the authorities who seem to allow it. And the upper class, which travels by car and ignores it," she said.
Azzi said she thought the bigger dangers for women in the region come from the laws that don't protect them or aren't enforced or the possibility of violence by family members or those they know.
Sexual assaults also occur in mob settings in the United States, including New York City in broad daylight in one of our "safest" parks.
Street harassment of women is well known in Cairo, including a few notorious mob attacks that drew women into the streets to protest. Women's eNews has covered the difficulties of victims finding any justice in police departments under Hosni Mubarak's regime. We hope post-revolutionary activists will take this issue up for urgent reform attention.
Several foreign journalists were attacked during the Cairo demonstrations, reminding us of the extreme hazards of journalism.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, where Logan serves as a board member, says 852 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1992.
The group's steadily updated tally of killings record the most recent as that of Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud, a male local journalist in Cairo killed on Feb. 4. His wife told Al-Jazeera that her husband had stepped onto his office balcony to take video of a confrontation between security forces and demonstrators on the street when security forces spotted him. She said he was killed by a sniper.
The committee finds that 93 percent of the journalists killed in the line of hazardous duty are male. So it's important to note that field reporting is dangerous for men.
Amid what The Committee to Protect Journalists called unprecedented attacks on journalists during the Egyptian demonstrations in early February, some female demonstrators remarked upon an unusual sense of freedom from harassment in the protests.
Azzi also mentioned this to me in her e-mail, although as the days passed the street harassment levels, she said, seemed to rise again.
Women's vulnerability to sex assault is a major restriction here and across the globe on our ease of movement and full participation in many forms of social life. When I turned to one of our columnists, Wendy Murphy, a leading authority on the law and sexual violence in the United States, she fired back statistics within minutes.
"Conservatively, approximately eight women per 1,000 are raped each year. (Lisak, 2002)," Murphy wrote.
Despite what Murphy called "a perceived sense that things have gotten better since the women's movement, between 1960 and 1999," she said the United States has seen a strong rise in "forcible rapes."
"A woman is beaten in the United States every 15 seconds," Murphy wrote, citing a U.N. study from 2000.
Four women are killed every day by a male intimate partner, Murphy wrote, citing a 2001 study.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between ages 15 and 44 in the United States--more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. That stat Murphy attributed to the Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation of 1991.
Murphy wrote us that violence against women is epidemic in the United States, "but our own Department of Justice refuses to measure it as a 'hate crime'-- perhaps for fear of what the data might demonstrate. We measure and issue annual reports on targeted violence against people based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and disabilities, but not gender."
None of this minimizes the dangers of Cairo streets for women or journalists.
Kurtz is right to point out the women in the Middle East do face particular dangers. Women's eNews covers these as consistently as we can, with this story about the risks run by Afghan female bloggers as just one example.
But at a sensitive time in Egypt's transition and in Western reappraisal of Arabic societies, it seems most useful to treat sex assault as a common problem.
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Corinna Barnard is editor of Women's eNews