Many Americans don’t think “that much” about sexual harassment these days. For Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, even the term “sexual harassment” may sound hoary — recalling the culture war days of the early 1990s and bringing to mind nostalgic images of Nirvana concerts, the falling Berlin Wall and the Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential election.
However, sexual harassment is alive and well in many American workplaces, and it still exacts a tremendous psychological toll on the women and men who experience it. Statistics suggest that this behavior is still way-unreported. Many female and male employees who suffer through it also fall victims to employment problems like overtime violations, tip pool violations, discrimination and retaliation. They fall silent because they don’t understand their rights or know how to protect them in the judicial system.
Nevertheless, American workers definitely have it better than workers in other parts of the world — parts of the world like Egypt. Consider a shocking 2013 United Nations report, “Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women,” which found that the vast, vast majority of the female population in Egypt – 99.3 percent! – claim to have suffered sexual harassment.
On April 10, CNN reported on this systematic set of outrages in an editorial “Is Egypt in the midst of a sexual harassment epidemic?” The article gave the account of a woman named Habiba (not her real name), who “recalls the day a group of men chased her down the street. ‘Come on! You know you want to,’ they shouted at her, while making lewd gestures… finally she ducked into a pharmacy but found no refuge inside. No one in the pharmacy did anything to help me despite my pleas, they just want me to leave,” Habiba said. Habiba says the men wouldn’t leave, but after two hours like this, she got tired of waiting. So she ran. Fast. ‘I was so afraid that one of them would touch me… you just don’t forget something like that,’ she said.”
Incredibly, Habiba says this kind of thing happens to her daily.
So what’s going on in Egypt? According to Colonel Manal Atef, a high level minister working on violence against women issues, the problem isn’t so much protective laws (or lack thereof) but rather it’s the fact that women who suffer abuses don’t report them.
Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) researcher, Naglaa Al-Adly, echoed that sentiment and told CNN reporters “the problem is very difficult, because the women and girls themselves don’t take action for these assaults. They feel ashamed.” Although Atef’s unit has made some progress — training four female officers to manage “crimes of sexual harassment” — Al-Adly says this is but a drop in the bucket. Four officers obviously cannot patrol 86 million Egyptians.
It’s well outside the scope of this blog to surface and understand the complex dynamics going on in Egypt, but the CNN story does show that systematic sexual harassment and abuse can happen anywhere. Women in Egypt (and here in the United States) often suffer because they don’t know how to access or utilize help.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with a sexual harassment case, please call the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640 immediately for a free consultation, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.