Breaking the silence on paedophilia

"A Very Important Film": With this intriguing title, the latest clip from the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights broaches a highly taboo subject in the country — paedophilia.

The story of little Salma is aimed at very young children but also aims to bring awareness to their elders. The moral of the story: if adults talk openly about sexual harassment, children will feel able to report when it happens to them.

Little research has been done in the field of paedophilia in Egypt. The most often-cited work — that of Faten Abd Rahman At-Tanbari from the Institute of Post-Graduate Childhood Studies at Ain Shams University — was carried out in 1995. She found that 18% of sexual attacks were carried out on minors, and in 35% of the cases, the aggressor was a family member. The researcher emphasized that since there are no official statistics, these numbers likely greatly understate reality.


An extract from the clip

The original 10-minute clip was posted on the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights website.

"The concierge of my apartment building never missed a chance to pinch or caress me"

Asser Yasser is a victim of sexual harassment herself. She runs a campaign against sexual abuse in Egypt.

The clip is well done but I think its impact will be limited. It's available online and on DVD, but the major TV channels don't broadcast it. Sexual abuse is commonplace in Egypt. Children fall victim to sexual harassment in clubs, at schools, at the local shop, in the lift...

It's nothing new, but today we're less frightened of talking about it. When I was ten years old, the concierge of my apartment building never missed a chance to pinch or caress me in an explicitly sexual way. Only later on did I find out that I wasn't the only one.

When my sister was 12, a librarian tried to force himself on her. When she came home, she told us what had happened. I asked my father to file a complaint. But then the father of the aggressor, who turned out to be a civil engineering student, begged us to withdraw the charges in fear of it destroying his son's future.

Even a few years ago nobody would have dared take a case like this to court. But even now the grand majority of people prefer to sort out problems themselves rather than go to the police. The dad or the brother takes it upon himself to punish the aggressor, usually by beating him up. It's thought better to keep the affair quiet.

We live in an old-fashioned society. Such a scandal could be as demeaning for the victim as it is for the aggressor. If it's a little girl, then it could seriously damage her reputation and chances of finding a husband. If it's a little boy, then he's branded a homosexual. In both cases, the effects are devastating for the victim."