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Sexual harassment from the harasser’s perspective

I was heading to my friend’s wedding, so I took a taxi asking the driver to take me to Mansoureya, a neighbourhood that I had never been to before. While we were on our way, he took a sharp right going through an unpaved dark alley, just before opening his zipper and starting to touch himself saying: “I’m very affectionate, and I will please you.” This is one of the stories told at Banat El-Nas, a recent documentary that tackles the issue of sexual harassment in a new way.

This story is one of many similar ones that happen to Egyptian women on a daily basis. Banat El-Nas (The People’s Girls) is an independent documentary that displays the lives of Egyptian women in a new way.

Banat El-Nas (The People’s Girls) is an independent documentary that displays the lives of Egyptian women in a new way. (Photo Handout to DNE) Banat El-Nas (The People’s Girls) is an independent documentary that displays the lives of Egyptian women in a new way.

(Photo Handout to DNE)

Each person behaves in a manner that is advantageous either to his or her genes or his or her self.

There is a natural conflict between the interests of each person's genes and each person's self.

From the perspective of genes, all is advantageous that aides in their reproduction or procreation. The interests of the self are different.

Genes have primed humans to sacrifice themselves for their offspring. From before humans achieved self-cognition, they were equipped with the emotions of both, sexual desire and parental love.

Self-cognition, however, can well conclude that self-sacrifice would be in the benefit of the offspring, but not in the benefit of the person sacrificing himself or herself. .

Would a person save his or her only child if it meant his or her own death? Assume that the sacrifice would definitely save the child. Assume furthermore that a person's own destruction would be certain.

The interests of the genes and the interests of an individual with a good degree of self-cognition are fundamentally contradictory.

Suicide to preempt senseless suffering, or dulling one's senseless existence in drugs, or a gentle death, and before that, a life of optimal sex, are interests of an individual with a high degree of self-cognition. The interest of genes is procreation, at any cost. The interest of the individual who carries these genes, is at least to minimize suffering.

A person's genes and a person's self can dictate vastly different behavioral patterns, and the conflict between the two is more pronounced in women than it is in men.

A man's self desires optimal sexual satisfaction, which needs a considerable variety of sexual partners. Incidentally, optimizing his sexual satisfaction by changing sexual partners also is in the interest of his genes. Men theoretically can sire a child every day.

When Colette Ghunim, 24, came to Egypt to study Arabic, it didn’t take her long to realise that sexual harassment is a severe crisis that affects every woman in Egypt. With the help of Tinne Van Loon, who is a documentary photographer, they decided to together investigate the reasons for the way women are pestered and aggravated daily.

“In Egypt, every time a woman walks outside, no matter what ?she’s wearing, a large majority of men stare, unabashedly,” said Van Loon. “They scan her entire body as if she is a mere object, not a ?valued human being. The high frequency of stares makes it ?the most common form of sexual harassment.”

From her point of view, this type of sexual harassment—men’s stares—has become so commonplace here that people in Egypt have stopped considering it a type of sexual harassment, even though “it violates women’s ability to feel safe while walking in the ?streets”.

However, stares are only one type of harassment women face in Egypt.

For a woman, pursuing optimal sexual satisfaction with a considerable variety of sexual partners potentially runs against the interest of her genes. The best setting for a woman's genes through tens of thousands of years has been to be careful in choosing a sexual partner and having sexual contact only with a man who would then be a committed father.

From women, more than from men, genes also demand a higher willingness to sacrifice herself for the benefit of her children, not just in situations when there is acute danger, but in everyday situations. After all, children, especially small children, need constant attention and care.

Women, more than men, have a genetically primed ability to control sexual desires in favor of a partner committed to their offspring

For this reason, it is no surprise that any empirical study of "what women want" in societies around the world arrives at the conclusion that women are more inclined towards monogamy than are men.

It does not mean that in previous societies, just as in current societies, there would not have been a large number of women who would have had a strong inclination towards enjoying sexual contact with a large number of men for the purpose of optimal sexual satisfaction. It's just that their behavior wasn't preserved well from generation to generation, as children from such mothers didn't survive as easily as did those who would forgo sexual satisfaction for the benefit of their children.

Humans have a great capability to adapt to changing situations, both genetically and behaviorally. Genetic adaptations for which there is a compelling reason can happen over just a few generations. Behavioral adaptations can happen in a society over just a few years. “In addition to stares, verbal and physical harassment are rampant ?throughout Cairo. Whether on the street, in a microbus, or in the ?metro, the issue of sexual harassment exists for all women, Egyptian or ?foreign,” Van Loon said.

The film received the Ambassador Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, with judges finding the film inspiring and capable of facilitating communication and cultural ?understanding. The film was also accepted into the Arab Film Festival in San ?Fransisco?

The film digs deep to unlock the reasons for harassment. Through the documentary, Collete and Tinne aimed to understand the reasons that would lead a man to verbally harass a girl walking down the street. This includes investigating his social background and beliefs.

The film received the Ambassador Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, with judges finding the film inspiring and capable of facilitating communication and cultural ?understanding (Photo Handout to DNE) The film received the Ambassador Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, with judges finding the film inspiring and capable of facilitating communication and cultural ?understanding (Photo Handout to DNE)

“We decided to investigate two important questions: who is to blame, ?and how women should fight back against harassment. To do so, we ?interviewed both victims of harassment as well as harassers ?themselves to better understand why this epidemic is occurring,” said Collette.

Throughout the film, the audience listens to men defend their actions and behaviour saying “they can’t hold themselves while seeing girls wearing extremely tight and revealing cloths”. At the same time, the camera follows one of them to his home capturing him sitting with his family while they speak about their point of view on the issue.

“Our biggest challenge was filming families inside their homes. In Egypt, homes are very private spaces. Because we had a large, all-male film crew except for us two, it was difficult for ?families to let us interview female family members inside the ?house, she added

For a whole year, the two girls worked on documenting every side of harassment, including girls who stood up against it.

In a personal experience, Collete was walking down the street in Eid, Egypt’s highest season of sexual harassment, using a hidden camera to see what happens when she speaks directly to harassers asking them to stop following her. That women are genetically primed to control their desire for optimal sexual satisfaction doesn't mean that their sexual desires would have been reduced. This would not even be in the interest of her genes. The interest of her genes would be that as soon as there is no child to sacrifice her sexual desire for, the sexual desire will be there in full force, and not necessarily be directed towards just one man.

For individuals with a good degree of self-cognition, if they don't just commit suicide, an ideology of pursuing a comfortable death, preluded by optimal sex, makes as much sense for women as it does for men.

“Filming Banat El-Nas, we realised the immense impact the ?issue has on all levels of society, and how the strongly-engrained ?pattern of victim-blaming often prevents women from speaking ?out,” Collete explained.

In the end, both girls agreed that violence against women is a global issue. “Women worldwide struggle with inequality at different levels, so ?unfortunately we think this will be a lifelong struggle, but we are ?hopeful that the situation will improve. We are hopeful that with ?more women standing up for their rights, it will create a lasting ?social change in their favour.” Collete concluded.


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Child slavery primes Syrian kids to become sex workers when they grow up

Lebanon, short-sighted refugee policies are driving children into slavery and a future of exploitation as prostitutes. In Beirut, Martin Jay sheds light on their plight on World Day Against Child Labor. “I must be in school. It’s my right to be educated, to have an ID, a house, medical care,” Mohamed says with stern conviction.

Yet this young eight year old, who comes from Halab in Syria, has the odds stacked up against him in fulfilling his dream of becoming a human rights lawyer and reproaching the Lebanese landowner for how he treats child workers.

According to a growing number of NGOs, they are now “child slaves,” as gone is the endearing euphemism of “forced labor.” At least 80 percent of Syrian kids in the Bekaa Valley work in the fields for around four dollars a day and – because the rent on their tents is to be paid to the same landlord – work under the auspices of a relationship akin to modern day slavery.

Five years of the UN and the Lebanese government chaperoning a policy of making refugees here pay for everything – water, electricity, rent and now residency itself – has left a community tarnished and scarred by shame.

And one look into this boy’s eyes tells you that he knows it. When asked “Do you realize you are a child slave?” he barely flinches. But he understands.

“I don’t like my work” he finally replies. “I would like to be a lawyer in the future to defend the people and to tell those who are taking children to work that they must take them to aid centers or schools.”

It’s only the end of May when DW visits the farm in Akkar – a town on the Syrian-Lebanese border constantly in the news for gunfights, kidnappings and IS brutalities – the heat is already unbearable.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the metal tipped canes which both the landowner and his assistant wield are for stirring the soil.

“No … the boss hits us … they behave badly to us,” explains Mohamed calmly.

Yet being child slaves is almost a blessing compared to the fate that awaits them when they become adults in Lebanon – particularly the girls.

The fields which exploit them prepare them for further, unimaginable abuse, which even Mohamed cannot know, despite being wiser than his years.

‘Survival sex’

According to a recent report by the Freedom Fund, child labor, forced marriages and both adult and child prostitution are now ubiquitous symptoms of Lebanon’s ill-conceived refugee policy – and are slowly grinding 1.8 million people down, as, laden with debt, they search for a solution to survive.

Additional restrictions on Syrian refugees and new expenses relating to their residency have all contributed to an epidemic of biblical misery: “Survival sex” is now common jargon within UN corridors as it grapples with the phenomenon of forced prostitution and trafficking as new challenges.

According to the report, child slavery is merely a symptom of a greater epidemic, and the report’s authors lash out at “international donors” for getting the math wrong.

“It isn’t a matter of should we let refugees work or not,” explains Leena Ksaifi, co-author of the report. “It’s a matter of how we want to view and frame the Syrian refugee crisis – whether it is a humanitarian crisis or just a security threat. If we look at it as a humanitarian crisis, then we need the government to institute policies that are sustainable and have long-term objectives.”

Ksaifi wants much more cooperation between UN agencies and NGOs and has called for initiatives to gather data and monitor the abuse. But UN agencies, which DW spoke to off the record, played down the report, perhaps anxious not to rock the boat with the Lebanese government.

“The Lebanese government needs to be aware of the consequence of policies that can increase vulnerability to slavery,” adds Ksaifi, “And this can be brought to its attention by campaigns led by civil society.”

Forced into prostitution

Yet perhaps the “consequences” are unthinkable. Families like Mohamed’s are lucky if there are many children, as this delays the inevitable for the girls: either forced, early marriage – which can often be with a fake husband who has bought the bride to then work as a prostitute – or – for those who are lucky enough to find a “normal” job – being forced into “survival sex” with the employer.

Many young women and girls will be forced into the profession of prostitution itself, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The majority of women in prostitution in the country are Syrian, and this proportion has risen since the Syrian conflict sent hundreds of thousands over the border,” says Skye Wheeler of Human Rights Watch.

“We did hear accounts of Syrian women in survival sex and also we have documented cases where women are being exploited sexually by landlords or other Lebanese men who hold power over them because of their problems with residency.”

For Mohamed, it’s a scenario he will be spared, but his four sisters likely not. In the meantime, all he can do is stay clear of the land agent’s cane and bring home money for food, rent, electricity and water.

“We came from Syria escaping from the war, the rockets and aircraft which threatened our lives …,” he says almost with regret. “I should study well to be able to count the salary they give me after work.”


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Aarushi-Hemraj murder: CBI court sentences Talwars to life

Ghaziabad: Dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were on Tuesday awarded life imprisonment by a CBI court for killing their teenaged daughter Aarushi and domestic help Hemraj in a sensational double murder that gripped the nation for five-and-a-half years.

49-year-old Rajesh and Nupur(48) were spared the death penalty by Additional Session Judge Shyam Lal who rejected the CBI plea for maximum punishment.

"Keeping in view the entire facts and circumstances, I am of the view that both the accused are not menace to the orderly society. This is not a fit case for inflicting death penalty under section 302(murder) read with section 34 IPC(common intention to commit the crime) and, therefore, it appears just and proper to sentence the accused to rigorous imprisonment for life," the judge said.

Arguing before the court on quantum of punishment in the murder in May 2008, CBI counsel R.K. Saini contended that the killings were cold-blooded murders which deserved maximum punishment.

Defence counsel Tanvir Mir countered CBI's argument and said the evidence against the Talwars were weak and sought leniency for the couple. He asserted that the crime did not fall under the rarest of rare category since the judge had concluded that the crime was result of a sudden and grave provocation.

The arguments lasted just five minutes before the judge adjourned proceedings and pronounced the quantum of sentence at 4.30 PM. The Talwar couple remained composed.

The Talwars were also sentenced for five years for destruction of evidence and Rajesh for another one year for filing wrong FIR with police. All the sentences pronounced by the judge, who relied heavily on the circumstantial evidence provided by the CBI, will run concurrently.

Speaking to reporters soon after the verdict, the lawyer of Talwars said that they would appeal against the order.

Expressing disappointment over the verdict, Aarushi's friend Fiza Jha said, "Aarushi will get justice only when her parents find peace and her true killers are punished."

The dentist couple were on Monday convicted in the murder of their 14-year-old daughter Aarushi and 45-year-old Hemraj in a case that was awash with allegations of sleaze and sex, police-goof-ups, CBI flip-flops and media bias. The judge also made a reference to freaks in the history of mankind who kill their own progeny.

The couple was convicted under IPC sections 302(murder), 201(destruction of evidence) and 34( common intention to commit the crime). Rajesh was also convicted separately for "furnishing false information to the police regarding the murder of his daughter by Hemraj(Section 203)."

In its probe, UP police had said that Aarushi and Hemraj were killed by Rajesh at his Noida home on May 15-16 night, 2008, in a fit of rage after finding them in an objectionable position. Investigators said Nupur helped in the crime. The throat of the two victims were found slit.

The judge mentioned in the order that murders could not be the handiwork of a single person. Justifying the conviction under section 34 of the IPC i.e common intention, Lal cited a number of Supreme Court orders to say that no direct evidence of common intention is necessary.

"For the purpose of common intention even the participation in commission of offence need not be proved in all cases. The common intention can develop even during the course of an occurrence," he said.

Lal also rejected "terminus ad quem" of the argument of defence counsel that the crimes were carried out by "some other person(s)" who had visited Hemraj on the night of murders which is clearly indicated by the blood found on Sula wine bottle, Kingfisher beer bottle and Sprite plastic bottle seized from the room of the servants.

"I find myself completely in disagreement with the said contention of the learned counsel for the accused. Of course, there is no direct evidence in this case but as discussed above it is clear that the prosecution has placed a clinching wealth of circumstances from which the guilt of both the accused has been made out to the extent human instruments can apprehend. Recondite possibility of alternative hypothesis as put forward by the accused cannot be accepted," he said.

The court rejected the arguments given by defence which has raised question marks on the allegations that private parts of Aarushi were cleaned after her murder.

"The bed-sheet was seized and sealed by Sub Inspector Dataram Naunaria. It was examined by Dr B K Mohapatra... In the examination has been mentioned that...printed multi-coloured bed-sheet having reddish brown stains at many places urine, semen could not be detected and designated circular area... did not yield DNA for analysis," order noted.

The judge said in the face of this clinching and reliable scientific evidence it is proved to the hilt that the private parts of Aarushi were cleaned with water and that's why in the designated circular area of the bed-sheet neither urine nor semen was found.

The defence has said that Dr Sunil Dohre, who conducted Aarushi's post-mortem on May 16, had mentioned in his report that on the examination of private parts "no abnormality" was detected.

The defence had claimed that Dohre also did not give statement regarding the vaginal status to police, CBI or any member of the AIIMS committee and made changes only on September 20, 2009 during the recording of his sixth statement by A G L Kaul, who was part of second team of the agency.

The court said Dohre gave the vaginal status only when he was asked specifically to tell about it by Kaul. The judge said since no one asked he did not tell them. "It was not expected of Dr Dohre to tell the other members of the expert committee about the vaginal status of Aarushi. In view of the discussion the arguments of the learned counsel cannot be accepted," it said.

According to the judge, Dohre also stated that when he was on way to postmortem examination room, Rajesh's brother Dinesh gave him a cell phone and told him to talk with Dr T D Dogra of AIIMS.

"Although, Dohre had only stated that T D Dogra had told him that blood samples of deceased Aarushi be taken but it appears that Dogra had asked him not to mention in the postmortem examination report about the evidence of sexual intercourse and this fact has been deliberately suppressed by Dohre," he said.

Lal said, "If the condition of vagina, vaginal orifice was not mentioned in postmortem examination report and it was also not mentioned that hymen was old, torn and healed then it shows negligence or deliberate act on the part of Dohre who appears to have suppressed these material facts in the postmortem examination report only because he was approached by T D Dogra and Dinesh Talwar of his professional fraternity who remained in touch with him before postmortem examination."

The judge said presence of white discharge in the vaginal cavity of Aarushi denotes that she was engaged in sexual intercourse, albeit, no sperm was found in the vaginal swab.

"If both the deceased could not have been found engaged in sexual intercourse there was no reason to make endeavour that factum of sexual intercourse be not mentioned in the postmortem examination report of Aarushi," he said.

He said it becomes evident that Sushil Chaudhary, Dinesh Talwar and K.K. Gautam were in touch with each other on telephones over this issue (to not mention evidence of sexual intercourse) and call-detail records have been duly proved.

In case of testimony of a crucial witness - Talwars' maid Bharti Mandal who was first to arrive at their residence on May 16, 2008 - which has been questioned by the defence alleging she was tutored, the judge said the maid has nowhere stated that before giving statement to the investigating officer, she was tutored by anyone.

"One must not forget that... Bharti Mandal is totally illiterate and bucolic lady from a lower-strata of the society and hails from Malda district of West Bengal who came to Noida to perform menial job to sustain herself and family and therefore, if she has stated that she has given her statement on the basis of tutoring, her evidence cannot be discarded or rejected," Lal said.

"The accused Nupur Talwar has admitted in her answers to question nos. 18, 19, 22 and 23 under section 313 CrPC that the evidence given by Bharti Mandal is correct. However, she has taken plea that the evidence of Bharti Mandal to the effect that she had put her hand on the outer mesh door is incorrect as she has not stated this fact to the investigating officer," he said.

The judge said Mandal, who is completely disinterested witness having no animosity or rancour against the accused, cannot be brushed aside as unworthy of belief.


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