On November 6, IranWire posted a short video about sexual harassment on public transport on its Facebook page. The video, a joint initiative by the British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police and the mayor of London in partnership with Transport for London, was posted on Tumblr and promoted on social media, and is part of a huge initiative aimed at reporting sexual harassment on public transport in the UK capital.
IranWire readers responded positively to the video, and contributed dozens of comments to the feed. Many of them shared their own unpleasant, disturbing and sometimes harrowing experiences. The majority of them were women — in fact it is rare to find a woman in Iran who has not experienced sexual harassment on the street at least once. According to one of our readers, this kind of harassment has become so commonplace that some women have stopped even thinking of it as a violation of personal boundaries any more.
“My son was two years old and he was sleeping in my arms,” Akram Ghaysari wrote on Facebook. “I was holding him with both hands and could not defend myself. A man in an alley was trying to touch my butt. I pushed my back to the wall and just screamed. My child woke up and started crying with me. I am so angry whenever I think about it. It was the ultimate example of shamelessness and a lack of conscience.”
“I remember I was 16 when it happened to me,” wrote Zahra Hosseini. “I was in the grocery store and went to pay for my purchases. Somebody rubbed up against my back forcefully. The store was very crowded and I couldn’t move away from him.”
One comment, from Minoo Ali Naghi, suggested one way women can defend themselves against sexual harassment in public places: “Unfortunately in Iran if you protest, most of the time you are the one who will be judged as the guilty party. But I found a very good solution. I sew a little and always carry a few safety pins in my handbag. When such things happened, I would unfasten a pin and hold the sharp point toward the guy. Believe me, it worked very well. I told my friends about it too.”
Most women who left comments said they had endured sexual harassment on the streets more than once. “What woman has not experienced this many times?” wrote Mahsa Moussavi. “It is such a bad and terrible experience that it pains you for many days. Only a sexually deranged person would enjoy touching a stranger in the street.”
Baran Rad wrote that a motorcyclist touched her bottom when she was only 14. After the incident she could not stop trembling and stuttering for hours.
Remain Silent or Shout?
A number of people posting on Facebook called for people not to remain silent; they said it was imperative that they fought back against harassment. For them, when law and order is absent, individual response is the most powerful option.
“I protest with the loudest and the most emphatic voice,” said Firoozeh Golesorkhi, who also said she believed that silence is not a choice. “I’m not afraid of somebody saying that the problem lies with me — because everyone else knows what’s going on. I tell my daughters to protest loudly and clearly.”
One IranWire reader wrote about a rather unusual experience she had when she was 14 and traveling on a bus from Kashan to Qom. “A very respectable-looking cleric was sitting right behind me,” she said. “This gentleman drove me mad all the way to Qom. Either he would reach around the seat and poke me repeatedly on my shoulder or do the same thing with his foot. I felt so bad that I wanted to throw up.”
Blame the Victim
Many agreed that when a woman in Iran objects, she is the one who always faces condemnation. “If a woman reveals that she has been harassed, she is the one who is blamed first because she had not been wearing a chador,” said Bahar Sadeghi.
This assumption that the woman is always to blame is the dominant male way of thinking in Iran, discouraging women from defending themselves or speaking out. Some people who commented on Facebook defended this view. “The worm comes from the apple itself,” some men said, raising the issue of how women behave and dress. In this environment, the criminal is rarely punished.
“It was hideous act,” said Mostafa Baji, responding to a comment left by a woman who had shared her experience. “But we must consider the idea that maybe we are a little at fault too. We should look at ourselves first.”
“The lady doesn’t really mind,” wrote Bruce Ali, whereas Hamed Orton had his own opinion about what to say to women who complained: “Take care of your hejab, don’t wear tight manteaux and don’t arouse men — and then you’ll be left alone.” And another comment, from Ali Ardakani, read: “When you go down the streeet, walk properly — nobody will dare bother you.”
Complaints Get you Nowhere
Some people who posted on the page said reporting sexual assault achieved nothing. If reported cases of muggings and rape go nowhere — even if the person reporting the crimes has credible evidence — then it is unlikely that women who complain they have been assaulted on the street or public transport would ever feel their complaints are taken seriously.
On the subject of presenting evidence, one reader said: “What can they report?” this reader writes. “If you tell the police that you have been groped by somebody in the metro, well, [they’ll say:] ‘do you have a photo of what happened?’ Do they immediately check the CCTV? No. In a country where in broad daylight they can mug you and get away with it, this is no more than wishful thinking. They are more likely to tell a woman: “You should have come out in a chador,” and that she is the guilty one.”
Another agreed and went on to give an example of how bad the situation can be: “An eight-year-old girl was raped and the police did nothing — let alone do something about those parasites on the bus.”
“Who do you complain to about sexual harassment in Iran?” asked Peyman. “To those who are sexual deviants themselves? Those who say that ‘the worm comes from the apple itself?’ Those who, when you report it, say: ‘You brought on yourself?’”
Not Only Women
Men who had been victims of sexual harassment also commented.
Benyamin Gholizadeh said he had experienced men rubbing up and pressing against him on the bus and the metro many times. “When it comes to women, what do you expect?” He extended his comments to consider Iranian society in general, observing that after 37 years of Islamic teachings, the Iranian nation had turned into a collective zombie.
Another reader, Sina, wrote that he experienced sexual assault when he was an adolescent. “I was in middle school. I was going though the center of town on my way home with a couple of classmates,” he wrote. “A elderly sexual deviant followed us and told us things that were shocking, disgusting and revolting — especially given his age. I was a boy and it happened to me, so just think of what it’s like for women.”
Share your Suggestions
IranWire hopes to find a media platform for reporting sexual harassment in Iran. If you have ideas, suggestions or possible solutions for this endemic problem, please share them with IranWire.