The different practices of sexual violence against women diversify in multiple contexts: some are associated with outdated traditional and societal concepts, which are practiced in order to oppress women from different backgrounds and affiliations. Some are practiced under the pretence and guise of preserving peace and general security in specific institutions, such as prisons and detention centres. A common feature among these practices is the violation of women’s rights to bodily integrity and their right to privacy and existence in the public space, and oppressing them and demeaning them in different contexts. This paper aims to clarify the differences between the most common practices via the definition and description of each practice.
This paper includes the definitions of the following practices: 1) Pregnancy Tests – 2) Vaginal and Anal Tests – 3) Virginity Tests – 4) Rape – 5) Sexual Assault – 6) Sexual Harassment.
1. Pregnancy Tests
Description: A pregnancy test is a medical procedure that comprises of a laboratory test of a certain hormone level in women which signals the occurrence of pregnancy, either through urine or blood testing. Usually, this procedure is conducted in prisons when a detainee arrives, where the chamber/cell in which she will be placed to serve her sentence is decided in consequence to the result of this test.
Example: According to the testimony of one of the Itihadiya Palace detainees during the clashes of 26 April 2013, this test was conducted for her to find out if she was to be placed in the regular chambers/cells, or housed in one that is specifically allocated for pregnant women/detainees.
2. Vaginal and Anal Tests
Description: Gynaecologists conduct vaginal tests for different reasons, some of which include following up on the course of a pregnancy, or for diagnosis of certain venereal diseases. Usually, prison wardens conduct this test, doing so not for a medical reason or in a medical manner, but rather to look for drugs or weapons that female detainees may be hiding in their vaginas or anuses. Such tests are performed under the guise of preserving the safety of other women detainees.
Example: According to the testimony referred to above, and the testimony of one of the detainees of Al-Fath and Al-Tawheed Mosques’ clashes on 16 August 2013, this test is conducted with the same plastic bag on all women, which is very dangerous, as it could aid in transferring diseases. The test is a routine procedure conducted on all detainees upon arrival to the prison, whether they are married or single; the practice is halted only when the chief prison warden interferes.
3. Virginity Tests
Description: The practice of virginity tests has a long history of application in different forms, in both public and private spaces, to ensure that girls and women have not been sexually active before marriage, and is conducted by different individuals. Virginity tests are carried out via the examination of the vagina to determine whether the hymen has been broken or not, which is symbolic of women’s chastity in the context of certain values and traditions. The test is implemented by the state in criminal cases; it is conducted in the Forensic Medicine Administration subsequent to a request by the prosecution office when investigating claims regarding a woman’s virginity in order to confirm whether or not she had been raped.
Example: Virginity tests were conducted on women human rights defenders (WHRDs) arrested by military forces in Tahrir Square on 9 March 2011 by physicians and army officers during the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). The objective was to determine whether they were virgins under the guise of averting possible claims that they had been raped by the military forces. This test was conducted in a way that utterly violated their privacy and right to bodily integrity and safety.
Description: Rape is any action that results in the penetration or forced penetration, whether by sexual organs or other objects, into the vagina or anus, or the penetration of a sexual organ orally, regardless of the level of penetration and whether the survivor is male or female, without their consent. A grave limitation is evident in the definition of the crime of rape in the Egyptian Penal Code, where it limits rape to penile penetration of the vagina, according to Article 267.
Example: Numerous feminist groups and initiatives that work to combat sexual violence have documented more than 250 incidents of sexual assault, some of which were gang rapes, during the period from November 2012 to July 2013 in Tahrir Square and its vicinity.
5. Sexual Assault
Description: Sexual assault is any action that aims to arouse sexual intentions or demean and oppress the survivor, whether male or female, which does not extend to rape. The Egyptian Penal Code does not contain a definition for the crime of sexual assault; it is referred to in Article 268 as indecent violation, similar to cases of the crime of rape.
Example: Women who were present in clashes at the Al-Fath and Al-Tawheed mosques on 16 August 2013 were sexually assaulted by the special forces upon their arrest, which included grabbing their breasts and other sexual parts of their bodies. Usually, sexual assault is coupled with severe physical aggression and violence causing physical injury, as is the case with sexual assaults by mobs and gang rapes that took place in Tahrir Square and its vicinity during the period from November 2012 to July 2013. More specifically, 186 incidents of sexual assault, some of which involved gang rapes, had taken place during the period from 28 June to 7 July 2013, in addition the assaults on the female protesters at the Shura Council on 26 November 2013 upon their arrest.
6. Sexual Harassment
Description: Harassmap defines the crime of sexual harassment as any form of unwelcome words and/or actions of a sexual nature that violate a person’s body, privacy, or feelings and make that person feel uncomfortable, threatened, insecure, scared, disrespected, startled, insulted, intimidated, abused, offended, or objectified. Moreover, sexual harassment can take many different forms and includes one or more types at the same time, such as: ogling, facial expressions, catcalls, comments, sexual invites, unwanted attention, sexual photographs, online harassment, telephone call harassment, touching and nudity/indecent exposure/flashing of sexual organs.
Example: This crime is practiced on a daily basis against girls and women in the public space; the most prominent incident of which took a tragic turn in 2012 and 2013 in the deaths of two women, namely Iman Mostafa from Assuit and Shorouk Al-Toraby from Gharbia, who were killed as a result of resisting sexual harassment, where the former was shot by her harasser and the latter was run over by her harasser’s, car who escaped.