Esraa Ali, a 23-year-old Egyptian girl, was heading to downtown Cairo on Thursday 14 November when she became the victim of a random act of sexual violence.
At 2pm, Ali was walking through the overcrowded Al-Fareed Street, one of the small roads off her neighborhood of Ezbet El-Nakhl, as she had done many times before. She was wearing baggy pants, a long blouse and a scarf wrapped around her neck. Suddenly, Ali noticed someone in his forties creeping up behind her.
“Unlike most of the harassers the man had a flawless appearance. He was well-dressed, holding a cell phone and a ring of keys. I stopped to let him walk in front of me, but he caught me off-guard when he turned his head to gaze at me during his walk,” Ali Told Egypt Independent.
It was difficult to reach Ali, who was physically and emotionally drained, in pain and suffering from a series of painkillers. She has grown weary of repeatedly narrating her painful story.
“I asked him what he was staring at and he said, ‘I am looking at you.’ The answer was terribly strange and bold because most of time, harassers never say they are gazing at you,” she said.
Ali shrugged it off and quickened her pace to reach the Metro station. The man stopped her and addressed her one last time. “Please wipe off your pants,” he ominously told her.
Slightly perturbed, she let his words fall on stony ground and boarded the metro heading downtown. Once she reached Mohammed Naguib station, Ali began to feel a painful burning sensation on her buttocks and felt a wet viscous material when she touched her pants.
“After a while, the pain was excruciating, my low blood pressure dropped and I was about to faint. I rushed to one of the downtown coffee shops to find out what was happening,” she uttered.
Ali soon realized the extent of her injuries. “I took off my pants but was horribly shocked when I found the back of my body was savagely disfigured and black charred skin was falling off but I still did not realize what was wrong. At that time the pain was unbearable. I phoned my sister to come in and get another change of clothes. My sister came after a while and eased my suffering with some strong painkillers.”
Before returning home, Ali and her sister dropped by a pharmacy for immediate treatment. When she initially described her symptoms to the pharmacist, he refused to give her medication unless he could see the severity of the burns to give suitable treatment. Ali’s sister photographed the burns for the pharmacist, who gave her a spray and cream for the wound.
The next day, Ali visited a physician to find out exactly what happened to her. The dermatologist’s report indicated that the young girl had been splashed with a strongly corrosive chemical substance, comprised mainly of sulfuric acid.
The acid had caused first, second and third degrees burns in her buttocks, leading to gangrene, which will require a three-month treatment as well as a skin grafting operation as some parts of her skin had completely burnt off and died.
“The doctor told me that this substance is highly dangerous and corrosive and this person was not throwing it randomly but he deliberated intended it,” said Ali.
The reason for targeting Ali specifically is unclear as she had never seen the man before. “I do not have enemies and I believe that this creepy person who harassed me was not targeting me personally, but he was willfully going after any girl, maybe the unveiled or the Christians,” she noted.
At the time of the interview, Ali had not yet filed a police report to prove her case as she is still in too much pain to go to the police station. Though her father tried to make a report as her caretaker, taking a copy of the doctor’s notes and photos of the burns, the officers said because Ali is not underage she must come to the station in person.
Ali told Egypt Independent that she will no doubt file a report. She noted that the El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence is backing her case and previously suggested filing a complaint with court.
The psychological trauma of that attack has had a deep effect on Ali. “I am terrified enough now just walking down the street. I am terribly suspicious of all the people around me and I can't stand anyone coming too close anymore,” she said, stuttering.
Ali wishes there were strong laws to punish these type of criminals so other girls don’t have to go through vicious attacks like these.
A widespread phenomenon
Against Harassment Movement (AHM) Founder Ayman Nagi told Egypt Independent that it is not an isolated incident. Nagi said she could recall about three or four recent reports of girls suffering from this same type of acid-based sexual violence.
Nagi noted that these are only the reported cases, and they could never know how many other unreported victims suffered the same experience.
“It started when the AHM took to [the] streets to disperse the mass sexual harassment on 30 June 2013 uprising, we saw something randomly being sprayed into the air by an unknown individual. We protected our team but then found it was a burning corrosive substance,” said Nagi.
The reported cases are girls suffering from burns of the buttocks, chest or face due to a highly corrosive chemical substance.
“This is a widespread phenomenon and should never be underestimated, the situation is critically dangerous and the person who do this is not just a psycho spraying people randomly, he knows exactly what he deliberately does,” he said.
Physician Mohammed Fekry suggested that the man could in fact be acting out a sexual fantasy. Fekry told Egypt Independent that the aggressor could suffer from an extreme case of “sexual sadism,” in which the harasser becomes joyful and sexually aroused when his victim is in pain.
Fekry believes that the attacker harbors warped perceptions of women caused by poor upbringing, negative societal influences and possibly isolation from the opposite sex. “[This] has formed a disordered stereotype of women that [gave rise to] hatred towards the sexual relationship and consequently motivates the person towards sexual harassment and violent rape instead,” he said.
Nagi stressed the necessity of issuing firm laws and regulations to combat any sexual harassers. “We should apply the concept of retribution,” he said.