Africa / Middle East / North Africa

Assaults in Tunisia: ‘daily violence remains unpunished’

Two members of the activist organization Chouf of lesbian, bisexual and trans Tunisians fighting discrimination against women were the targets of assaults  in recent weeks. Chouf issued this statement:

Logo of Chouf

Logo of Chouf

In only one week, two friends and members of Chouf were horrifically attacked. One of the members of our office was raped by a man who threatened her with a knife to her throat, and another member was beaten by a group of men because of her sexual orientation. The attackers asked her to “show how she could fight if she wanted to marry a woman.”

Confronted with the inhumanity of such acts of barbarism, no words are able to express what we feel. Anger, rage and indignation are empty words about the feelings within us.

We are denied our ability to live in security, in public and private spaces without being in danger. The violence we are facing every day remains unpunished. Assaults and harassment we suffer are realizing the negation of our beings and our identities. We are refused the right to be ourselves, we are denied the right to be women.

We are women and as women we will never cease to claim our right to exist by and for ourselves.

We are all united and we give our full and complete support to both our members and through them to all women who are attacked, beaten, raped, and killed every day.

That statement was published here at the request of Chouf.

The rape was reported in the Mahgreb edition of the Huffington Post, which stated that the victim, identified as “Sarah,” age 25, a student and activist, was assaulted Feb. 26 by a stranger in Tunis.

She said that the man threatened to kill her with a knife pressed against her stomach. She said:

“I had no choice. I had to follow him. We walked in the woods for a long time, and then he put me on my knees.”

She reported the rape to police, who followed her to the scene of the crime, where the indentations from his knees were still visible in the mud.  Police did not collect any evidence there, she said.

Photo illustrating Sarah's story in the Mahgreb edition of the Huffington Post.

Photo illustrating Sarah’s story in the Mahgreb edition of the Huffington Post.

She also went to the Charles Nicoles public hospital, where she was met with indifference and told to return the next morning, when the forensic department would be open, she said.

Police told that she would need to present a medical certificate if she wanted to pursue her complaint.

In the morning, after spending a night without a shower in order to preserve the evidence of the rape, she had to wait until doctors finished their breakfast, then had to wait two more hours for an examination, during which the nurses gossiped about her, she said.

She received no advice about future health care or prevention of sexually transmitted disease, she said.

What Sarah endured was typical of the experience of rape victims in Tunisia, according to the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, which said that the women who are raped are often blamed for the crime, then stigmatized.

In Tunisia, one in two women suffers verbal, physical, or financial abuse, according to Neila Chabaane, former Secretary of State in charge of Women’s Affairs.

In 2011, a national survey of nearly 4,000 adult women by the National Office of Family and Population found that more than 15 percent of Tunisian women reported having been victims of sexual violence.

Sarah stated:

“All I want is justice to be done. I do not want my abuser to be beaten up by the cops, not tortured or unjustly imprisoned. … All I want is to confront him at a fair trial.”

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