Sexual Harassers in Egypt get Spray-Painted

Which is bettter?  Violence and terror, or violence and terror?

In case you’re wondering, yes, that is a trick question.  I read an NPR news article today about vigilantes in Egypt who are “tagging” men who sexually harass women by spray-painting them.

Read the article here.

Street Harassment in Egypt

“A young Egyptian man grabs a woman crossing the street with her friends in Cairo. Vigilante groups are now taking to the streets and spray-painting the clothes of the harassers.”

Now, I hate street harassment as much as the next woman, but I don’t think this is the best way to deal with the problem.  In case you didn’t click on the link for the article let me summarize.  Men in Cairo have been forming vigilante groups to deal with sexual harassers.  They feel that the government is taking too long to do anything and instead have taken matters into their own hands.  Quite literally.  The only thing is, these groups are often reponding to the violence with violence, often holding the perpetrators down so that they can spray the word “harasser” on the back of their t-shirts and causing brawls.

“The methods used to combat harassment are not entirely nonviolent. Selim sees a man he thinks has touched a girl. He grabs him and slaps him in the face. A brawl breaks out. One of the volunteers yells to the others not to hit anyone unless they’re sure he harassed a girl….The scene was chaotic. The men looked terrified as the Be a Man volunteers pinned them down and spray-painted the word “harasser” on the backs of their shirts. Some were sprayed in the face.”

“Taymor says that because the police don’t want to act, it’s up to people like him to make a statement that touching women in the street is unacceptable.”

The idea behind this, from what I can tell, is public humiliation.  No matter what you think of this it is an excellent deterrant.  The problem lies in the fact that these men are becoming violent.  Fear and public humiliation are two very different things.  Just ask the woman who is afraid of going out alone.  The answer is not to make the perpetrator afraid.  What is this accomplishing other than placing the problem somewhere else?  Nothing is being solved, just shifted.  It does not address any of the underlying issues at play.  It is not addressing why men think they have a right to women’s bodies.  It is not addressing the power dynamics between men and women.

I agree that touching, grabbing, and sexaully harassing women in the street is unacceptable.  100%.   But as a woman who has been harassed in the street this is not the kind of justice I want.  This is not the kind of retaliation that will make me feel better.  Violence begets violence and answering it with even more violence perpetuates the cycle.  When we make violence the answer it only continues to escalate.  The problem only becomes bigger.

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