Iranian women flood Twitter with stories of sexual abuse

ABC – Iranian women have taken to Twitter to break years of silence and share detailed stories of sexual abuse, including intrafamilial incidents, naming alleged abusers with hashtags such as #rape, #assault and #NoMeansNo.

Some alleged abusers are well-connected and famous figures in Iran — stars of sports and media and the arts, doctors, teachers and professors.

It all started with a tweet in early August by an anonymous user explaining how one could convince a woman to engage in sexual activity on a first date by kissing her without asking and pretending it was because “her beauty was striking.” That user later deactivated his account after facing a huge backlash.

The unprecedented support of Twitter users encouraged not just women but also men to reveal the names of their alleged perpetrators, which even led to revealing some individuals accused of serial abuse.

In one case, multiple women said they’d similarly been raped after being drugged with a perpetrator’s homemade wine. Tehran Police arrested that suspect — introduced as “Mr. K.E.” — and called for others who have possibly been assaulted by this person to come forward, as the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Tuesday.

“We assure the anonymity of all complaints,” said Hossein Rahimi, Tehran’s head police general, encouraging other survivors to speak to authorities.

Domestic media started to cover the issue just after the police acknowledged the online movement by arresting the alleged serial rapist. But the issue hasn’t been covered on national television.

“It takes time until the taboo of disclosing sexual assaults breaks down in a wider scale,” Mahboubeh Hosseinadeh, an Iranian women’s rights activist, told ABC News.

Sara Omatali, a Washington-based educator, is one of the many who said she longed for the day when women got the opportunity to lighten their traumatic burdens by speaking about them publicly.

Omatali said she suppressed bitter memories of being sexually assaulted by a famous Iranian painter for years. As the #MeToo Movement took shape in the U.S. in 2017, those memories came flooding back.

“All these years I remained silent, as I was afraid of those who would tell me I had no evidence to prove my claim … but now, I feel that it is below my dignity to stay silent out of fear,” she wrote on Twitter.

Even with so many sharing such intimate stories, many still were surprised to see the names of friends and colleagues among accusers and abusers.

“I burst into tears reading about those women who were assaulted by some people known as women’s rights activists,” Hosseinzadeh said. “It was the last thing I could imagine I had to get prepared for.”

Lawyers have joined in the social media surge, offering to help survivors pro bono to pursue justice against alleged abusers.

“I am ready to represent victims of rape and sexual assault on women for free and to be with them at all stages of the proceedings. My share in the fight against sexual assault on women,” Marziyeh Mohebi, a lawyer, wrote on her Twitter page Wednesday.

In a turn of events, while some of the women who exposed their alleged rapists wrote that they would bring legal cases against abusers, others said they wouldn’t pursue a legal remedy because they don’t agree with execution, the legal punishment of rape in Iran.

“The fact that some of the survivors of sexual assault are against the execution and say it is why they would not file a case at the court shows how our people are ahead of the existing law,” Hossesinzadeh said. “For example, based on the current law, if a man kills his own child, he would only face three to 10 years in prison, but the punishment for rape is execution.”

Hosseinzadeh pointed to a recent honor killing.

“The law lags behind the public in this case,” she said, “and it is up to the media and NGOs to seize the momentum for future positive changes.”