I read the papers and online testimonials of mob attacks on Egyptian women protesters in the streets and if I had not read the titles, I would have thought that the authors had suddenly taken a keen interest in the everyday life of street children. I would have concluded with some justification that they had become avid observers who have taken to the streets to highlight the prevalence and normality of sexual violence in street culture that very little children live every night.
But no, I have read the title; the words indicate this is about other girls; younger and older women, “welaad naas” (literally means "children of people"), of the working and middle class (because remember street kids are the “excluded” class, second class citizens if that!). These articles are written because “citizens” have been struck, “citizens” honour has been violated; “citizens” human rights have been wronged. But street children? They aren’t citizens – they don’t even hold an ID. When they are raped, shot dead, and left in front of shelter doors, a crime has not taken place because a citizen hasn’t been involved. So no, this flood of articles about harassment, sexual attacks and gang rape on the street, are not about the street kids.
But because this is the everyday reality for those children, I came to know the streets as what they have now recently been discovered by others. So I thought that maybe by writing this, I could shed a different light, a look from a different angle on a phenomenon that many are so horrified by, so unfamiliar with.
I am arguing here that this is one of the ugly faces of the street. And, just as each human, each friend, has an ugly face, you only get to see it, know it, get scorned by it, once you have spent long enough with it. Its crude reality cannot hide forever and the euphoria of the imagined utopia of solidarity that the street brings during revolutionary times soon begins to crack when the street and all its non-citizen inhabitants become a reality that you cannot escape and one whose reality you have shared, one which has scarred you, too.
Talking of scarring, a lot of attention and horror has been expressed following the attack where a blade was used on one victim of these assaults. I wondered about the irony of the timing of this. Just last month I took one of my street girls to a generous plastic surgeon who have offered my girls free reconstructive surgery for the scars they suffer during such attacks on the street. The scarring is part of the street rape culture – any boy or girl who has been raped on the street, will be “marked”. This mark, usually a curve under the eye of the victim, will mean that they are no longer virgins. Subsequent sexual attacks, and there will be many, will lead to smaller marks anywhere else on the body. One girl, none of us at the shelter forget, was lucky. She escaped the scarring on the face, but needed 16 stitches on her lower back where she was knifed as she escaped her rapists.
I am not an expert in conspiracy theories, but I am a consultant on street kids and the risks of the street. And so, when I read the musings out loud that the National Democtratic Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the who ever else must be organizing these mob sex attacks, my better judgment makes me tentative. I remember that no one paid the four men in their thirties and forties to gang rape seven-year-old Maya who had been living on the street just four days. The younger the child, the attackers think, the smaller the risk of contracting HIV.
Being on the street brings with it much risk: the longer you stay on it, the more likely you will be exposed to that risk. Does it make it OK? Of course not! But what it does is highlight the plight of the children who do not conjure up the same attention and horror when these attacks happen to them, daily. What it does do is to emphasize the terror that the streets have become because we have allowed them not to be safe - how the law and its enforcement is and always has been neglectful of that sphere, that in our country, is home to many.
Does it deserve to be treated with less fury because it’s an everyday reality? No, but the anger, the support, the reform that needs to come after it, has to be extended to include those who are not among the official figures for these attacks – because there have not only been 25 attacks on the street since the start of the year.
As street kids will tell you; gang rape is just the start for them – prostitution, trafficking and pornography come shortly afterwards. What the revolutionary class are experiencing now is only the initiation of what thousands of children on our streets, boys and girls experience. Imagine that?
The dysfunctional compass of blame is at work. Just as people point a finger of reprimand at the street kids for being on the street and not at home, ignoring all the reasons that have pushed them into it, now the same fingers point at the females getting attacked in Tahrir and elsewhere suggesting it’s their fault for not staying safe at home. Accountability. Once we learn the meaning of this word, perhaps the streets might be a little safer for all.
This piece was originally published on Nelly Ali's blog "nellyali" on 8 February 2013.