Double the Fear... The Frustration of Reporting Sexual Harassment in Jordan

Monday 7 September 202012:58 pm

On my way back from a court session at the Palace of Justice in Amman, Jordan, I was paralyzed by words and overwhelmed with emotion as my thoughts raced back to that one night I was harassed in the street. This was a confrontation I thought I was ready for. Unlike every other harassment incident I have gone through, I decided to report this one to the police. I was fed up. I was looking for justice in the judicial system but my pain only intensified through this process of seeking justice.

Months ago in Amman, I filed a lawsuit against a young man who harassed me and a friend of mine at night with an accomplice until we were able to hide away in a nearby building. This is a typical occurrence that many of my friends and other women I know have encountered but that night I had had enough. After being chased, I became so charged with anger and fear, I turned to face this man and asked: “What do you think you are doing?”

He responded with a smile.

If I am to propose a feminist national project to fight patriarchy in Jordan, it would target young boys and teach them how to manage stress, anxiety and social pressure. We must work on the foundational level with an eye on the future

The following day, still fuming with anger and determined to hold this man accountable, I went to the police station. I believed I have a right to be safe and secure as a citizen but I had to spend 30 minutes convincing different police officers what had transpired the night before. I had to tell and retell what happened repeatedly. As expected, I was “investigated” more than heard. I was asked very personal questions about where I was and what my Thursday night plans were. I was devastated by the response I was receiving.

At one point I remember asking an officer with a shaky voice: “Have you ever been so scared and chased around by a girl to the point that you had to hide for your own safety? No? Then you have to help me write down my complaint.”

I felt very conflicted throughout this process. No doubt I was scared.

“Did he touch you?” was a question every officer - whom I had to retell the whole story to - repeatedly asked me. If he didn’t, then maybe this whole complaint is not worth the investigation! One police officer was more sympathetic than the others, though. He assured me that it is my legal right to ask for protection, but at the same time warned me about what was to come.

“Are you ready to go to court?” he asked. “It will cost you a lot of money and trouble.” And he was right.

Just before the court session, the young man came and spoke to me and I decided to drop my charges. I didn’t expect to. I didn’t expect that if he apologized, I would accept or believe him. He stood before me, helpless and frightened; his whole future was about to be demolished.

I firmly explained to him how afraid I was as I was being chased in the dark, reaching out to my girlfriend as we held hands trying to protect each other. Anxiously, not looking back but trying to find any place safe, we went into a building with a security guard and asked him to hide inside. As I was telling him this, I was still angry and devastated.

He just stood there; he did not know the feeling.

“What were you thinking? Why did you do it?” I demanded. He kept his head down and responded that he did not know why. This confrontation was not easy. I had to relive the terror I experienced, but as he stood in front of me with his head hung low, he had taken my place of vulnerability. I realized that this young man is only a student who has been raised by a society that taught him he owns and controls what he wills. He made a mistake in ignorance. I had to teach him what he did was wrong, as if it was my responsibility to raise him again.

I thought to myself ‘His awful mistake does not require a punishment for life.’ If he is imprisoned, he would not learn a lesson. As a feminist, I was thinking of every other girl who may have experienced what I did. But I was also thinking about this young man and his peers.

I decided to share my experience and all I have learned about my civil rights and the judicial system within my circles. I have also decided to tell this publicly as well.

I had to go through the whole process of reporting my harassment alone. I have not yet met another woman who has reported her harassment case. It is truly a mentally and physically exhausting process to go through

Lately, we have witnessed many online campaigns against harassment. Some campaigns encourage women to take action against predators and report harassment cases to police; others demand the government immediate action. I have read slogans like “do not be afraid,” do not be quiet, speak up, ask for your rights”, or my favourite, “we’re with you, and we are in this together.”

I view these campaigns as useless and more harmful to women. We have had enough online campaigns to educate the “public.” I believe these efforts should be directed towards schools and education. I also believe these campaigns commit the same mistake of shouldering women with the responsibility to fix society. Why do women still need to fight daily battles against harassment? This should be a national project and the government must be responsible for it.

I am writing from personal experience. I had to go through the whole process of reporting my harassment alone. I endured financial expenses, answered interrogative questions from police and faced a male-dominated judicial system by myself. I think this is too much to ask of a woman. I now question the impact of every online campaign. I have not yet met another woman who has reported her harassment case. It is truly a mentally and physically exhausting process to go through.

I have learned that it is time to pay more attention to young men in our society. We need to teach manners, respect, and ethics differently in our homes and schools. Every now and then, I hear of new youth initiatives and programs against gender-based violence and oppression which target women, yet I believe that young boys and men do not internalize much of this information. Addressing harassment is a must. Concerns about safety in public places in Jordan are real. The patriarchal society is maintained by violent social behaviours of boys and men. Educating them is our hope for this society. If I am to propose a feminist national project to fight patriarchy, it would target young boys and teach them how to manage stress, anxiety and social pressure. We must work on the foundational level with an eye on the future.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Raseef22


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