By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Sexual misconduct in school gives rise to #MeToo among Iranians: good or bad?

June 2, 2018

Following a schoolmaster’s sexual misconduct at a private school in western Tehran some Iranians started using the #MeToo on twitter since Wednesday evening, sharing their experiences of harassment and assault.

On May 27, some 40 parents filed a complaint against a schoolmaster who has allegedly displayed some sexually harassing behaviors at a private school in district two of Tehran. The schoolmaster was soon detained and the school is shut down, maybe for good. 

Soon after, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed regret in a statement issued on Tuesday tasking Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani to mete out the fitting punishment for the crime against the schoolchildren. Larijani also ordered Gholam Hossein Esmaili, head of Tehran province's Justice Department, to take action in no time soon. 

People shared their experiences 

Using #MeToo hundreds of Iranian users started sharing their distressing experiences as of Wednesday evening on twitter. 

“I was sexually abused when I was 15, it took me a year to get over it and not having nightmares…, even now after some years when I remember it, it upsets me, destroys me…, a 30-year-old man asked me to buy him some cola and take it to his home and once I went there he raped me,” wrote a male user on his account. 

A female user also recounted her sad story saying that a man who used to repair clothes in their neighborhood had once “fondled me sexually, I was so scared I left the money on the counter and ran, however, sometime later our neighbor’s daughter who had the same experience reported the abuse to the police and they closed down his store.”

“When I was 8, one of our acquaintances had molested me, even when I told my mother she held me guilty and I kept having nightmares about being raped every other night until I was 18; I hated being a woman and I thought all men wanted to harass me, but now at the age of 21 I say I’m a victim of sexual-abuse,” wrote another female user. 

“I was raped twice 25 years ago and I can still remember all the details, but I’ve never told anyone,” a male user wrote. 

Why #MeToo can be a good thing?

In October 2017 #MeToo spread virally worldwide as a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace following the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the former American film producer and co-founder of the entertainment company Miramax. 

According to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center on University of Michigan Sexual assault is an act of violence, not sex. While many believe that sexual assault is correlated with sexually repressed societies it is worth mentioning that people don’t commit sexual assault because they don’t have enough sexual opportunities. People commit sexual assault because they feel entitled to other people’s bodies and disregard other people’s right to consent.

Normally a very small number of people report their experience of sexual misconduct to authorities.  Many victims blame themselves for what has happened to them. A significant number also feel embarrassed or ashamed and do not think the community would label their experience as serious or worthy of professional attention, or did not believe the incident was serious enough to merit a report. 

Within the cultural context some decide not to report the sexual assaults as they don’t know how their families and friends would react and how the law would protect them. Another problems lies with the lack of official education.

This may be also due to the fact that some link sexual abuse to immodest dressing especially among women. On one hand, people may experience sexual assault no matter what they are wearing or how they were acting; even men and children are the victims of sexual assault. It is important to know that in many cases perpetrators are not mentally balanced and their rationales for picking a victim might not be as straightforward as we think. 

On the other hand, each society has some norms and accepted standards of social behavior. In Iran, a society where religious values are dominant, complying with certain religious, ethical and moral standards including dress codes and the need for women to dress modestly are also indispensable to maintain a social balance. 

Nonetheless, legally speaking, what the survivor was wearing in no way makes them responsible for the assault. As mentioned previously people commit sexual assault because they feel entitled to other people’s bodies and disregard other people’s right to consent. Perpetrators often use the excuse of how the survivor dressed or acted as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their own criminal sexual behavior. But perpetrators are responsible for their own desires and actions from a legal viewpoint.

Unfortunately, most perpetrators do not just commit a single sexual crime. A failure to report such actions may motivate the offenders to go ahead with their crimes and commit untold, irreparable damage to the victims. 

The fact that the Tehran school scandal has prompted some Iranians to recount their traumatic experiences of sexual assaults and harassment, which mostly had happened during their childhood, is a baby step towards responding to this violence more effectively by taking timely measures and adopting more restrictive laws. 

Educating all different age-groups and genders, including men, women and most importantly children to protect themselves against such violence and learn how to respond to such incidents is a must-do for parents, authorities, and above all educational entities. 

MQ/PA

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