April 7, 2022
Egyptian security personnel and prison staff are employing systematic sexual violence against detainees and their loved ones in a widespread violation of human rights, the Freedom Initiative and the Egyptian Front for Human Rights said in a harrowing new report released on Thursday.
The report, No One is Safe: Sexual Violence Throughout the Life Cycle of Detention in Egypt, documents 655 instances of sexual violence against detainees and their loved ones between 2015 and 2022, shedding light on the state’s use of sexual violence as a method to coerce, punish and bring a population under its control.
“From the moment of arrest, no one is safe from sexual violence in Egyptian detention. Detainees from all walks of life, as well as their families and loved ones, are subjected to horrific sexual violence at the hands of the state,” said Amr Ahmed, Research Manager at the Freedom Initiative. “It is deplorable that security personnel and prison staff are willing to use sexual violence to degrade and torture.”
Prisoners of all backgrounds and gender identities face sexual violence in Egypt, including men, women, trans men and women, and children as young as 12 years old. At least three prisoners who endured sexual violence as a form of torture were later executed. Many remain detained or forcibly disappeared.
The report documents violations throughout the lifecycle of detention, a term used to highlight the series of interactions detainees have with security personnel and prison staff, beginning at the moment of arrest through their time in prison, and even after release when prisoners are required to return to police stations during probationary periods. Family members and loved ones of detainees also reported being sexual abused during arrests and prison visits.
The instances of sexual violence cited in the report were documented through interviews with survivors, lawyers and family members, as well as through reviews of case files in which detainees reported sexual violence to prosecutors. In no case were the perpetrators held accountable, even when violations were documented by government officials.
Detainees face obstacles to seeking accountability or finding therapy and healing due to fear of reprisals from the state as well as concerns about social stigmas surrounding sexual abuse.
“Victims face immense challenges to speaking out and in the absence of independent investigations, the cases we documented likely represent just a sliver of the full count,” said Kareem Taha, Deputy Director of the Egyptian Front for Human Rights. “Sexual violence at the hands of the state is pervasive and just another tool authorities are using to control the bodies and lives of those it views as its subjects.”
Sexual violence in Egyptian prisons is causing lasting physical and psychological harm to its victims and having far reaching societal repercussions.
“As a major security partner to Egypt, American officials have a responsibility to condemn sexual violence happening in Egyptian prisons and a duty to ensure that any intelligence sharing does not depend on information elicited through torture,” said Allison McManus, the Freedom Initiative’s Director of Research. “We have to make sure that those who bravely told their stories despite the stigma and unimaginable repression they face did not do so in vain.”
- Sexual violence may begin from the very moment that an individual is pursued for detention. Arrests are frequently conducted without warrants, and sexual violence during arrest has been used as a method of coercion to elicit information (including against family members) or as subjugation.
- As sites that house detainees of a variety of backgrounds and identities and facing a variety of allegations or pretexts for arrests, police stations are rife with sexual violence; sexual violence is not used against one “type” of prisoner (despite prevalence of references to “political” or “criminal” detainees among rights advocates) but was documented against a wide range of detainees.
- Sexual violence in police stations took variety of forms, purposes, and targets. In some instances, guards exploited detainees for their own sexual gratification and projection of personal power; in other instances, sexual violence was used as a punitive measure, often through electrocution of the genitals (for men and women).
- National Security Agency (NSA) sites have with the greatest preponderance of sexual violence; sexual violence was systematically perpetrated against detainees of all genders, often in conjunction with periods of enforced disappearance in which they had no access to lawyers or ability to report or document the abuse they endured.
- Sexual violence often took place during interrogations at NSA sites where detainees would be raped, molested, electrocuted in their genitals, or threatened with sexual violence against them or their family members to coerce confessions. These confessions were often used as evidence against them in later trials.
- Female prisoners were particularly susceptible to sexual violence in prisons, where guards would often molest them under the guise of “cavity searches.” While these searches are not necessarily illegal (nor unique to Egypt), guards used them as an opportunity to carry out abuse, sexually harassing women or using items picked up off the ground to conduct the searches.
- Officers in police stations also sought to exert control over detainees by using abuse; low-ranking officers grabbed gay men, trans women, and non-binary individuals by their genitals and used homophobic slurs against them and/or encouraged other male detainees to rape or abuse them.
- Family members visiting detainees were also subject to sexual violence through similarly abusive searches upon entry into detention facilities, sometimes multiple times in a single visit. While some women were able to bribe their way out of the searches, this underscores the class dynamics in the abuse as well.
- Many detainees were subjected to onerous probationary measures after release, which often required them to return to police stations, and which exposed them to renewed abuse or represent a traumatic visit to the site of past abuses.
- The physical, psychological, and social impact of sexual violence leaves lasting harm, but often detainees face obstacles to speaking out or seeking accountability or therapeutic intervention due to intersecting stigmas around detention, sexual abuse, and, in some cases, their gender or sexual identity.