We are often told that change starts at home. Usually that’s interpreted in the traditional sense as our households, but there is another place that serves as a second home to many of us throughout our formative years. Another place that should be our safe haven. Our schools.
When I was 12, my school in Egypt had that typical group of older “bad boys” who thought they ruled the world, and that no one could tell them any different or do anything about it. The school, their world, was theirs for the taking and so was everyone in it. They exercised this gross entitlement by harassing me every single day for over two years; on the way to the school, on school grounds and on my way back home from school. Their harassment was like a daily routine I never asked to take part in and it consisted of being verbally degraded through sexual and inappropriate words and constantly touched without my consent. Imagine being 12 years old and sexualised in a place that should be as safe as a home; it was terrifying.
I remember repeatedly expressing that this behaviour was occurring and the harm it was doing to me, to several people, including our principal. Every time I recounted what had happened I was screaming for someone to help, for someone to hold my hand. Surely, those in a position to safeguard me would know what to do to make it stop? I was helpless, but they had power and control, so they must be able to help, right? Wrong.
They gathered me with my abusers to hear both sides of the story. And the conclusion was that I was such a pretty girl so I was the one who needed to change my behaviour.
What i was Told to change about myself
“Think hard about what is causing them to harass you”
“Don’t smile so often”
“Stop being so friendly”
“Change the way you walk”
Basically everything about myself had apparently encouraged the harassment. I was told that my behaviour was giving these boys the impression that I would accept anything from them. Meanwhile, the boys were told nothing. So I kept my mouth shut, stopped being the same happy little girl, and changed my behaviour completely. The results? The harassment only increased.
The School culture was corrupt
There were teachers harassing students and students harassing other students. In the majority of cases the students did report to the school, serious action was almost never taken. I was not an exception to this general rule, I was dismissed and so were my lived experiences of sexual harassment. Everyone at the school thought I was a rat for having the audacity to expose other men. The harassment increased because of this reputation. I filed again and this time I had witnesses. The only action taken this time around was telling me to file a complaint and that they would “think of something”. Yet again, the system failed me.
I was not myself during these years, my behaviour was unrecognisable as a cry for help. All this suffering led me to therapy at the age of 13, and I still find myself going. To heal. I had developed mental conditions as a result and I was just unable to trust anyone anymore. The pain is still too real, and it’s a pain I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been put through a similar situation would understand. Even if you heal from the outside, you never forget the suffering and it always leaves a scar.
sharing my story during the rise of egypt’s #metoo movement
Despite being silenced and dismissed throughout my trauma, I wanted to be vocal about this. I wanted people to hear my story, I wanted the world to know that these kinds of abusers who go on living their lives, hurting more and more people, could have been stopped from their very first offence. I wanted people to know that when these abusers don’t face consequences, their minds will not comprehend how serious the sexual harassment is. They won’t even comprehend that it is sexual harassment and how it affects others in such traumatic ways.
I shared my story on a social media platform; how it took me nine years to even start speaking about it and how it still affects me to this day. Because it conditioned me to blame myself whenever something wrong happened to me at school, and that after many years in therapy I had only recently started thinking that maybe this is not the way it should be.
I posted my story. It was only intended to raise awareness that there is a recurring, serious problem that the school was not handling properly, and that these young people, these children, are not supposed to be sexualized or go through any of this. I was instantly threatened to remove my words and take back what I had said. If not, I would be sent to prison for at least three years if I did not shut my mouth. My friends were threatened, as well as my relatives. After a lot of manipulation, those in positions of power and control have managed to discredit me and my experiences through lies. but the truth is its own lawyer and it will always come back. And that truth is that the system is corrupt and has failed us over and over.
Schools should acknowledge, embrace and empower their students, especially when it comes to incidents of abuse. They are responsible for what happens within the campus, our second home. for shaping the minds of abusers and letting them get away with it. For affecting the minds of anyone abused, and letting them think it was their fault. They do not want us to talk, instead they want us to shrink, hide, and stay frightened. Change doesn’t just start at home, it starts in every place you exist that needs change. So, talk, you’re not alone. Tell your story, we’re listening and we hear you.
By Amani Mansour