Are men the main target of sexual harassment in Iraq?

A BBC survey of the Arab world turned up an unexpected result in Iraq – more men than women reported having experienced verbal sexual harassment and physical sexual assault. Can this really be the case?

Sami is 13.

He is in the toilet at his school when three older boys aged between 15 and 17 corner him against a wall. They begin to touch and pull at parts of his body. Initially Sami freezes, his body paralysed with shock. And then he finds a voice.

“I started to scream.”

The commotion alerted other children, who called the head teacher. The boys were expelled from the school but their parents were not told why or informed of the nature of the attack. 

Sami (not his real name) was then called into the head teacher’s office. What happened then felt – to him – like a secondary attack. He was told that the school would be treating the incident as a consensual sexual incident and he was lucky to not be expelled alongside his attackers. Sami would be given “another chance” to stay.

“Everyone thought I was acting in collusion with them,” he says. 

Too shaken and overwhelmed from the attack, Sami chose not to tell his family, retreating into himself, and barely communicating with anyone for months. 

This was the first time Sami was sexually assaulted.

Short presentational grey line

Sami is 15. 

It is 2007 and his father has been dead for just over a year. The loss of the wage earner has been a huge blow to the whole family.

That’s when it happened again.

But his father’s death meant that Sami needed to go out and work. He got a job in a shop at the local market.

Growing up in a typical town in Iraq’s lush Babylon province, some 100km south of Baghdad, Sami enjoyed a happy childhood. He would wake up at 7am, head to school and return at around noon. Sami would study more and then spend time with his brother or sister. In the evenings the family would visit his grandparents for dinner. Sometimes he would help out in the sweet shop his father worked in – earning doughnuts as payment. 

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