In Egypt, I was called ‘rebellious’ for resisting sexual abuse as a child

Every morning, I remind myself that my body is mine, and I do not owe anyone anything. I really wanted someone to remind me of this when I was young, vulnerable and innocent. I grew up with a very strong and determined character. I was always the kind of girl who knew what she wants and how to get it.

Early on in my life, I struggled, so I learned to ask for my rights at a very young age. Since I was in middle school, I knew that there was a feminist in me. But since then, I almost forgot and buried incidents that made me who I am today. I thought burying my memories would make me stronger, but today I am not the same person I was yesterday. Today, I am brave enough to dig deep in my memory and trauma, to allow myself to be loud, and to let every other girl know that she is not alone.

I’m a 20-something Egyptian girl who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I remember life was all rainbows and butterflies throughout my childhood – all until my father passed away in 2009. Naturally, I was vulnerable at the time. I was just a 10-year-old child who lost her hero and best friend. That’s when a family member, who was 10 years my senior decided to take advantage of me. He was like a brother to me. He began by touching me inappropriately, hugging me, and “joking around” by being too touchy. The thing is I was a child, but I was still able to identify that this type of touching was making me uncomfortable. I was able to feel his dirty hands touching me in the wrong ways. It was attack on my body. But, this was all new to me because I never learned about bodily integrity and boundaries. It is normal for a 10-year-old child to hug all her family members and play around – but what he did felt disgusting.

As a 20-year-old Egyptian man, he knew exactly what he was doing. He continued to manipulate me by saying that he loves me and that he wants to “protect me.” I never understood what he wanted to “protect me” from and how someone that old could be interested in me as a child.

Then, one day – which I used to call one of the darkest days in my life – I was alone with him at our family home during our summer visits to Egypt. Our family all lived in the same building. On this day, I was alone with him when he forcibly kissed me. I remember being so tiny, fighting and kicking him away with my small 10-year-old body I was disgusted and humiliated. I ran away from him and never spoke about it until now, because for some reason I believed I would be blamed. That’s what happened to every girl around me who ever spoke up about such abuse. I grew up in a patriarchal society, I grew up hearing phrases like: “What was she wearing? What was she doing there? and “Boys will be boys.” So, I buried that day and the memory of it all deep in my soul. Although I used to call it the darkest day of my life, today I call it an eye opener.

Fast-forward three years: I was about 13-years-old and again coming home to visit Egypt from Saudi Arabia in the Summer. This time, the pedophile’s own brother started touching me inappropriately. In the beginning he would say: “Oh, I missed you” and then he would hug and squeeze me. I had already been uncomfortable with anyone touching me and I felt something was wrong. He kept taking every chance he could to catch me alone to be inappropriate until I told him I don’t feel comfortable anymore. I was always terrified to be alone so that he could take advantage of this. Again, I felt so ashamed. My head kept exploding through the years with many questions: “Why me? Did I do something to invite this?”

I’ve always felt the urge to let everyone in the family know who these men really were, which was a couple of sexual predators. But I knew I would be slut-shamed because I was always perceived as the “rebellious and outspoken” girl in the family. This is how most Egyptians perceive any girl or woman who simply speaks up for herself.

Throughout the years, I grew more furious. I always heard people blaming and shaming me. They believed that if my Dad was alive he would have not let me become the outspoken girl that I am today – which is not true by any means. In fact, they deny that they’re the ones who made me stronger and louder with all the abuse and criticism I faced. Maybe if my Dad was alive, I might have not been the same – but this is only because I would have not been so vulnerable. That’s because Egypt and the Middle East, society looks at a girl without a father as a “broken” child.

Years passed by, and I found out that I was not the only one in the family assaulted by these two predators. They caused too much distress and trauma not only to me, but to others. Today, I still do not feel comfortable when anyone hugs me. Throughout the years, I claimed that I’m just not a touchy person, or a hugger. I thought it was my character, when in fact, I realized that I was just traumatized from the past. I grew up in a society and family that shamed my body and blamed me for the abuse that I experienced. I always thought it was my fault that my body triggered their sexual instincts. That’s why I felt the need to hide and was too uncomfortable to embrace my body.

But today, I embrace my body, I am proud of it and I love it. I remind myself that it was never and will never be my fault. I understand what it means to have bodily integrity, and I won’t allow anyone to violate it by any means. Today, I also aspire to let every woman and young girl know about her bodily integrity and rights. Be loud, be rebellious, love yourself, love your body, and destroy the patriarchy.

Esraa Wagih

The Author

Esraa Wagih is a research and social media intern at AWRA. She is a fierce feminist who graduated from the British University in Egypt with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science. Esraa also studied Business Administration and Economics and has participated in several undergraduate activities from 2017-2020. She interned at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Egypt (2020) and at the International Department of the National Council for Women in Egypt (2019).