Silent suffering: harassment in Iraqi society and its far-reaching impact

Silent suffering: harassment in Iraqi society and its far-reaching impact

Shafaq News / Harassment has become an increasingly prevalent issue in Iraqi society, affecting individuals in various settings such as public spaces, schools, workplaces, and even within their own homes. This widespread problem includes various forms of harassment, ranging from verbal to physical, with the latter often resulting in sexual assault.

Despite the prevalence of harassment, many victims do not report these incidents due to the societal and cultural norms that often stigmatize and shame those who speak out. 

In an interview with Shafaq News Agency, one woman shared her experience of being harassed by her manager in the private sector, stating: "He bargained with me for my promotion at work in exchange for allowing him to harass me, which drove me to resign."

"Harassment is not limited to the workplace. The fact that so many women experience harassment in various situations without reporting it is due to the conservative tribal society, which struggles to acknowledge women as victims," said a source.

Another mother recounted how her eight-year-old son was harassed by neighbors, stating: "He once told me that he was inappropriately groped." The mother, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, added: "We had no choice but to sell our house and move to another neighborhood."

According to Zeina al-Sabbagh, a social researcher, there are various forms of harassment, including harassment of family members, harassment in public spaces, and harassment at work. Al-Sabbagh explains that one of the simplest yet most humiliating forms of harassment is public harassment, which often ceases once the victim speaks up or receives assistance from someone.

Al-Sabbagh goes on to explain that workplace harassment seldom escalates to sexual harassment or rape, thus the victim's safety is not usually at risk. However, unlike the public sector, where there are laws in place to enable employees to file complaints against harassers, harassment is widespread in the private sector, where women are often compelled to leave their jobs due to bargaining tactics used to keep their jobs.

Furthermore, in cases where family members are harassed, the victim is usually a child or teenager. Al-Sabbagh notes that it is the parents' responsibility to safeguard their children by monitoring their interactions with others and educating them about abnormal tendencies to enable them to report such incidents promptly.

As per the expert opinion of psychologist Kadhim Salman, individuals who have faced harassment may develop psychological disorders that may exacerbate if not treated. Salman states that usually, these victims tend to avoid the places where they faced harassment as they fear reliving the traumatic experience.

Salman further explains that harassment can cause trauma leading to the victim's social isolation, which may create psychological issues such as fear, anxiety, and shyness. These problems tend to escalate over time, and thus, it is crucial to seek the help of a specialist to address the issue at hand.

"Iraqi legislation does not have strong and deterrent sanctions for those who conduct sexual harassment, in the absence of statistics that estimate the scope of this crime," said Azhar al-Dulaimi, head of al-Asl Organization for the Empowerment of Women and Children.

"There are both public and private rights when it comes to sexual harassment or assault. The first is the judiciary's responsibility for the victim to file a lawsuit against the harasser, and the second is the victim's assertion of her legal rights before the court."

Regarding the penalty for harassment, legal expert Ali al-Tamimi pointed out that "Per Article 396 of the Penal Code, the first type of harassment, which involves using force, threats, or deception against a male or female, or even attempting to do so, is punishable by seven years in prison; if the victim is under the age of 18, the sentence is increased to ten years. Life in jail is the punishment in various nations, including the U.S.A."

According to Tamimi, the second type of harassment is that which is requested and is punishable by article 402 of the Penal Code by a three-month sentence or a fine and a six-month sentence for repeat offenses.

With the prevalence of the phenomenon of harassment, the legal expert stressed the need to "legislate a law that collects these scattered materials, and finds psychological and social solutions, especially with the existence of this crime amid technological development.

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