The #MeToo movement reaches Iran

In the past month, Iranian women have flooded social media with their own version of the #MeToo movement by sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, bringing attention to a topic that has remained taboo for decades. #ManHam, the Farsi equivalent of #MeToo, was created in 2017. Now, however, is the first time these words have been taken seriously by authorities.

In early August, a group of female journalists recorded a video in which they shared their experiences with sexual abuse, creating momentum for other survivors to report their stories online. The hashtags for rape and sexual assault in Persian — #tajavoz and #tarozjensi — began trending on social media platforms as the movement grew.

In one instance, former journalist Sara Omatali wrote on Twitter that she had been assaulted by a famous painter, Aydin Aghdashloo, fourteen years ago. Accusations have also been levelled against celebrities in the entertainment industry and other prominent Iranians, two of whom have released statements threatening legal action and adamantly denying the accusations.

General Hossein Rahimi, Tehran’s police chief, announced in late August that the police had arrested one man who was accused of rape by several women on social media. Rahimi encouraged other victims to also file police complaints, promising them privacy and security.

The campaign has grown to include both men and women, giving survivors the courage to reveal their experiences on social media. Nonetheless, many religious, social, and legal barriers still exist that deter victims from reporting rape in Iran. The Islamic legal system criminalizes consensual sexual relationships outside of marriage, putting victims at risk of being prosecuted if they are doubted by authorities. If there was any pre-existing relationship prior to the assault, victims could essentially face criminal charges for reporting rape.

Moreover, gay men and women are discouraged from reporting to authorities given that homosexuality is punishable by death according to Iran’s Islamic law. While the mandatory punishment for rape is also the death penalty, judges in Iran require high evidentiary standards to provide coercion, dissauding victims from taking their cases to court. Marital rape is also excluded from criminal law. These legal restrictions make seeking justice even more burdensome, decreasing the likelihood that victims will file complaints.

Iran’s state-run social media reinforces the narrative that Western countries deal with rampant numbers of reported sexual violence cases due to their lack of morality. Extramarital relationships and Western immorality are often used as arguments to praise Iranian laws that place restrictions on women’s clothing choices and extracurricular activities. However, many women are speaking out against legal restrictions and patriarchal social norms in Iran that suppress victims and protect sexual predators. Social media has undoubtedly played a crucial role in amplifying their voices, allowing survivors to connect and empower one another to share their stories.

Authorities have taken a significant step by investigating and arresting one suspect in response to Iran’s #MeToo movement, but the campaign has revealed the magnitude of sexual violence in the country and put pressure on authorities to take further action. It is unclear whether existing laws will be amended due to the nature of Iranian Islamic law, but this movement has revealed that survivors are demanding changes to the judicial process and authorities face an important test in how they will handle sexual assault complaints in the future.

Additional Recommended Readings

  • “Iranians break taboos with their own version of #MeToo” — Al Jazeera
  • “Iran is Having its #MeToo Moment” — Human Rights Watch
  • “Iranian women seize their #MeToo moment” — Asia Times

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