Published: 2017-11-22 10:22
Last Updated: 2017-11-22 16:32
Editor: Amy McConaghy ،Randa Darwish
Mahmoud Kharabsheh, a Jordanian politician and lawyer, has sparked controversy after he loudly interrupted and questioned the authenticity of a woman who claimed she had been sexually assaulted, raising debate about a culture of victim blaming in the Kingdom.
The incident occurred during Deutsche Welle’s (DW) ‘Youth Talk’ program, with the Lebanese host Jaafar Abdulkarim presenting a segment discussing women's rights in Jordan.
Kharabsheh reacted angrily after a woman, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke about her experience of being sexually harassed, firstly at work and then by the police she reported the incident to.
“In such a case, what should I do? To whom should I go? Thank god my family is supporting me, but I am talking for all Jordanian girls,” the woman told Abdulkarim.
Her words provoked Kharabsheh, who shouted from the discussion table to question the authenticity of her story, as well as the woman’s nationality. “Speak only about yourself, there is a law to protect Jordanian women... Jordanian girls are not like this and they don’t come to TV stations!” he said.
He then proceeded to ask her: “Are you Jordanian?”
“Please, please let me talk. We are [the girls] who are being sexually harassed, and we know what is happening,” the woman replied, after the host clapped back at Kharabsheh, telling the politician to respect his show’s guests.
After learning of the woman’s age, Kharabsheh continued to question her accounts of sexual harassment, interrupting her to note: “You are only 21-years-old and you have all this experience in that [sexual harassment]?”
Kharabsheh eventually stormed off the show, after Abdulkarim told him to either respect the guest or leave.
In an interview with Roya News English, Kharabsheh defended his behaviour, saying: “I asked her for her ID because she said she was Jordanian and it is my right to check the truthfulness of her story.” He added that while he believed everyone has the right to express their opinion, they must do so “in a responsible way.”
Kharabsheh went on to tell Roya that if the woman’s account proves to be true, he would defend her himself, but that he believed DW’s show was one-sided and based on incorrect facts. Following the on-screen controversy, Kharabsheh said that he plans to file a lawsuit against DW for damaging Jordan’s image.
The Jordanian politician’s behaviour has since provoked widespread condemnation, bringing to light the underlying issue of victim blaming, where women who step forward with accounts of sexual assault are either disregarded or held responsible.
“What he did is shameful and an insult to women in particular, and to all Jordanians. We all know that most Jordanian women have been sexually harassed at least once in her life,” Hala Deeb, a practicing lawyer and legal consultant for the Jordanian Women's Union, told Roya.
“Instead of defending her rights and standing beside her, he attacked her and assumed she was lying.”
Deeb went on to explain that a lack of understanding can make young women especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, noting: “Because of her young age, she would not have known what to do in the situation, as we do not educate our children and students in how to react when exposed to such acts.”
She added that in cases of sexual harassment, the blame should not be placed on the woman, and that greater efforts should be made in law and society to address the issue of abuse.
“We should not blame girls for being harassed, but we should work on punishing those who do such things,” she said.
The incident has also stimulated debate among Jordanians on social media, with many denouncing Kharabsheh’s remarks and recounting their own experiences of sexual assault in the Kingdom.
Translation: This video is really shocking! Is it possible that such an act came from a former MP? Instead of listening to her he assaulted her and attacked her?
The girl did not say anything wrong, all women went through the same thing and even when they were younger than 21.
I was driving once and a police officer stopped me, I thought he is going to fine me, and when I asked him why, he said: Nothing, I just wanted to see your beautiful eyes without glasses!
Translation: SHABAB TALK episode is disastrous, but it describes the actual reality of women’s fight for their rights in Jordan, with the patriarchy of society and law.. it’s like ‘deaf talk’.
However, others stood by Kharabsheh, placing the blame on the woman for speaking out.
Translation: I salute Mahmoud Kharabsheh, she is a “bitch” and she did not have to speak for Jordanian women. She should have gone to court instead of going on TV, then we would have seen if she was telling the truth and we would have found out the fate of that policeman... if there was a policeman in the first place.
Translation: God bless our country. I am thankful for MP Mahmoud Kharabsheh and what he said at his interview
While opinion remains divided, the fact of the matter remains that women across the world are subjected to sexual harassment, and Jordan is no exception, with a high number of cases going unreported. A local study by SIGI (The Sisterhood is Global Institute) in 2015 revealed that one in two female survivors of sexual assault in Jordan hesitate to file a complaint against their offenders out of fear of shame or scandal.
Despite the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Kingdom, access to official research and statistics on street harassment in Jordan is hard to come by, and the Jordanian Penal Code does little to help prevent the problem.
Article 306 is listed among issues to do with “seduction, obscenity, and violating the sanctity of women’s-only places,” but does not offer a specific definition for sexual harassment.
Instead, it stipulates that acts or speech violating “modesty” are punishable either by a fine or a prison term of up to six months, but leaves it as an undefined, ambiguous term.
However, headway has been made in protecting women from sexual attacks. Earlier this year, the lower house of Jordan’s parliament voted this year to eliminate article 308, which allows rape charges to be dropped as long as the rapist marries their victim and stays married for at least five years.