One Egyptian police officer has taken it upon himself not only to serve and protect the people, but to stand up for women and girls suffering from harassment.
Young women in conservative societies across North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia are shamed and blackmailed with private and, at times, sexually explicit images, BBC News reported. These women are often defamed by men online, with no one to turn to for help — that is until they started turning to Mina Shamir.
The 25-year-old Egyptian police officer with a passion for fitness developed a large following on Facebook, where he posts exercise videos and weight loss tips — his official page has almost 1 million fans. The fitness fanatic also runs a Facebook group primarily dedicated to women’s fitness with over 800,000 female followers.
He gained notoriety for his work out routines, but then victims of online harassment started sending Samir messages about their troubles and asking for advice. Samir said he felt it was his duty to help.
“A female victim of harassment usually faces accusations of being indecent or obscene,” Samir said.
Samir explained to Egyptian TV Channel TeN that in a culture which suppresses women, he wants to support victims of abuse. Few people will support a woman in that situation, and harassers only exploit the situation she’s in even more, Samir asserted.
“In the West, it’s a different culture,” Inam al-Asha, a psychologist and women’s rights activist in Amman, Jordan, said. “A naked picture might only humiliate a girl. But in our society, a naked picture might lead to her death. And even if her life isn’t finished physically, it is finished socially and professionally. People stop associating with her and she ends up ostracized and isolated.”
Samir said he wants to be there for these women so that they can avoid these fates. As a fitness guru and police officer, he offers the women advice on how to deal with stalkers and harassment.
He said his fight began when a young woman messaged him asking for help on how to deal with blackmail from a boyfriend. After word got out about Samir's efforts, his inbox was flooded; sometimes he will receive a thousand messages per week.
Samir explained that a cyber-stalker is a coward who manipulates the information he gets about a victim to take advantage of her fear, so that her reputation will be smeared.
“The phenomenon of female harassment has become scary. I used to reply to nine or 10 messages a day. Now I cannot cope,” said Samir.
“In many cases, women do not know how to protect themselves,” he added
Samir’s Facebook group still posts tips for a healthy lifestyle, but now it also includes tips on how to avoid cyber-stalking and how to identify a malicious trick used on Facebook that coerces women into posting damaging information.
Zahra Sharabati, a Jordanian lawyer, told BBC News that in the last two or three years, she has handled at least 50 cases involving digital images or social media used to threaten or shame women, but she thinks that in Jordan the number is far higher, estimating at least 1,000 cases.
“More than one girl, I think, was killed as a result of this issue,” Sharabati said.
Hopefully Samir’s courage will inspire others to challenge this issue and become a much-needed ally for women. In the meantime, the police officer will be a faithful resource for women facing these disturbing threats.