Egyptian woman goes public about alleged police rape in rare TV interview

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian woman, wearing an all-encompassing black veil, has gone public with a rare television interview alleging that police raped her after she stopped to ask for directions in a rural part of the country.

The allegations add fodder to a growing debate in Egypt about police abuse, which human rights groups say is systematic.

Protests and online campaigns raged since June when a 28-year old man died after a beating at the hands of police officers. The two policemen are on trial for using excessive force, but not for killing Khaled Said.

While the government denies the problem is pervasive, rights groups say officers act in impunity because they are rarely taken to task for abuses.

The woman, who was not identified, sobbed as she described the alleged attack on the private Modern Misr satellite station earlier this week. Her voice breaking, she said two men took turns raping her in the back of a police van on a dark rural road after she asked them for directions.

"I am heartbroken because I thought the police were the source of security for us, the people. But really, I still can't believe what happened to me, and especially from policemen," she said.

She filed a police complaint, but the attackers have not been apprehended. She said the attackers also stole her rings, mobile phone and money.

The video of the interview went viral in days, and a group started a Facebook campaign on her behalf.

It is unusual for rape victims to speak out about their attackers, particularly in conservative societies such as Egypt, where women are often blamed for soliciting rape for showing too much skin or acting loosely.

A local paper, for example, hinted that the woman was said to have a criminal record for soliciting.

The U.N. quoted Egypt's Interior Ministry as saying that 20,000 women or girls raped every year, a figure that is likely low because an underestimation most likely considering victims rarely come forward fearing social stigma.

The woman said she felt compelled to come forward as a warning for others.

"I am sacrificing my reputation by telling the story ... to protect every girl, every woman who may trust a police van. I tell them now, if you see a police van, you must be very careful," she said. "I want the officials to know what policemen do to the people. Even now, I still can't believe or comprehend that these were policemen."

Her lawyer Gamal Maamoun told the TV station a police investigation had recognized the rape took place but didn't identify the attackers as policemen. There was no immediate comment from her lawyer or government officials. The government denies police abuse is systematic and says violators will be prosecuted.

Aida Seif el-Dawla , a rights activist, said the woman's case is not unique. She said the purported attack is one of at least 10 cases reported this week to her center, which deals with torture victims.

"Sexual molestation and harassment ... is routine for women who come across police," Seif el-Dawla said, adding that her center was reaching out to the victim to help her with the trauma of the attack and the media exposure.

Her story first surfaced in the local independent al-Dustor newspaper on July 31. The report identified her as a 50-year old nurse from the Nile Delta province of Dakahlia.