Abused Egyptian female protesters fight back

Samira Ibrahim was among 17 female protesters dragged away from protests in Tahrir Square, Egypt in March of 2011. She was beaten, humiliated and forced to undergo a "virginity test." are not just about the Egyptian revolution. During a military raid on a protest in March 2011, she and 16 other women were dragged away by security forces. It was all caught on cell phone video
CBS

It's been a year since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, but the citizens of the African nation are far from receiving basic human rights.

This week, Cairo's streets were filled with protestors, angry at the military council that has taken over since former dictator Hosni Mubarak fell from power.

Some of the people involved in the demonstrations included women who have been brutalized. There have been reports of Egyptian soldiers sexually assaulting women protestors, and then explaining their actions by giving the outrageous explanation that the abuse is necessary to determine if the women are prostitutes.

Despite this sexist and unfair treatment, CBS News foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward found some brave women willing to rise up and expose the army.

Those women include Samira Ibrahim, whose memories of Tahrir Square are not just about the Egyptian revolution. During a military raid on a protest in March 2011, she and 16 other women were dragged away by security forces. It was all caught on cell phone video.

"They handcuffed us and used electric prods," she said.

What happened next has completely shocked Egypt.

"They ordered us to undress completely, then they split us into two groups," she explained.

Ibrahim said she was forced to lie on a table and undergo a virginity test in front of a group of soldiers. Some of them filed the entire assault on their camera phones. The military members called her a prostitute.

She broke down in tears, thinking about the traumatic experience.

Ibrahim explained that the test is meant to humiliate women into not protesting. Nineteen female protestors have claimed they were subjected to the same virginity tests since Mubarak was forced out of power and the military took over in February 2011.

Human rights groups say that many more abuse cases have gone unreported. One video online shows a woman being beaten and stripped by military members. She is only known as the woman with the blue bra.

Mona Eltahawy says that few women in Erupt speak out about sexual assault because of the cultural and religious importance attached to chastity. She herself was assaulted and badly beaten by security forces in November 2011.

"It is the silence and the shame," Eltahawy explained. "Women are expected to be ashamed about what happened to them and just quietly go home."

But Ibrahim was not willing to suffer in silence. She went to civil court to have the virginity tests declared illegal - and won.

Since then, she's received death threats from some religious conservatives for speaking out. To many, though, she's a hero.

"She's going to become an icon of the revolution, not just for women but for men too," Eltahawy said. "Because she's looking those old generals in the eyes and she's saying, the shame belongs to you, not to me. And that is revolutionary."

Ibrahim is planning to bring her case to military court. She's no longer afraid of her abusers. "I refuse to be afraid," she said. "This isn't just for me. It's for all the other victims."

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News