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Iran's Own Me-Too Movement Gains Momentum Following Allegations Against Celebrities 

Iran's Supreme Leader says the Islamic dress code (hijab) is a solution to the problem of sexual violence against women.
Iran's Supreme Leader says the Islamic dress code (hijab) is a solution to the problem of sexual violence against women.

Hashtags related to sexual violence against women have been trending on Persian Twitter after users spoke about their own experiences and named celebrities whom they claimed raped or molested them.

Currently on Persian Twitter, #rape is among the top ten most used hashtags following those related to the current religious ceremonies and those in criticism of the Iranian authorities' handling of its responsibility for downing a Ukrainian plane in January.

The heated discussions about women's reckonings with sexual violence, with their alleged abusers including men of power and celebrities, began after Twitter users named a celebrity who allegedly intoxicated and raped several women. In another notable case, a female journalist came forth to talk about being sexually assaulted by one of the country's best-known painters and art instructors, who had been accused of sexual violence against his pupils before.

Same-sex cases of abuse were also discussed, with female students accusing one female teacher of sexual assault, and men joining the conversation to recount their own experiences with rape, which often occurred during their two-year compulsory military service by superiors or other soldiers.

The issue of sexual violence against women also became a discussion topic in Iranian media. The discussion is very controversial in Iranian society, as the hardline religious establishment holds women responsible for men's impulses. Men should not be tempted by women, they say, and the resulting stigma against sexual assault survivors has subsequently forced many women to stay silent about their experiences.

"Girls who fraternize with strangers and say in the modern world women have a right to drink [alcohol which is prohibited by Islam] and even have sex are in a way voluntary soldiers of the cultural war [against Islam]," a Twitter user wrote on Tuesday in defense of men accused of rape. "Being wounded in war is inevitable, predictable and albeit a voluntary act.”

In Iran, courts often accuse victims of consciously exposing themselves to the danger of assault and rape. In October 2014, Iran executed 26-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari for killing her assailant, a former intelligence ministry agent, in self defense despite global appeals for her case. In December 2019, another woman was hanged for killing her assailant in Ahwaz.

The Islamic Republic has always justified requiring women to follow the Islamic dress code known as hijab, which involves completely covering their hair and wear a long veil or coat to cover the body, by claiming that "loose morals" in western societies are responsible for sexual violence against women.

In October 2018, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted hijab was Islam’s way of solving the "disaster of countless sexual assaults on Western women – including incidents leading to #MeToo campaign." In another speech, he blamed physical violence and abuse of women on what he calls "using women as an object of promiscuity.”

And yet, on Sunday, the moderate conservative news website Fararu said that the Me Too movement has now also spread to Iran. "Well-known people have been named and more will probably be named,” the article read. “Let's see where these revelations will lead to and whether the accused will be prosecuted [by the justice system].”

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.