I’ve got to know several students from SOAS (a university in London) who are on their year away to study Arabic here in Damascus. A few days ago, one of them was nearly raped in her house. About 1pm, she called me, as I live five minutes away, and in a shaky voice, asked me to come quickly because a man was outside, really scaring her. He had knocked on the door, wearing smart clothes, asking for someone, and she was confused, and had told him there were no men living in the house. He kept talking, and she had slowly realised something was not right. He asked for a drink of water, and she went to get it, and called me. When she gave him the cup, he said, “it is beautiful”, and tried to kiss her hand. He wedged his foot in the door, and told her again she was beautiful. Then he pushed his way in, pushed her against the wall, and said, “I love you… Suck my dick”. She shoved him back, and said a male friend was coming. He left.
When I had received the phone call, I decided to change out of my shorts, into trousers, as I thought whoever this guy was, he might not take me seriously if I arrived with bare knees. I scampered over there, wondering if my years of on-off martial arts study would actually have some use, to find him already gone. Other women on the course arrived, comforted their friend, congratulated me on my knightly behaviour… the 19-year-old now somewhat blames herself for being so stupid, and not quickly slamming the door in the guy’s face.
Every Syrian here says that if she had screamed, the whole neighbourhood would have descended on the man and beaten him. Another tale, from some years before – a man grabbed a foreign woman’s behind in the busy Bab Tooma square, right in front of the police station. She yelled, and within moments, a crowd of men surrounded him, shouting at him. The police arrived, and dragged him into the police station. The woman became worried, and approached a police officer, saying that it hadn’t been that big a thing, anyway.
The policeman seemed able to read her mind. He replied, “Don’t worry, madame, we won’t torture him”.