Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A darkness at the heart of bellydance


I was intending to write today about my joy on signing my contract with the film studio. But a Facebook posting from Lorna Gow, the only British dancer working professionally in Cairo today, has driven me to come clean about something I feel very strongly about, and which has affected me personally on a very profound level.

WARNING: This story details experiences of rape and may be traumatic for anyone who has been through such an experience themselves.

Lorna wrote:
“So very very sad… Landlady discovered I am a dancer and has thrown me out. I have spent the entire week packing and crying. I am totally gutted. This flat has been my home for nearly 6 years and I can't count how many fun times I have had here not to mention all the wonderful people from all over the world who have stayed here with me. Thank you all. Here's wishing for a more tolerant, accepting Egypt in the future....”

Most women who learn bellydancing in the West find it incredibly empowering. The community is largely supportive and accepting of all and women tell me again and again that bellydance has changed their lives. They say they have learned to accept themselves and their bodies for the first time since adulthood, that it has helped them overcome fears and phobias and that they have made wonderful new friends as well as discovering a rich culture and a beautiful art form.

But the dark alter ego of our dance is the attitude in its home country towards dancers. There’s a very strange dichotomy in Egyptian society. Egyptians love music and dancing and elevate famous dancers to the status of megastars, yet at the same time, they look down on them, viewing them as ‘haram’  or sinful. In films, bellydancers are portrayed as sexual temptresses, trying to lure the hero away from the heroine and to have a dancer in the family is a cause of terrible shame.

In Egypt, dancers are assumed to be prostitutes. And indeed some are. The reason most top dancers in Cairo are Westerners is that nice Egyptian girls do not dance in public. And certainly not in revealing clothing. The natural extension of this attitude is a belief that all women who dance in public are sluts.

And it’s not just dancers. There is a firm conviction amongst Arab men that all Western women are sexually rapacious – desperate for sex with any man, at any time of the day or night. It’s an attitude I discovered when I lived in the Middle East and which is confirmed by female friends who live out there now. And I experienced the horrible consequences of that attitude myself, the first time I visited Egypt.

I first visited Cairo in 1982, at the age of 24. I was living in the Gulf at the time and wanted to learn more about bellydance in its spiritual home. While I was there I was gang raped. I had met two young men who were also on holiday in Cairo and we had stopped off at their apartment before going on to a nightclub. There was suddenly a frantic knocking at the door from the concierge, who told us the police were in the building because they had learned that there was a girl in an apartment with two men. He insisted that what we were doing was illegal and we would be arrested. He suggested the boys went out the front way and he would take me down the back stairs to safety.

You can guess the rest. Half way down the stairs I was pushed into a side room where he raped me. He then brought men from other apartments in the building to have sex with me. I assume he charged them for the privilege. Although I wept and begged them to stop, only one did. One Japanese man at least had the decency to stop raping me in response to my pleas.  The Arab men just continued.

I would guess that these men assumed I was a prostitute because I was with two men. And that therefore I was fair game. In recent years, when I talked about it to friends who live in Cairo or who visit regularly, they told me that sort of thing doesn’t happen there. But I have a feeling that military rule may just have kept a lid on it. Because the public gang rape of Western women is becoming frighteningly prevalent in Egypt since the revolution.

In Tahrir Square on the very day of Mubarak’s resignation, a Western female reporter was violently gang raped with hundreds of men watching on. It happened to a French woman in January this year and then, just eight weeks ago a British female student was violently and publicly raped in Tahrir Square, even though she was with two Western male friends. Her friends were overcome and the woman was brutally sexually attacked by an enormous crowd of men. In public. In broad daylight. In the middle of the biggest square in Cairo.

And it has been going on for years much closer to home. In our very own bellydance community. Not gang rape as far as I’m aware, but the sexual abuse of Western dancers by certain Arab men who believe that all dancers are sluts and are asking for it.

I don’t actually blame these men for their attitudes – if you have been told something all your life, of course you will believe it. And this belief in the sexual rapaciousness of Western women, compounded by a belief that only bad women dance in public, is all pervasive and very, very strong.

In America last year there was a high profile scandal when the wife of Yousry Sharif – one of the best known and most respected Egyptian dance teachers in the world – accused him of years of physical and sexual abuse. And shockingly she said that he had always made it clear to her that he believed that all Western women who bellydance are sluts (yes, those same women who give him his living as a bellydance teacher). Furthermore, she challenged all women married to Arab men to acknowledge that their husbands despise Western women.

Now I know that it’s absolutely not true that all Arab men despise Western women. Wonderful men like Khaled Mahmoud and Hossam Ramzy respect us enormously and are good and kind and supportive to us and our community. They have been living in the UK for a long time and understand and respect our values. And I’m sure there are many other Arab men here who are just as respectful.

But I also know of shocking incidents in our own UK bellydance community. One of my closest friends was raped several years ago by a prominent member of the community. This man then told her friends, other dancers and even some potential employers that she had come on to him and begged him for sex. She was so traumatised by the event that for two years she wouldn’t leave the house alone. And I understand it has happened to others.

I know this is difficult stuff to talk about – to say that many Arab men think we are sluts for being Western AND bellydancers is not only tough and unpleasant, it also risks feeding the Islamophobia that is increasingly prevalent in our society.  But it is very important that we Western women understand that attitudes are different in other societies and our modern ways can be very easily misinterpreted by men who hold ugly, outdated beliefs about us.

And I believe passionately that women should be open and honest about the abuse that happens to us and fight prejudice with all our might. It’s only by bringing things out into the clear light of day that we can look at them honestly and attempt to change the world for the better.

Cairo is a wonderful, amazing, exciting city. I love it and I love the Egyptian people, despite what happened to me in the past. But if you are going there at the moment, please dress modestly and do everything you can to keep yourself safe. And ideally go with an organised group such as Kay Taylor’s Farida Adventures.

Most of all, behave with propriety and self respect, both here and abroad. And of course continue to enjoy all the beauty and pleasure that there is in bellydance.


151 comments:

  1. Thank you Charolotte for your courage and your honesty.

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    1. Thank you for this well written article. I am not a dancer.... but lived, many years ago, in an Islamic country and witnessed a lower level sexual assault on an adult Western woman. I was talking to a male friend this weekend about this and he said his own
      Mother had also suffered harrasment, years ago, when living in an Arab country. I applaud you for bringing this to the attention of Western women who may not realise the real risks they are exposed to in societies where attitudes cam be very different to our own.

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    2. I sympathise with your personal traumatic experience which should not happen to any woman anywhere but honestly find this blog most disturbing on many levels, maybe the rise of the social media world and sharing ones own most deepest and at times darkest hours so accessable , that indeed you are page one of google on gang rapes Cairo.....I feel this piece was meant and indeed could offer more in other forms ie print, charity websites who are fighting inherent and ongoing issues with female abuse across the world. I do not have personal experience but close . I do have the very recent personal experience and co-shared with 50 beautiful gorgeous women from 18 countries and cultures in Cairo this last week on the Randa Kamel of Course course, they did venture out on both their own and in small groups outside of the larger organised trips to experience Cairo . We had no negative reports from any of the attendees. All rape is wrong no rape excused but a culture and a country and people also need no blanket condemnation.This post in no way is intended to offend, condom or in any way justify the traumatic experience the poster suffered . I only hope the Embassy and the people of Egypt both civilian and milatary at the time were able to help, console and enforce retribution. also that maybe just maybe our overwhelmed civic services were in any way of consulation on your return to the UK from the Middle East

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    3. not anonymous just not willing to sign up

      with peace Tracey Gibbs UK

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    4. also an additio nal amendment to my post ,,, yes I am dyslexic and yes I misspost sorry my brain ..if you cant see the diffenece in context them I apologise and no offence intented

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  2. Wow! Words don't describe how amazingly humbled I am by your courage. I feel like giving you a round of applause! Actually......I just did. I am in Australia and applauding you and your courage for this post. Well done darlin xxx

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  3. Thank you for having the courage to acknowledge this very important issues and to shed light on it, especially to the newcomers in this Industry were we are without knowledge on this matter.

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  4. Thank you for having the courage to acknowledge this very important issues and to shed light on it, especially to the newcomers in this Industry were we are without knowledge on this matter.

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  5. I was incredibly moved by your honest and courageous article - and I'm so saddened to hear about what you endured. Your experience is just another incentive for me to continue my commitment to educating and empowering women and girls across the world. And I believe that bellydancing can play an integral role in this. As a Turkish-American woman, I understand the challenges and negative cultural views towards bellydancing. But I'm fortunate to have come from a very progressive family who nurtured my passion for dance. These challenges present new opportunities and I'm confident that we can make a difference in changing attitudes...this will take more time and leadership from our bellydance community.

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  6. I knew this sort of thing happened, but it is still shocking to think that as the world we live in moves forward and society changes in so many ways, that there are still people that live in the dark ages when it comes to respecting woman. people love to watch a dancer and think they are wonderful until the find out it's their sister or daughter or wife.
    When I first started to dance the ministers wife of the church I went to was very shocked and had similar views that I might as well have been a prostitute. I tried to show her that is was nothing like that.
    I now teach dancers and one of the main things I try to teach all my dancers that we are beautiful, independent and strong. we hold our heads up high and accept our body shape and I encourage them to find the inner goddess trying to get out. We shouldn't fit into a box of what society thinks we should be and we should be confident to be ourselves.

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  7. My reason for writing this post is to let you know how very thankful I am that you are the reason that I bellydance. I also want to praise you for your courage, your decision to do this blog, the stamina to keep on going when you feel like you cannot take another step. I am Eternally Grateful for YOU! With LOVE and Friendship, Jackie x

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  8. I praise your courage in posting, I can see why you really had to work up publishing this.

    The attitude you describe here is one that my very first teacher touched upon, when describing the issues she faced when working abroad, even though she was of Lebanese origin. What I find disturbing is that even here in our 'civilised' (ha!) culture, there are still those who want to blame women for being 'sluts'. I will not be shamed, and I won't shut up or go away.

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  9. Esther Tabernero28 August 2012 at 15:08

    Reading what happened to you in Cairo in 1982 gave me goose bumps.What a horrible thing to endure...I am planning to travel there next year for the first time and I had no idea how dangerous it can be. Thank you for opening my eyes... and for sharing such a personal issue with us xx

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  10. Sacha Bellydance28 August 2012 at 15:17

    Wow, whata courageous and moving post, Charlotte. Thank you for sharing what must have been a harrowing experience all those years ago and for highlighting the issues that face many dancers today. It is indeed sad that there are still people in the world who choose not to respect each other and I for one aim to always teach my students the importance of self-respect and to confront these antiquated notions that you must be fair game if you dance in public by conducting ourselves properly, challenging their attitudes and following basic saftey precautions. You are one very brave lady and thank you for sharing your story. xxxx

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  11. Charlotte, thank you for sharing your story. The strength and eloquence you show in this post is truly uplifting in the face of such tragedy. Though I don't agree with all you have said here, I do believe the light that you and other writers shine on these issues of sexism and power are crucial. But again, I just want to thank you. Because what I am most overcome by is your openness in sharing this terrible thing that happened to you.

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  12. Thank you , Charlotte, for having the courage to speak out and write about a very painful subject. I have read Lorna's statements and thought it was sad that she had to pack up and leave her flat. I also have heard about the incidents in Tahrir Square (and also hear people deny that it could ever happen in Egypt . . . even from some Westerners that live there that don't believe in the harassment , etc . . . which I found hard to understand). But I hadn't heard your story and I don't know if I would be brave enough to tell it, if it had happened to me. It is a horrible event to re-live so I know it takes much courage to do that!! But also how wonderful that you have been able to tell it so that others will know and be aware of what could happen.

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  13. Sadly the islamic culture is still one of great oppression towards women in general and anything related to their exposure or independence. In western societies prejudice against women who practice belly dance is still one of seeing it as a vulgar way to expose yourself instead of a valid form of art or a leisure activity. Only through the exposure of the violence (may it be physical or emotional) we may change the way people see belly dance. Congratulations on your courage to talk about something so cruel in your life (rape) and to still be able to give sound advice to those who believe the Middle East is just like in the fairy tales "1001 Nights"... By the way, if you ever read it you know it's quite violent too...

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  14. Dear Charlotte
    I read your post and was very moved. As a young Turkish UK based dancer- I understand a lot of the attitudes that many middle eastern men (and some women) have towards belly dancers and it is important to highlight these issues. I have visited Cairo in the past and find it ironic that there are so many places selling belly dance merchandise and dancing takes place at many major celebrations.

    Hopefully one day these out-dated attitudes will change and I admire your courage to speak about your experiences and commend you for your determination to continue dancing.

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  15. Charlotte, you just made me cry by your moving description, especially the bit where you say that you still love Cairo despite it all.

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  16. Charlotte, thank you for your courage for speaking up. I can't imagine what you went through, and it made me cry to read the stories of others. I've only faced discrimination from Western men(which is bad enough) when dancing, so I consider myself lucky. Hopefully, in the near future, belly dancers will be seen as the beautiful strong women we really are, by all men.

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  17. Thank's a lot for this moving article. I admire your strenght and humanity! Someday, mentalities will change, inshallah! All the best!

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  18. Thanks for sharing it. You are very brave for doing it. I hope too we can change the world for better. I wish you light and hapiness. Kisses from the south of Brazil.

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  19. A heartfelt thank you for sharing this. I admire your strength.

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  20. Thank you so much for sharing your story. A young girl was sexually assaulted, openly, in public in India which reported taped and broadcasted but no one stopped the men doing this horrible thing. We, as women, need to try anything possible to make it stop. I agree with you that self protection is number one and as long as our own safety isn't jeopardised, we have the obligation as fellow women to stand up against this heinousness.
    Thank you again for sharing this. I truly admire your courage and strength.

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  21. Charlotte, I am full of admiration for you in speaking up about this traumatic episode in your life. I really hope that it will make others more aware and hopefully make steps towards change as for as long as all this stuff is hidden it will carry on. We must be strong as women in fighting these attitudes and show the world that this behaviour will not be tolerated.

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  22. Charlotte,

    You are an amazingly courageous woman for posting this. Although my sexual assault didn't happen in the context of our dance community, I understand how much bravery it took for you to be so candid about such a tragically life altering experience. Thank you

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  23. Charlotte thank you for sharing your story - as distressed as I am to read it, you are so brave. You express so well many of the sentiments I feel about our dance and it's culture. Thank you.

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  24. Thank you for sharing your story. I am lost in admiration of you and hope your courage will show other women that they can survive and thrive even after such a horrific experience.

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  25. Awesome blog, awesomely written as usual xxx big love to you Charlotte

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  26. Charlotte, that is so awful that happened to you. I really admire your courage for speaking out. Egypt needs to better educate its people rather than keep them ignorant and I really wish its people had better human rights. Its so sad. Gemma Xx

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  27. This is a horrible thing that happened to you.

    Many Western ( and Eastern Auropean) girls have this fairy tale image of bellydance in the ME which is also maintained by so many professional dancers who profit from festivals, tours to ME, etc and so many girls go to dance and end up in a slavery contract.

    But dont you think this also happens to ME women that dance, not just Westerners? It is just that image of dancer=prostitute. Most ME dancers are the women rejected by their families and friends and have no other resort but to prostitute.

    It is so sad to hear so many Western dancers moan about the dance image in ME, and they do not understand that it comes from the harsh reality and not from lack of 'empowerment'.

    God bless you, dear.

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    1. Yes, exactly that - ME women who dance are considered to bring shame on their family. I've met beautiful young dancers at private gatherings in Egypt who could never have a career as a dancer, no matter how much their heart would love to. They know that they would be viewed as prostitutes by society and become unmarriageable.

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  28. thanks for the post charlotte. that is totally something to be discussed especially among working dancers. things like being aware of where we're getting hired and the kind of audience that would be there. and utmost professionalism can go a long way in avoiding certain dangers simply because it will draw a very bold line between "artist" and "prostitute" for some who confuse the two.

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  29. Thank you Charlotte, and HUGS.

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  30. You are very strong and brave for sharing your story. Thank you. {{{Hugs}}}

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  31. Thank you for sharing your ordeal with us Charlotte. It is shocking and all dancers need to know this can happen. Your courage to publish will help other women to stay safe. Sabine xx

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  32. Very powerful reminders to us all. Thank you for being willing to share your experience. If you have saved even one person from experiencing the agony you experienced it was a valuable and worthwhile service, and I'm sure you have reached more than one person. Yours, Saqra

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  33. Thank you so much for posting this and shedding light on something that I most likely would have remained ignorant of, even as I continue to learn bellydance here in the US. Your courage is so inspiring. I am in awe of you.

    I will definitely be sharing this to spread the word. ~ Cortney

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  34. Thank you for your courage in telling your story. I'm so sorry and shocked to hear about this. Shame on the men who think women are to be used and abused on their whim!

    My ex husband was embarrassed for me to tell people I was a bellydancer. Our studio refused to perform at bachelor parties or fraternities. I was harassed by Arab men at a restaurant where I danced until I made it very clear that I was married and told them in Arabic to back off. So glad it never went any further than harassment!

    Dancers should use this story as a warning and take care when booking performances or trips! Stay safe!

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  35. thank you for sharing your ordeal. I am a survivor of rape as a 16 year old girl by a gang of 4 men (in Australia where I live). I went to Egypt at 13 with my family only for a day on shore while the ship rested in port to restock. We were warned to be very careful as it was very dangerous. I would love to visit Egypt again now that I am an adult and have been dancing for 8 or so years. But I am all too aware from stories such as yours about how dangerous it still is there. I would not take my family with me these days and if I went I would dress covered head to toe and be very careful. I think given the state of the Middle East ... even though I dearly love Egypt its people, language, music and dance ... I would travel elsewhere.

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  36. Thank you - perhaps more are willing to hear this now. Realities from those like yourself and Nourhan go a long way toward illustrating the very real differences in ethos between that world and ours. You can't begin to bridge or deal with a perspective you can't see or imagine. Best wishes.

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  37. I commend you for being so open about your experience, and further for intention to bring events like this to light. I also am amazed that you seem to have found some kind of peace with what happened. However, I don't agree with you not blaming the men that assaulted you, but rather their culture. Every human being has the capability to recognize the universal language of pain suffering. Every human being has an innate knowledge of how to stop inflicting pain. The man that led you away knew you were unwilling and completely blind to what was about to happen. He lied to you to get you to leave your room. He lured you away under false pretenses. If he TRULY believed that what he was doing was ok, he would have had no reason to lie. He would have simply propositioned you, assuming you were a prostitute or a slut. But he lied. His intent was completely savage. Most people would argue that of the middle eastern countries, Egypt is very forward thinking, but the act of attacking western women is not only extremely alarming, but it is barbaric as well. And writing it off as nothing more than a cultural flaw is just as bad as saying that 'though it was horrible for you, it's ok that it happened.' It's excusing inexcusable behavior. It's not ok. Condemn the men that rape helpless, trusting women. But go further and condemn the culture that excuses it as well. The world is no longer an ignorant place and THOSE men knew the difference between right and wrong. Their actions were perfect reflections of that. You are right that many people are afraid of Arabic communities/ people. And why, when so many people make excuses for the bad guy, shouldn't they be? Grouping everyone into one stereotype is wrong, but it is hard to separate the few good men, when such a huge majority of that culture have a malicious mindset. How do you become the bigger person, when doing so could potentially cause you great bodily harm? rape is wrong. Period. NO excuse.

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    1. Very eloquently put and I totally agree Alex.

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    2. Dear Alexis, when I said I don't blame Arab men for their beliefs, I meant Arab men in general, not the ones who raped me. Believe me, I DO blame those men - I hate them with a vengeance! If I were in a room with them right now I would probably find strength to kill them for what they did.

      And as for the man who raped my friend, I do everything I can to make sure I am never at an event where he will be, because I could not be responsible for my actions if I met him again. Whenever I think about what he did to my friend I'm seized by an uncontrollable anger.

      What I meant, is that I don't blame Arab men in general for holding beliefs they have been fed since childhood. The only thing we can do is try to change those beliefs. But sadly it isn't going to happen soon, in fact I think attitudes in the Middle East towards women seem to be getting even worse at the moment.

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  38. Thank you for your courage in sharing this part of your story, Charlotte, and for shining a light into that darkness which infects not just the world of bellydancing, or Middle Eastern culture, but the world over. It's a painful truth that throughout human history whenever women have decided to act for themselves, speak for themselves, answer their own calling, or take up their own space in the world in any sphere, they have had to do so in the face of a chorus of voices telling them that they can't or they shouldn't, that it is unfeminine, indecent, sinful or dangerous to do so. It's been true of women going into all the professions, women in political and religious leadership, and women finding freedom and dignity in their family life too. Rape, and the threat of rape, has often been used as a weapon by those who just can't stomach women being themselves.
    The only sane and healthy response is to carry on and do the thing you were going to do anyway, as you have done. We can't control what others think or feel, we can't take responsibility for their warped view of the world; all we can do is refuse to let it warp us too.
    Dance is such a basic way of saying, "here I am, this is me, my body, myself" that if we aren't allowed to dance, there is a sense in which we aren't allowed to be at all. As you well know, if you scratch the surface at any Hipsinc class you will find stories of women who have had to battle against the odds in their lives for one reason or another. Many have survived physical or sexual violence and abuse. There is often a lot more going on in classes than simply trying to remember what moves come next as we do our best to jiggle the right bits at the right moment without looking too much like a sack of potatoes in the process... Many women who manage to get up on a stage, or just dance for others in class, have won a real victory in doing so. This has been made possible by your determination not to let those men in that apartment block in Cairo have the last word on what you should do with your life. We are unlikely to be able to sort out the problems of the world in the course of a dance class, but I like to think we can push back the frontiers at least a little bit, shimmy by shimmy, so thank you!

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  39. Hi Thank you for sharing this view and experience. I am so happy my beautiful friend Meret found you to dance with........sincerely Barbara, The Dancing Spirit of RI

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  40. Hi Charlotte,
    Ive just friended you on fb, we have a mutual friend , Yasmina of Cairo - ( who is my belly bestie;) we worked for many years in the middle east together.
    This is the first blog i have read of yours, and it brought to mind a lot of Past traumatic events that we as dancers working in the middle east as foreigners, gloss over and pretend is not happening on levels, when our main income comes from working as dancers in that environment - i was always thankful for the guardian angel that travelled with me on my contracts - I found sometimes the case though it was the other way around - some of the customers knew that you were a foreign dancer and didnt "put out" like some of the "other" dancers ( and put a price on it) - but im talking about a while ago ....... again, interesting and thought provoking your blogs ! you have converted another follower !

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  41. Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine the strength and courage it took to write this. Although we know this backwards thinking is widespread it isn't discussed enough. Thank you. I send you a heartfelt hug.

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  42. Thank you so much for sharing this. I went to Egypt 4 years ago. I traveled by myself and was there to take a few private lessons and buy costumes. I have traveled nearly 30 countries on my own and am respectful of cultures. I was always in jeans and button up long sleeved shirts, buttoned all the way to the collar.
    One evening, while out with a Korean artist I meant at the hostel and his Egyptian mentor, I was attacked. Pulled to the ground as men piled on top of me. My shirt and bra were torn off and me jeans were even tore. I was green and purple with bruises for a month, and was missing patches of hair. The Egyptian we were with, whom I just meant that night, forced himself down the pile so he could be on top of me. I lay there thinking they would kill this innocent man on top of me and do who knows what and no one would know for a month, as this happened on my 3rd evening in the country.
    The police finally got the mob off and as I walked down the street with my Egyptian friend to my right, the police man kept the beasts away on my left. As the policeman reached over and cuped my left breast several times on the hundred meter walk to a cafe (where they deposited us 'safely' surrounded by the same men who just attacked me) my numb mind could not decide to smack his hand away or tollerate it, for a much worse fate may lay instor for me and my hero. A large Egyptian man in a bright red shirt ran up to me on this walk of shame to the cafe, and he stripped his shirt off and plumped it over my head. Once we were seated at the cafe he kindly asked my hero what color I liked and he was off. The Korean guy joined us and said he had disappeared out of fear his camera may have been damaged, but he was happy to see I was ok. I sat there in a bright read XXXL t-shirt, torn jeans, disheveled hair, and a single tear on my cheek and held up my camera which was still safely dangling from my wrist. The shirtless man returned with a little pink woman's T-shirt. He took me into the cafe and opened a small closet so I could see no one was there. He stood outside as I changed in the darkness. We sat waiting for the bus, and then my hero, the Korean, and I walked down a dimly lit street and sat in the back corner of the bus. My body heart and I was hyper aware of the flesh of my arms showing as the bus was filled with men, some of which I'm sure were involved in the attack. My eyes stayed down as I wished to disappear. Thankfully, we made it back to the hostel and my hero left, still holding a shred of what used to be my favorite white button up shirt. I remembered him holding that scrap over my shoulder to cover a bit of my chest when we first escaped the man pile. He seemed as shocked as I was.
    These things just don't get told. They only exist for the people that live them. I asked for the hostel boys to take me to report it, but it never happened. It was always tomorrow, and an entire month passed and I left the country without ever reporting the incident.
    It was a few days before I left the hostel without the company of a large American who was traveling too. Once on my own again I had a few other close calls, including a jump from a moving taxi in mid day, that was going in the oposite direction I asked for. Laughing at my demands that he was going the wrong way, he retch back, put his hand firmly on my knee and showed me hardcore porn on his phone. Thank goodness for traffic ;)
    If you should visit a country like Egypt, stay with a group, or at least a couple of friends. There are some great people in Cairo, but it only takes one discussing person. The good and bad are in every corner of the globe. Listen to your gut. Stay with someone you know and trust.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this Jenny. It must have been terrifying. And I'm afraid that I recognise what you said about the policeman - I didn't go to the police about my incident in Cairo because I didn't trust them. And judging by your experience I was right not to.

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    2. Thank you both for sharing your experiences. I can't tell you how deeply touched I am by your honesty. Your sharing protects other women. This dance form has actually helped me so much to heal from the trauma of being raped. As a rape survivor myself, I feel with you. And, I send you so much love.

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  43. You have made me weep with this post... Thank you. This needed to be said

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  44. This attitude isn't confined to dancers. About 14 years ago I was travelling backwards and forwards to Cairo researching music for a PhD. It was made very plain to me that if I wanted information I was expected to "pay" for it with sex. I dumped the PhD and haven't been back to Cairo since (although there is a lot I love about the place)
    I also have to add that one evening,I was out in Cairo with several Egyptian friends of mine (both men and women) Some men not in our group, banged into us and one grabbed me round the throat and started simulating sex (It is worth noting here that I was dressed in a floor length skirt and long sleeved loose jacket)I managed to break free from the man and brought my knee up into his groin-my language was not ladylike! A local shopkeeper brought a chair out for me and apologised to the men I was with (It would have been disrespectful apparently, to talk directly to me) Roughly 18 months later one of the Egyptian women I had been with on that evening told me that she had also been sexually assaulted at the same time I was having problems, but that she had been ashamed to talk about it. She thought I was brave to act the way I did because of the dishonour it could have brought me and went on to say that she and her friends were taught not to mention such things happening to them. I don't know what appalled me most-the fact that she was taught such behaviour was a reflection on her, or the fact that she'd felt it necessary to keep quiet about it for so long. She told me that sexual assault was part of everyday life for her and her friends, veiled or unveiled.

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    1. Possibly one of the most shocking things about rape and sexual assault in many countries is the way that women are tainted by it. They are taught that it is their fault if a man rapes them and the stain stays with them for life.

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  45. Thank you Charlotte, for sharing your experience and writing about how bellydancers are viewed in the Middle East.
    Clearly, women have to speak out for anything to change, even though it's so traumatic.

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  46. You are so brave to tell your story. I was very moved and at the same time sad for all the women that have endured such violence because they are women/dancers. I love the dance and now realize how totally naive I have been about ME attitudes about belly dancing....I am so humbled by your honesty.

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  47. how incredibly brave of you to write this moving story.

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  48. I'm horrified by your experience and I applaud you in confronting it, moving on and not letting it defeat you. To use your own torment as a tool so others can avoid the same experience is an act of true courage. I have to say that lack of awareness of some visiting dancers, of some tourists in general, can be truly frightening.
    I'm living in the Middle East, have done for many years, so I hope you'll understand why I'll remain anonymous.
    Thank you for writing this Charlotte, its long overdue.

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  49. I have to disagree with you when you say that you don't blame men who think this way. We should blame them and hold them responsible, or nothing changes. In the civil rights movement in this country thousands of people had grown up hearing a certain point of view, and were still able to stand up and fight because that point of view was wrong. This treatment of women is just as wrong, and those people are just as responsible for their beliefs.

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  50. I have to disagree with you when you say that you don't blame men who think this way. We should blame them and hold them responsible, or nothing changes. In the civil rights movement in this country thousands of people had grown up hearing a certain point of view, and were still able to stand up and fight because that point of view was wrong. This treatment of women is just as wrong, and those people are just as responsible for their beliefs.

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  51. Thank you for sharing this, Charlotte, not only for your own strength and bravery, but for giving other women the chance and the voice to speak out about what they have experienced.

    It's hard to believe and even harder to swallow the idea that these attitudes to women persist in any country, not just the Arabic world, but seeing the comments here shows that this is not as uncommon (or extinct) as it should be. I hope that we can change these attitudes. No women, no person should have to experience this.

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  52. Charlotte you are an inspiration - to carry on and not be bitter and not let this poison your love of all things related to your dance. Thank you for sharing this, you have helped so many people by speaking out about it.

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  53. I really can't thank you all enough for your beautiful, thoughtful and supportive comments. I was very frightened posting this story - I just didn't know how it would be received. But I've been overwhelmed by the positive responses from women and men all over the world, not only here, but on Facebook too. I've had literally hundreds of wonderful, supportive messages.

    Thank you so much for commenting and thank you too the many people who have shared my story on their own blogs and Facebook pages.

    I'm glad now that I posted it - it seems to have struck a chord with many women and many have said that the issue should be debated. I doubt that the shocking treatment of women that we see all over the world will change in my own lifetime, but maybe, just maybe one day they will. But only if we speak up and speak out.

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  54. Yes, Charlotte, you should be glad you had the courage to post this as well as the courage to overcome this experience and even rise above it. I strongly agree with the posters who pointed out that the attitude towards women in the Middle East and India is simply unacceptable. Although it's politically incorrect to say so, it seems there's a great deal of violence, especially towards women, associated with Islam. One uplifting aspect of the reporter's gang rape in Egypt (I think her name is Laura) is that she says she was saved by a wave of Egyptian women in the crowd who had the courage to stand up to their countrymen by surrounding her. Once again, Charlotte, I thank you and praise you and wish you the very very best.

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  55. Hi Charlotte,

    I am so, so sorry for what you went through, and my heart truly goes out to you.

    BUT...........

    There are quite a few aspects of your blog post that I personally feel you have no business repeating, regardless of whether they are true or not.

    You has no business mentioning YS by name and repeating what NS has been saying online. You weren't there and nobody knows except for those two exactly what happened. It is not your business to repeat it.

    You has also no business repeating what a friend told you about being raped.

    It doesn't take a genuis to work out who you are publlicly accusing of being a SERIAL rapist. Unless it was admitted publicly by the man or proved beyond a shadow of doubt in a court of law and the man was convicted, which hasn't happened - you are in danger of getting herself in a whole load of big trouble.

    I care about you Charlotte and I wouldn't want to see you in hot water.

    This is now being talked about on a number of forums Charlotte and I do think you should address it.

    Nikki Brown

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    1. Well that was rather harsh, don't you think? She doesn't have to address anything. This woman is beyong brave for writing what she did. You should be ashamed for being so self-righteous and demeaning to someone who just laid their heart bare.

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    2. I'm not a genious and I don't have a clue who she is talking about.There is no names and very little description...so how do you know?!

      Also I don't see the harm at all about repeating what is already been said publicly by others. That's one of the purposes of social networks, sharing links and the internet. Isn't it?

      ET

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    3. Nikki Brown, I had not thought of what you are implying until you said it, and I dare say many people would not either.

      It is you who have made a bad choice there!

      Delete
  56. This is an extremely couragous post. It is desperately sad that these attitudes and behaviours continue in so much of the world (as a British Asian I can say that unfortunately the perception and treatment of women is much the same as is the attitude toward Western women). It is vital that women stand together against this and the we reach out mothers and fathers to educate the next generation of boys across the world that it is NEVER EVER acceptable to rape. That you have overcome this terrible ordeal and become dancer, teacher, mentor and someone who respects other cultures is a testament to you.

    What is awful too is the fact that so many Western men still hold the antiquated view of belly dancers as some kind of lacivious harem fantasy and that many women who dance feel they cannot mention it to their colleagues or male acquaintences with out receiving a barrage of sleazy comments. It is these attitudes all over the world which need to be challenged. Thank you for your bravery Charlotte.

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  57. Really applaud your post, Charlotte.

    As a British woman having lived in Bahrain for 18 years followed by Egypt (from 1995 till today) I think I'm pretty well qualified on this topic too!

    I came to this part of the world with such romanticised ideals - all of which have been eroded or shot down by bitter experience.

    Even my Egyptian husband of 25 years lumps all the ladies in his past together as "women who were there to take care of him" rather than seeing them as individual people.
    And this is a man who lived abroad working as an economist with a top US investment bank, certainly not an uneducated village lad.

    It will take decades - if ever - for this ingrained attitudes to change and I fear that the present popular political stance isn't going to help the cause one bit.




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  58. Hats off! Huge, HUGE respect, Charlotte!
    Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts! I found it extremely important on more levels that I can express in one post.

    I love belly dance for being so welcoming to all shapes, sizes, ages & aesthetic tastes, for the lovely and supportive community and for helping dancers to become more happy and accepting of their bodies. I'm very proud to be a belly dancer and I mention it as a hobby in my CV. Importance of belly dance in my life grows every day and I won't allow anybody's misconceptions to affect me! But I'm aware that misconceptions do exist. They are strong enough for some of my friends to hide their dancer's alter ego from their colleagues. Or for my aunt to jokingly ask if my husband agrees for me to belly dance. Or for ignorant men to express amazement or even disgust when they hear about male belly dancers -- which contrast so much with their vision of belly dance being a female erotic dance. While that's very annoying, I belive it's a matter of time (and education) and those attitudes will change as understanding of belly dance (slowly) increases with its popularity.

    A different subject is how belly dance is percieved in the Middle Eastern countries. Here misconceptions mix with different attitudes towards women in general. Personally, I believe it's good to neither demonise, nor to idealise any culture, but to be aware of existing differences (although there are things I find absolutely unacceptable regardles of cultural background). If we're talking about safety, here's a thought: moral superiority is no defense against brutal violence -- but being able to judge and avoid the risks might be.


    Lastly, it's important to remember and remind others that rape is a horrendous crime and that perpetrators are the ones who should be ashamed and despised, never(!) the victims. When it comes to rape I do believe in "name & shame"! It is by being plain and open in our moral judgement that we can make a difference.

    --Anna Zaremba

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  59. Naming and shaming convicted rapists I support.

    This is obviously a highly emotive issue - BUT it is important to have "just the facts, ma'am".

    What I cannot support is the public naming and repeating potentially slanderous allegations against someone who has not been convicted of any offence in a court of law.

    It's potentially defamation and can lead to a witch hunt.

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    1. I did not fully explain my opinions as that would take too much space! I generally agree with what you said, with some "buts" here and there.


      If somebody has not been convicted, then "naming and shaming" is both morally and legally questionable. False accusation of rape is a crime and can cause tremendous and long term damage for the falsely accused. On the other hand, I can't refuse victims all moral rights to inform the public about their harm. In Western countries victims usually know their rapists, so the presumption of innocence can cause all sorts of additional harm to the victim. Plus, the fact that somebody hasn't been convicted of rape means that the evidence was judged to be insufficient for the conviction -- which is not the same as proving that the rape hasn't happened.
      Vera Baird, the solicitor general: "We have probably put so much emphasis on the criminal justice process ... that the needs of the human being who's suffered this appalling violation come second."
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/mar/15/rape-conviction-rates-solicitor-general


      The next issue is that a woman in London still has relatively high chance of getting her justice*, unlike a woman in Cairo. There are places where women can actually get into trouble by reporting a rape --> and these are the places where the presumption of innocence simply doesn't make sense. In societies that blames women for rapes public "name and shame" won't happen --> but these are the places where it's even more important to be clear that: rape is ALWAYS bad and if a woman doesn't explicitely agree to sex, then it's ALWAYS a rape.


      * apparently 58% IF the case reaches court, but mane cases never reach court, not to mention than many cases are never reported... numbers from the article in guardian mentioned above.

      --Anna Zaremba

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    2. The idea that survivors aren't allowed to name their abusers publicly unless a court found them guilty is a sick joke at the expense of the victim.

      Go and volunteer at the your local rape crisis centre and see how you feel after a couple of weeks.

      Delete
  60. A huge thank you Charlotte and the other ladies here who have shared their stories and shone the light on this dark corner of our dance. As a mother who has been blessed with a beautiful, talented daughter, who shares a love of Bellydance, I am grateful to all those who taught me about the realities of travelling the world as a dancer. Of course I still have nightmares as she sends me a quick text to say she is in the back of a taxi on the other side of the world on her way to a last minute gig. But I know she knows. I know she knows that not everyone will respect her, not everyone will support her, not everyone knows she is just dancing tonight. I know she can turn down cash for extras without causing a scene. She knows that it is better to leave without her money than stay too long. She knows how to dress like a professional, how to avoid drinks and being split up from her minder. Of course I would like her to live in a world where she can do just as she damn well chooses - dress how she likes, talk to anyone. But I know, and so does she, that by taking the name of the Bellydancer she takes on an attitude that no one dancer can change. It is one of the wonders of this dance that we all love it so much. We love it so hard that we will carry on dancing when people look away in disgust, or tell us it is sinful. I wish that I could have been a mum to some of you who have shared your stories, and been beside you when you needed a Tiger. What we can all do is to support and teach each new dancer we meet how to be safe and how to continue on with the drip, drip that will change peoples attitude sometime in the future.

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  61. Unfortunately, majority of the muslim countries have turned back to the age of the ignorant and intolerance. So much hatred in their propagandas. Women are considered 2nd class humans according to their interpretation of their holy book. Give me an Islamic country that preach human rights and same equality for all genders if you can.

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  62. Thank you for sharing your story. It made me think about my experiences. Rape transcends all cultural barriers. Yes there is a huge problem in Egypt, especially after the revolution. But the problem is rampant everywhere. My friend was gang raped at a party in the US by white guys. Sexual molestation within families is sickly common in the modern world. Its a sickness of the mind that inhabits dark place in most cultures. Yes the Middle East has alot of work to do concerning women's rights but the truth is we can all learn from the lesson.

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  63. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom with us. Despite your horrific experience you continue to live your life and enjoy the world of Middle Eastern Dance. You have the critical ability to separate those incidences from good experiences that life has afforded you--that takes intelligence, emotional maturity, and courage. The cold hard facts you so boldy stated are placed on a silver platter for today's dancers to benefit from. I was married to a very open-minded Middle Eastern man, but boy did things change when he took me to Egypt to meet his family. While I was never abused or mistreated, there was this unmistakable aura of being perceived as a second class citizen by not only his family but by society, moreso in Egypt than in the Gulf (for me.) Women need to listen to these stories and BELIEVE them.

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  64. And that is why I love tribal bellydance..not looking to the Arab world for approval....bellydance is not middle eastern anyway

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  65. I can't add anything to the comments already said, except your story moved me to the core. So very sorry to hear what happened and I'm amazed you managed to continue any interest at all in the dance after that. Congratulations for your continued courage . XXX

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  66. It is a horrfic story but what especially concerns me as a uk dancer is the whole 'rapist in our midst' aspect whom for understandable reasons cannot be named and shamed. Dancers host dancers and musicians who they may not know but are 'known'and therefore considered 'safe'. As much as there are legal and moral reasons for not naming and shaming what can be done in the bellydance community to safeguard dancers? Its a diffcult area. My issue is also if you are publically naming individuals who are meant to epitomise 'good practice' dancers will consequently seek them out based on these recomendations you have to ensure they live up to the rep you are giving them.... one named individual certainly does not and again is this because of a certain lack of honest or open communication in our community? It is such a thorny and morally ambiguous issue and it is hard to see how we can disclose important information about individuals without fear of it being seen as malicious tittle tattle or defamation.

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    1. This has also been on my mind a lot over the last couple of days. Not sure what we can do within the law, except encourage victims of inappropriate or abusive behaviour to go to the police, and to be supportive of them if/when they do... I think dancers do already warn each other about people who are known to be 'dodgy' in some way where possible, but this only helps dancers who are active within the scene or network a lot and actually hear the warnings - those who are less involved can easily just remain blissfully ignorant until they blunder into a bad experience :(

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  67. Thank you this post and for your bravery in speaking out!

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  68. I see that you deleted my earlier post, so I will re-state. You mentioned that people were contacting you with their stories about a specific individual. If this is the case, please advise them to contact the local authorities. If there is a serial predator in the area who preys on belly dancers specifically, please advise the victims to go to the authorities.

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  69. I couldn't even begin to talk about this subject without going off on a tangent so I'll resist because I have a lot of studying to do. This posting made me cry. Thank you, Charlotte, for sharing. I've been trying to find mention of the Yousry Sharif scandal online but can't. Where did you hear or get this from? I'd like to be able to read the info from the primary source. It's important because I have taken workshops with him and one of the prominent dancer's in my community is one of his star pupils. I'd like to be able to make my own decision on the issue, if you would be so kind as to point me in the right direction.
    Otherwise, I wish you the best and along with you hope that the attitude about belly dance changes dramatically in our life time to a more positive one!!

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    1. Dear Rosemary, his wife, Nourhan Sharif, wrote about it publicly on her Facebook page at the time (about two years ago). She also wrote on my own Facebook page on Tuesday as a result of my blog posting. You'll find it within the responses on my page. She says she is writing a book about her experiences but I'm not sure when that will be published.

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    2. Thanks for replying, Charlotte. And I'm sorry that you've been exposed to such a backlash of negative comments. You can't make anyone happy these days and these comments popping up now are exactly the reason that victims of rape all over the world including the western world will not contact authorities. They become victims all over again!!

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  70. Dear Charlotte and other victims of rape, thank you for sharing your stories and the courage you took in describing the events. This must make every woman's blood boil and feel scared at first.. We must, as women support one another at all times, we will soon realise who is telling the truth and will continue to support them through their healing process. Many brave and scared have hidden this for many years. But it just shows how ingrained and deep rooted this Islamic culture is..ME mothers must try to change the perception and install in their son's that raping women is not right...Unbelievable stories, my heart goes out to all. Learn to follow your instincts, it may help. So it seems that it makes no difference if women are covered from head to toe then.?

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    1. if it is so ingrained why were there fellow Egyptians helping her? sweeping generalisations dont help anybody.

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    2. Just wow at your comment that all Muslims are rapists, just wow!

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    3. then perhaps you need to re read the blog and subsequent comments. I havent read anywhere the comment that "all muslims are rapist", except that is, your very own comment just now.

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  71. I was forcibly kissed by a waiter at Shisha Oui as 'payment' for getting my CD back. At the time I dismissed it as him being an asshole but all this hysteria is making me re-evaluate.

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    1. yeah, cos the white man would never do that!!!!! omg!!!!!

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    2. This has nothing to do with his ethnicity and everything do with the fact it was a gig arranged by Charlotte and I was curious about her reaction. It was prompted by a discussion on facebook about assults other than rape.

      When I said 're-evalutate' I meant whether I should have dismissed it sas 'one of those things' as i did or made more of a fuss about it.

      I'm not at all comfortable with the 'arab bashing' message either.

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    3. In response to "yeah, coz the white man would never do that!!)....No-one said that the waiter was non-white. You have just shown yourself to portray racist sterotyping; YOU assumed that the waiter had to be non-white, no one else did! Classic!!

      Delete
  72. I have been picked up and flug over a mans shoulder and forcibly pinned against a wall until i struggled free, Ive been trapped inside an apartment i was trying to rent out to a prospective tenant until i escaped... ive had my skirts lifted, flashed at, worked in cafe where a man was wanking in the corner looking at me....guess the ethnic origin of all these men yep they were WHITE BRITISH!!!!! If the mans race did not seem like a factor at the time and it was actually because he was a perv trying it on then perhaps it was just that.

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    1. This is the only comment worth reading.

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    2. Nobody said this was about race.

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  73. I do hope there isn't too much hysteria being drummed up but I can see that as the days have gone on a few people have become very angry. I understand that some people in the Arabic community are very upset with me, but I've tried to make it very clear that I still love the Egyptians, despite what happened to me.

    I would also like to say that yes, rape and sexual abuse happens in every community. But, for example, if the abuse that happened within the Catholic Church had been rejected because it showed Catholics in a bad light, there would still be many people being sexually abused by Catholic priests.

    I know that men in other cultures, including my own, rape and abuse women. But I cannot ignore the fact that there is an attitude within the Arab culture that Western women are sexually available to any man and that bellydancers are akin to prostitutes. Many Western bellydancers are not aware of that and I think they should know, so that they behave appropriately and keep themselves safe.

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    1. There is still Rape an abuse and pedophelia in some catholic church...just in case you thought it was over!
      There are SOME Arab men who do look at DANCERS as prostitutes and the fact that they are western Dancers does not change anything as they have the same ideas about Arab dancers also...andI can argue that we can find the same perspective in SOME western men also!
      And for the people with the post above Blaming MUSLIM MEN, I would say...ignorance is a bliss.
      I know that being raped must be a very Hard experience and I am really sorry that it happened to you in Egypt but I will be as sorry if it happened in the UK (where Rape do exist) or anywhere in the world.
      Rosie

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    2. Perhaps it is inevitable that your post unleashed a lot of strong emotions, Charlotte, including anger. Rape should make us angry. What matters is that we channel that energy into something that will make a positive difference. The reminder to women to be aware of the attitudes that men (in many cultures) might have to them is a wise one. People might also like to consider helping organisations that seek to strengthen women's voices around the world, like Womankind http://www.womankind.org.uk/(or, of course local rape crisis and domestic violence charities, which are really struggling at the moment amid cutbacks.) Anger can be a very good thing, propelling us into action for good.

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    3. Well said, excellent comment.

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  74. Well written, well stated and excellent, excellent advice. I can't tell you how sorry I am to read of your experience. The brave honesty you put forth in sharing and the warning you send out to others empower you to reclaim your spirit from those who would break it. You have used your voice very, very well.
    Over a decade ago I read the book, "A Trade Like Any Other" about female singers and dancers in Egypt. It completely supports what you have said and I am bitterly disappointed that in the time since the book was researched and written it appears that no progress has been made in regard to Egyptian social taboos about dancing and female entertainers.
    I feel so blessed to be able to belly dance freely in America and will continue to support this lovely dance form in any way that I can. I do however, realize that dancers and females in any country are not immune to this sort of stereotyping and abuse and should always keep their guard up.

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  75. I think you are inciting racial hatred.

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    1. Why?? Because she was raped by men from the middle east??
      She has not said anything that would contravene UK racial hatred laws. Infact, she has gone out her way to say that the majority of men from the middle east are not abusers, as well as saying that abuse happens in the uk. The 'moral' of the tale is that women should take precautions when in the middle east. I have been told that by several high profile uk dance teachers. So why is she to be slated for writing in her blog, what has been said many times verbally to hundreds of other dancers??

      Delete
    2. As far as I can see, Charlotte has gone out of her way to *avoid* inciting racial hatred (and I've seen some discussions elsewhere where she's being slated for being too soft on the perpetrators, so it seems she can't win either way...).

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  76. Before we all start judging other nations, we should look at the problems within our own countries and culture, before we are quick to judge others. Good and bad exists everywhere. Look at the stats for violence against women world wide before judgement is made.

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    1. This doesn't make sense. This is a problem which directly affects us and our personal safety as dancers, and as such should be addressed. Nobody is saying we don't also have issues with British or American men, in fact I think some people have mentioned this too in the comments, and most of the discussions of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards dancers that I've seen in the past have tended to focus on Western men who think we're strippers or have weird fantasies about us...

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  77. Charlotte has put her head above the parapet and this has caused some people to react negatively to her blog. Am I the only person who thinks these people are spineless by hiding behind "anonymous" profiles?? Are they so scared of being accountable too?

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  78. Thank you for posting this Charlotte-you're really brave and what a horrific experience you endured! I think making people aware of this is the first step to changing attitudes towards belly dance. I have heard some awful stories about this sort of thing as my best friend lives in Egypt but I had no idea it was this bad or that Western women were the target. I was contemplating visiting her in Cairo on my own next year, but after reading your blog I think I will take my boyfriend with me :$

    I went to Turkey a few weeks ago and the culture is much the same there. I wanted to buy a belly dance costume so I asked at the hotel reception if there were any shops nearby that would specialise in this and the man on reception looked at me disgusted. I was also surprised to see absolutely no Turkish women walking around there-it is a very patriarchal culture and I got odd looks if I was walking around souvenir shopping on my own. My boyfriend was also congratulated for 'putting up with me' by the very sexist Turkish spa manager when I asked what a Turkish bath was. Apparently women are not meant to ask questions???

    Clare x



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    1. Oh God now the Turks....
      I am too tired with exasperation to comment fully...but really. You mean you've experienced no sexists in good old blighty? I wonder where programmes like Wife Swap get their lazy/sexist/mysogenistic hubbies from.... perhaps Channel 4 ships em in from the Middle East....

      I hope tourists have not come here, had a waiter say something about keeping their wife behind the kitchen sink which then prompts said tourist to post about the sexism that is rife in the country in relation to a blog about gang rape.

      btw I live half the time out in Turkey and not had any issues.

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    2. Sounds like the Turkish spa manager was mocking you for not knowing what a Turkish bath was! I mean, c'mon really? lol

      Delete
  79. Rachel Fitz-Desorgher1 September 2012 at 14:00

    Hi Charlotte
    I am JUST back from Cub Camp and have discovered this thread. As your sister I know absolutely that you love Egypt and the people, do not have a racist bone in your body and are one of the most sensitive, caring people I know. It must have been an incredibly difficult decision to post your story which you kept to yourself for decades.
    The negative posts come from people with their own issues and agendas and they do not know you. Neither have they taken time to read the posts fully and thoroughly. If they had then they would have noticed that no one has sought to say that only Muslim men are rapists, that ALL Muslim men are rapists or to incite racial hatred.
    You simply told your story and warned others that belly dancers in parts of the world are treated very badly. This is a terrible, shocking state of affairs. There is not the time, space or need to discuss all the other shocking and terrible crimes committed by people all over the world, including the UK in order to show balance. It is, quite simply, ludicrous to suggest that you cannot point out that the treatment of women is much worse in some countries than in others. For example, I know, absolutely, that some countries still circumcise girls but it is lillegal in the Uk. I feel no need at all to hide my horror and disgust at those countries which still tolerate such practices.
    It is perfectly fine to highlight human abuse in other countries without always having to then list the bad things that happen in the UK.

    We are very lucky in this country that we are free to discuss these issues and, to those posters who would like to silence my sister and other women - look to yourselves and your issues. Ask why you feel the need to silence strong, independent women. What is your fear? Address that ...

    Charlotte, over 90% of posters are supportive of you and your position. That should tell you all you need to know. You are the most amazing woman I know.
    Big sisterly hugs
    Rach xxx

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    1. can you please clarify exactly who the posters who want to silence your sister are? I understand that you feel protective towards your sister but some of your comments are frankly bizarre and it feels youre just trying to create division between people who have legitimate concerns over some of the content of the blog and/or the reactions of people (sorry the fearful silencers with secret issues?????) and those lovely posters who love free speech but oh... also happen to support your sister (which means what exactly? Im sure virtually everyone sympathises with what she went through, but this blog discussion goes beyond that). If people who 'support' charlotte are now saying things like 'ME mothers must try to change the perception and install in their son's that raping women is not right...' are you expecting people to just stay silent? Yes blow the horns for free speech but god forbid you disagree...

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    2. I agree with the above poster... you are ref further up the thread, a poster stated ''that it's so ingrained in Islamic culture, ME mothers must try to change the perception and install in their son's that raping women is not right...'' With a comment like that no wonder people have reacted! I know Charlotte didn't make this comment, but I'm dumbfounded at this comment....

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    3. OK now I'm laughing at the insanity of all this...

      I just read further down that Charlotte had deleted one of her posts and the replies because a couple of people were highly offended by it.

      In Charlotte's sisters words...

      " Ask why you feel the need to silence strong, independent women. What is your fear? Address that ..."

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  80. Dear Charlotte, and also all the other barve women who have shared their stories here,

    I read this blog first time a few days ago. Since then, there are lots of thoughts going around in my head. Memories of things I've seen, heard, read, experienced. After all the years (24 of them) with this dance, and knowledge and experience about the culture, I still have been clinging onto certain idealism about it. Trying to nullify the signs, and things I know, because of not wanting to see the things as they are, out of fear it would taint the love I have for Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries I've visited, and their cultures and people.

    But knowledge is power, and when used correctly, can only make things better and brighter. So I thank you, Charlotte, for opening my eyes even more, and making me shed the last veil of naivety. And thank you for your courage in sharing your harrowing story!

    Big power hugs to you xxx

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  81. Reading the comments and Charlotte's facebook page I have concerns that comments have been deleted, or people have been blocked to get rid of their posts. I read the other posters comments both here and on Facebook before they were deleted - there were no personal attacks, no vindictive name calling.

    Do you really believe in free speech Charlotte and helping those poor women who have been attacked?

    Shame on you.

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    1. Dear Anonymous. I am very happy to clarify why I deleted three posts here. I wrote something that someone strongly objected to. Someone else reacted in agreement. I thought about it and decided that maybe they were right so I deleted my post. The second two referred to the first one so I deleted those too so that there was no reference to the subject at all.

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    2. Hmmm posting something that caused objection to the point that you realised you were wrong, but you won't keep it up for everyone to see....? Did you respond to the clarification post and named some people, realised you were wrong, so now their names must have been put out there, some people may have read it and the accused are none the wiser??? Is this the case?? I really hope not. If so these individuals need to know what was said about them. I would advise anyone who has seen the posts and if it referred to specific individuals to contact them to let them know....

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    3. And as another point... why did you keep up the comments critcising this removal but only commented now on what you have done? Thereby de-contextualising their comments so they may appear critical???

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    4. Charlotte did not mention anyone by name in that particular post.

      She said that some UK dancers had e-mailed them to tell her their stories, and that it all named the same man.

      She invited anyone else who would like to tell her anything in confidence to e-mail her via her hipsinc address.

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    5. Did you tell the people who were offended that you thought you may have been wrong Charlotte?

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    6. Also there have been many others said blogged here that people have been upset and offended by. Why delete that *one*, particular post and the replies,so there was no reference to it?

      ???

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    7. Regardless of who is wrong and who is right and who wrote what and who deleted whatnot, I'm quite astonished and open-mouthed at how visibly bitchy you're all being to Charlotte. For the record, I don't even know her, but I know enough to realise you all sound like arseholes.

      THIS WOMAN HAS JUST REVEALED TO THE PUBLIC THAT SHE WAS GANG RAPED 30 YEARS AGO - think about what courage and emotional effort that must have taken. You can clearly see that she has also made every effort to give a thoughtful, balanced view on the topic. It is abundantly clear that she has meant no harm to anybody. The negative posts towards her come across as pinickity for the sake of it.

      Frankly, you all sound like wankers.

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    8. Excellent response!!! Couldn't have put it better myself!! :)

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    9. Being concerned about dancer privacy, decontexualised comments and undeserved slurs on dancer reputation on a public blog did not deserve such vitriolic and ludicrous responses. How is that 'Pinickity'? Wankers? really???? Christine and the last Anonymous please stick to the topic at hand and write your comments accordingly- the only name calling has been from yourselves. The hypocrasy of your comments astound me and I'm glad I finally posted because you are showing your true selves.

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    10. Now, can I just make one thing absolutely crystal clear. This is not a public forum, it is my personal blog. My personal space. And just as I will not tolerate unkindness, bitchiness and bullying in my classes or in my home, I will not tolerate it here, on my blog. I chose to allow comments and, unlike most bellydance blogs, I chose not to review and moderate comments before they are published. However, I totally reserve the right to take down any comments for whatever reason I choose. And there is no reason on God’s earth why I should have to justify my reasons. My space, my rules.

      I made a decision early on not to respond to nasty comments because I didn’t want to fuel the fire . However, that has left wonderful supportive women like Christine Wood and my sister exposed to aggression as they tried to stand up for me.

      It has been a very harrowing time for me over the last week. And to get up, after yet another night without sleep, to find people saying on Facebook forums around the world that I wrote my story to get publicity for myself and drive extra traffic to my blog or to see people being aggressive towards me on this page has been very, very hard.

      I will not allow myself and my friends to be bullied. And from now on I will take down any comments that are unkind to anyone. And I won’t give any reason why.

      And all of you, don’t allow yourself to be bullied anywhere – in the ‘real’ world or the virtual one. And don’t let people try to tell you that you are wrong for trying to stop someone else being hurt. Sticking up for someone who you know is in pain is a kind and decent act. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

      This section of the comments is now closed.

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  82. Comments deleted and people blocked for writing "terrible things" Charlotte?

    You've publicly claimed that some people have committed some very serious crimes.

    Ask yourself honestly *who* has written terrible things Charlotte. I think you'll find the answer lies much closer to home.

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  83. Rachel Fitz-Desorgher1 September 2012 at 19:26

    I have four sons. I have brought them up to know from the earliest age that it is never right to hurt anyone or anything. Neither me nor Charlotte have suggested that there are not serious problems in this country with crimes against women or that there is no sexism - I have my own stories to tell. This does not actually mean that the comment about ME mothers needing to educate their sons was not valid. I believe that all mothers across the world AND dads actually, have a duty to educate their sons AND daughters about rape and other crimes. The issue is that the poster writing about "ME" mothers could have missed out the ME bit and just said "mothers"? However, I doubt (but don't know) that the poster was saying that ME mothers needed to educate their sons but all other Mums needn't worry! This is kind of what I mean by "issues and agendas". It is very frustrating to try and condemn an atrocity and then have someone say "what about atrocities in your own back yard". Just because someone shouts about one crime, it doesn't mean that they are blind about other crimes! And sorry if my last post contained some "bizarre" comments -I have re-read and can't see anything weird. Also, I can't find anything asking posters to be silenced. Apologies if that was what came across. Like my sister, I have no desire to offend anyone or silence anyone. I understand that Charlotte has not deleted blog messages but removed messages which were sent to her personally. I continue to applaud my sister for opening up an issue which is still so little talked about and still so poorly dealt with right across the world. As a woman who has worked as a midwife for thirty years, I know that one in four women in the UK suffer abuse and am looking forward to the day when women feel safe wherever they live.

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  84. Again, so many anonymous haters. Where is your spine? Stand up and be counted if you are so passionate about your views. Or are you afraid of losing out on dance gigs or people not going on your dance holidays if you are seen to be so vociferous?? I suspect that you are one and the same person (or best buddies with each other if more than one). And I would guess that if Charlotte HAD removed some previous posts (yes I saw them too), then it was in a vain attempt to quell the hysteria that that person (not Charlotte) incited. I have been told several times, by high profile UK dance teachers that there is a negative view on bellydancers and western women in Egypt (THEY mentioned Egypt because that was the subject under discussion...egyptian dance). Charlotte has merely repeated the same message about being careful in Egypt. Other blog posters have sought to make more damning statements about a whole race. So, if that message was wrong then perhaps those high profile teachers (who are probably your own peers), then the message they are giving out should be changed.

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  85. I've known for a long time that belly dance may not be seen, by some or most, in a positive way in Turkey and Egypt. I think a lot of women are wrapped in an Orientalist fantasy and have a shock when they travel to the Egypt etc, beliveing all the natives will love them as they belly dance! it's best to find out as much history and culture about a country before visiting, do your research first!
    Time and time again I read about western women banging on about teaching culture etc, but to be honest all this has brought to light imo, how these same women have no understanding at all of the culture. How can the cultural side of it be taught be westerners how have never even been to the native lands? That's the 1st part of understanding. Experience for yourself, don't put your ideals onto others, we need to understand the cultural differences, accept, learn and love each other.

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  86. I just wanted to say thank you for making this post. It gave me the chills as I read it, but it is important that it is out there no matter what people say. I used to be the one who had to break the news to outgoing study abroad students that "Hey, please don't go to this country with a romantic image of it or you wont have fun." And I think this was very important for me to read as someone who is new to belly dance and to someone who is considering traveling in the Middle East and Egypt.

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  87. Wow...I am speechless Christine Wood. If you are so sure who the anonymous "haters" are, then why you don't YOU grow a spine and openly say who "they are" instead of making indirect, veiled accusations such as " Or are you afraid of losing out on dance gigs or people not going on your dance holidays if you are seen to be so vociferous??

    I suspect that you are one and the same person (or best buddies with each other if more than one)."

    Rather than deal with guesses and suspicions, lets talk about the facts. I'm sure as an ex-police officer with 22 years experience, you'd appreciate dealing with with the actual facts, rather than rumour and conjecture, no?

    Charlotte says in her blog above..

    "There is a firm conviction amongst Arab men that all Western women are sexually rapacious – desperate for sex with any man, at any time of the day or night.

    I don’t actually blame these men for their attitudes – if you have been told something all your life, of course you will believe it. And this belief in the sexual rapaciousness of Western women, compounded by a belief that only bad women dance in public, is all pervasive and very, very strong.


    to say that many Arab men think we are sluts for being Western AND bellydancers"


    I continue...

    "And it has been going on for years much closer to home. In our very own bellydance community. Not gang rape as far as I’m aware, but the sexual abuse of Western dancers by certain Arab men who believe that all dancers are sluts and are asking for it.

    In America last year there was a high profile scandal when the wife of Yousry Sharif – one of the best known and most respected Egyptian dance teachers in the world – accused him of years of physical and sexual abuse. And shockingly she said that he had always made it clear to her that he believed that all Western women who bellydance are sluts (yes, those same women who give him his living as a bellydance teacher). Furthermore, she challenged all women married to Arab men to acknowledge that their husbands despise Western women."

    "But I also know of shocking incidents in our own UK bellydance community. One of my closest friends was raped several years ago by a prominent member of the community.

    This man then told her friends, other dancers and even some potential employers that she had come on to him and begged him for sex. She was so traumatised by the event that for two years she wouldn’t leave the house alone. And I understand it has happened to others."

    Where's the evidence? Where is the proof? I'm not suggesting for one moment that anyone is lying, but this would be better off being dealt in a court trial rather than a public internet trial, rather than spreading rumours and hearsay.

    And as you're an ex-police officer, I'm sure you appreciate that, no? Perhaps you could please do something positive and use your police experience to post a few tips publicy about reporting rape and how best to go about it, and where women who have suffered this appalling violation could get some trained support and help to carry theirselves forward and put anyone who may have raped or sexually abused them behind bars.

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  88. "anonymous"...you werent 'quite' speechless, but, never mind because discussion is good.
    Firstly, in relation to the "anonymous haters" comment. I formed this opinion due to the comments made on this blog and comments made at similar timeframes on other threads and groups. The phrases used here and elsewhere were, at times verbatim, and at others so similar that only the odd word or phrase was different. I have even read that Charlotte was wrong to say anything at a time when the dance economy here and Cairo was suffering already and that this blog was the final nail in the coffin and that theirs and others dance related businesses were being put under financial strain. Quite incredible that Charlotte should have to shoulder that blame. As I said, I have my suspicions on who those anonymous people are but Im not voicing those suspicions as I dont believe that would be healthy. My purpose in my comments was to hopefully make them think about their own conduct on this blog. If I touched on some home truths with either yourself or any one else, then perhaps that was a good thing. I have noticed soon after my comments that some of those people I had thought of began to comment less harshly towards Charlotte in other threads. Perhaps it was coincidence.

    Yes, I was a police officer for many years. But as a human being, I hate to see anyone being vilified for sticking up for themselves or doing something that wasnt wrong. The comments made here by some people (only some of which have been removed) and made in other threads against both Charlotte as a person and her comments, were unjustified. Many people have tried to redress the balance but a certain few have continually conducted themselves in a negative way over this. That is why I chose to stick up for both Charlotte and things mentioned in her blog and comments made by others.

    In relation to a "public internet trial"...I havent seen this. No one was been named so how could they be put on public trial. But perhaps you know who they are because you already have your suspicions because of that persons past behaviour. I dont know. I can think of at least half a dozen high profile males in the dance community that this may refer to and I am anything but active in the dance community myself. So I am sure there are many more that I dont know of. Im certainly not singling out one person as being the culprit because of this blog. If there is a serial abuser out there, then hopefully as a result of all this, women out there will at least be cautious and not just assume that everyone is safe to be around. We are brought up to be wary when outside but perhaps we should also be careful with those we choose to interact with on a hobby or business venture. For that is when our guard is down and we are at our most vulnerable. Surely that's a good message to reiterate.

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  89. (I had to cut and paste due to the size of my response, sorry!)

    In relation on advising rape victims on what to do. I am the last person to tell anyone on what they SHOULD do after suffering personal sexual violence. That is a very personal journey for them to consider. Rape victims don't have to report to the police...that takes a very special kind of strength. However, if anyone does decide to go to the police then the best thing is for them to phone in to their nearest police control centre to report. By doing that, rather than just walking into the station, they will be at least afforded the opportunity to go into their account at length at a time when a suitably trained officer is free to help. They are not always based at your local police station.

    There are many charities in the UK that can assist with victims. If the victim doesnt want to make a formal complaint then these charities can help them with emotional and sometimes practical support. Some of these charities also offer an advocacy service. That means that they will arrange an advocate to be with the person if they do decide to report to the police. (Some women choose to report to the police after receiving extensive support from these charities.) Some people find that very useful and I have seen the benefit to having an advocate speak up for their clients in domestic abuse and child abuse cases in the past.

    There are many on the internet but the most high profile charity is www.rapecrisis.org.uk

    www.rightsofwomen.org.uk have lots of useful links on their website offering all sorts of support, not just in relation to sexual violence.

    www.karmanirvana.org.uk are a charity based in the midlands who offer support to those women who have been abused (sexual, domestic, emotional etc) and fear that they are at continued risk from their close and extended family and community by making a complaint in the first place. This is often refered to as honour based violence but I appreciate not everyone will be happy with this description (not sure I am either but its what is used nationally by support agencies at this time). I have worked on cases in the past with Karma Nirvana and have seen the tremendous support they offer. This ranges from telephone support all the way through to advocacy, financial assistance and refuge placement.

    Hopefully, this will be of some help. And I do honestly and sincerely hope that all this negativity will calm down. It hasnt been helpful to anyone; not to Charlotte, not to the rape victim(s), the middle eastern community or their families.





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    1. Christine, thanks for rising above the continued nastiness and taking the time to respond with all this helpful information :)

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    2. Thank you for doing that Christine. That's the most sensible, appropriate thing that has been said so far.

      Now Charlotte has put herself in contact with the ladies who were raped, perhaps she could be so kind as to e-mail that to them.

      I do hope that they can get the support they need.

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    3. You're welcome. And I'm sure she assisting them in any way that she can.

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  90. Dear Charlotte,

    I'm deeply sorry and touched by your post. Thank you for sharing it, it was very brave of you. People need to know that unfortunately this happens and it is not only a rumour or prejudice.

    Unfortunately it is not just the men. Most women in Islamic countries are the first to point the finger at what is "immoral" behaviour in their eyes. Women in these countries are 150 years late in the struggle for their independence from Men. Until they start a movement themselves for equal rights and sexual freedom they will continue to be submissive and seen as second class citizens.

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  91. Thanks for sharing this. I cannot bear the repression of women in Arab culture and it is something I feel very strongly about. I also think that here in the West, we still have a long way to go to have women accepted and equal but different. Still women are frowned upon for expressing the same sexual desires as men, still men can do as they please and women are labelled. We have a worldwide way to go but I am grateful to live in a society that allows me to be who I am, dress how I please and even if there is not yet equality as in women being treated in the workplace as a man would be etc, I live a pretty free life. It's brave of you and strong to have shared this.

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  92. I am so sorry for what happened to you Charlotte, I think you're very brave for sharing it. I read this article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19440656) on the BBC today about how sexual harassment of Egyptian women is becoming a serious problem. Very sad and scary.

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    1. Dear Anonymous. Thank you so much for posting this link. It says exactly what my friends who live in Egypt told me two weeks ago, which was one of the things that prompted me to write my blog.

      I also wanted to say I was at fault for not posting a link to the blog of the British student who was gang raped in Tahrir Square nine weeks ago. Here it is:
      http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/please-god-please-make-it-stop/

      I would also like to say that I think those few women saying on the internet that it's perfectly safe for a bellydancer to go out at night on her own and even into Tahrir Square, are endangering women. Yes it used to be safe, but the the blog I linked to above, plus the BBC report you've alerted us to, plus the testimony of my Cairo-based friends, suggest that at the moment it is too dangerous to do so.

      If you go to Cairo now, please go with an organised group such as Farida Adventures. But make sure you stay with the group and don't go around on your own.

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    2. Who is saying it is 'perfectly safe'? I've read that no-where, instead I fear you are(deliberately) misrepresenting people who are calling for balance and who are dismayed by the bigotry being shown to Arabs as a kneejerk reaction to your blog. To accuse these people of 'endangering women' by lying about what they said is practically slanderous. Because they recount their own experiences which have been fine as they take suitable measures regarding personal safety, whilst calling for women to be aware of the current political situation, educate themselves over social mores and be vigelent (as you should in any other city) they are therefore endangering women?!! That is shocking thing to accuse anyone of.

      Why are you not calling for balance? Given there are women who live/holiday out there and have not experienced the problems you lament, why are you not saying 'look if you do as I advise in the blog to keep safe then you can have a great time and here are some examples of women who have had no issue (and right now post revolution!)...' Instead your responses now seem so selective and anti-cairo that you are refuting your own points in the blog!!

      Oh and in relation to your comment about Tahrir in the past... Tahrir was never 'safe' as nowhere is. There is a difference between 'feeling safe' and a place 'being safe'. Classifying somehere as a definitive 'safe' place can reduce the feeling for personal responsibility and vigelence required and is an ahem 'endangering' attitude to have.

      Just to add...i am not one of the people who has been accused or even especially close to anyone who you may be misrepresenting. Merely observed from afar, read the multitude of discussions as this debacle has unfolded and as an observer I feel what you are doing so ethically wrong its untrue.

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  93. http://kissesfromkairo.blogspot.de/2012/06/politics-of-harassment.html#more

    This is a blog from an American dancer based in Cairo. She backs up what you have been saying too Charlotte, and in more graphic text. There doesn't appear to be any backlash for her blog though so I wonder if it just hasn't been widely read and shared??

    Regards
    Christine

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    1. Thank you so much for this Christine. I was just gobsmacked to read it. It says exactly what I said in my blog, but it actually comes from a Western dancer based in Cairo. That really is such a relief - to know that I wasn't over-reacting.

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  94. Thank you everyone for your kind and supportive comments over the past week. And also for the critical ones, each of which I've read and considered and, if I thought they warranted it, taken to heart.

    I've had so many incredible messages of support both here and via Facebook and personal email and I can't thank people enough for their kindness and for taking the time to write to me.

    But life has been very harrowing for me over the past week. I'm going through something big and very difficult right now and the increasingly emotional responses to this blog post are stopping me from living my life properly.

    I've also noticed on other blogs about the subject that, as the days go on, the comments become more aggressive and negative. So I've decided to close comments on this thread from now on.

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  95. Hello Charlotte thanks for sharing your experience. I believe all women should take care no matter what industry they are in. I just like to add my view on this maybe no one from the arab world has explained to you the history of belly dancing in the middle east. Belly dancing is an art and well observed by many. Now talking about belly dancers in the middle east, besides their dancing most belly dancers swap sex for money this has been gone on for many years probably even before you began belly dancing. like all places where sex is offered illegally men have taken advantage so you can't expect arab men to know the difference between western dancers and middle eastern dancers some dancers in Egypt take over 100 000 for the night so if 70% of the industry offer this then this is the majority unfortunately especially men will be small minded towards every belly dancer they meet. Now talking about the community in London (lets put everything on the table to be fair) As you speak from personal experience this is also from personal experience, this community openly have had sexual interactions with married men with men with girl friends and the belly dancers know this, a few of the dancers have sexual interactions with friends and friends of friends, they have had sex interactions with men previous dancers have been with and they know, so what do you expect will happen in a community like this? the blame cannot be put on how the man are i do apologise the times that you had before is not the same as it is today. Also to add 1 person in this community (not saying any names, we all know who he is) should not bring a bad name to a region country or culture because i believe every person should be judged according to their actions.It took over 5 years for the girls to come out and say what's been happening, why so long? Another point to add if this is true, why are people still following this person this shows you more about the belly dance community in London. All in All i no longer see the Art that this belly dance community in London offer's it is all about who met with who, who is with who, a very big case of gossip girls.

    I would like to say i am very shocked of your experience besides many people abroad the Egyptian nation 85 million are less important then foreigners before they would do something towards a foreigner they think twice one visit to the embassy can put a police man on ropes so people nor the people have the heart to even upset a foreigner, considering it was 1982 i would say from 1988 up wards these things no longer happen maybe towards arab belly dancers but again this is very rare now. I am a person whose lived in London middle east and i spent 20 yrs in Cairo. Just to let people know on t his blog why many Egyptian might not rent to belly dancers is because most belly dancers do have friends round probably practise and are free to invite friends round some people are not cool with this and i believe it's their right.

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