Child Sexual Harassment in the Islamic Republic of Iran

An Old Wound That Continues to Bleed

Recently, a vice principal in an all-boys high school in the second district in Tehran was convicted of sexual harassment toward 16 students. This scandal spread concern among the parents of the school’s student body and the country’s media outlets. Iranian media revealed that the vice principal would lure the boys by showing them pornographic videos in the school’s prayer room and his own office, after which he would harass them once they were well within his vicinities. He would also organize class trips for boys, disguising these trips as “study group” outings, when in reality he was sexually abusing these students. 
The scope and details of these crimes was revealed earlier this year when a mother of one of the victims came out and said: “My son was hostile for a number of months, so I brought him to a psychiatrist thinking that he might have a psychological illness, that’s where he finally revealed all that had happened to him in school”.  
At the present moment, there are not enough details on the exact number of victims, there are presently 17 students who are undergoing therapy, 16 of which are confirmed victims and are going through deteriorating psychological problems.  Another report claims that there are 40 sexual abuse victims. The accused abuser was arrested on May 26, after parents of victims went to the school to report him and ended up fighting with him. 
The accused perpetrator, Ha’iri Zada, has made a statement denying any claims that he sexually harassed any student, by which he said: “The case against me is about something I did last year in March, when a group of four or five students came into my office, and I unfortunately had a lot of porn videos on my phone, the boys watched these videos. After that we would exchange sexual words and phrases as an inside joke among us, nothing more happened”. 
Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s chief prosecutor has said: “The accused perpetrator is being held at the Persecutor’s Office, and has said “the perpetrator had various pornographic films on his phone, which he sent to a number of students.” He denied, however, any other illegal act from the vice principal’s part. 
One of the victim’s mothers posted a video which was widely shared on Iran’s social media platforms. In the video, she claims that the principal was too complacent on the issue, first of all he had not been keeping up to date with the case and second he had not been taking any of the parent’s complaints and concerns seriously. She instead had to complain to the Minister of Education. She added her frustration with the fact that despite the presence of cameras around the school, no one was looking over the footage or caught the perpetrator in the act. A father of another victim was also angry with the principal, who he accuses of lying to the public as well as aiding and protecting his vice principal. “The principal and vice principal purposefully turned off the cameras in the areas where the vice principal was carrying out his acts of sexual harassment”, the father said. He would then claim that the principal had previously been fired from another school, after he took part in a similar incident. 
After these videos garnered wide popularity, Iran’s Minister of Education, Mohammad Bathaei, shocked the public after he announced the principal had been suspended from his position for two years, but a final decision on his future will still be taken, this decision will probably be taken by an advisory board which will evaluate the schools in the district. 

AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI WEIGHS IN

The Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, made a statement on May 26, saying “The news of students’ sexual abuse has deeply saddened me and it is of the utmost importance that we hastily bring justice to these victims”.  But why did the Ayatollah take such an unprecedented action toward such a case? Some believe it is because of another previous case in which Said Tousi, a prominent Quran teacher with close ties to the Ayatollah was accused of sexually abusing a number of students. Said Tousi is a revered Sheik in the regime and is thought to be one of the world’s leading Quran teachers, who has dedicated his services to teach the Quran to teenagers and ensuring the youth are well versed in religious values. However, on October 1, 2016 “Sout Amreeka” channel aired a report that showed a different side to the 46 year old Sheik, the report accused him of sexual harassment based on the accounts of some of his students.
This sent shock waves around Iran, as he was one of the top associates within the Iranian regime, he was also known as the best Quran reciter in the country who had won many international Quran recitation awards and travelled to over 20 states to give workshops on Quran recitation. He had also recited the Quran in the opening ceremony of the 10thConsultative Assembly Session. 
Apparently, Said Tousi has been accused of sexually harrasing teenage students ever since 2013, but every time a case could potentially come to light, the regime would quickly cover it up. When the scandal happened, many in Iran thought that Tousi would be executed in accordance to the law of the Islamic Republic, which would find him guilty of breaking both chastity laws and committing religiously unlawful (haram) acts with teenagers. One father of the victims told “Sout Amreeka”: if the Ayatollah knows of these acts and does nothing, what are we to do?” Despite the controversy and scandal, the Sheik was acquitted and the case was closed.  
These acts committed by one of the best Quran reciters in the country for the last five years and a person who is supposed to teach children and teenagers religious values and morals reveals a big problem that Iran has with regards child sexual assault. 
It is an unfortunate fact that Iran lacks strong laws that protect children and underage victims from sexual abuse; this is evident by the frequency in which such acts occur. In 2015, another vice principal of an all boys primary school was also accused of sexually abusing three students, he was punished by getting suspended from any educational or civic position and received 100 lashes.  In another case that opened up fierce conversation around Iran, a student with special needs fell victim to a school bus driver. In South Tehran, 14 students came out and said that their P.E. teacher used to sexually abuse them, what’s worse was that he would often humiliate them by making them take off their clothes in front of each other. It is obvious that this sexual abuse of children in Iran is a domino effect that will only continue after the latest case of the 16 children falling victim to the vice principal. 
Many psychology and education experts in Iran think that it is imperative that children from a young age be taught how to detect acts of sexual harassment and the steps they can take to protect themselves. However, introducing such lessons in school might be difficult with a conservative society like Iran, as many would view them as inappropriate and contradictory to Islamic values. 
Moreover, since there is a lack of monthly or annual data being collected on the cases of sexual harassment of children, then it is doubtful that the Iranian regime will consider the negative psychological implications that such abuse might have on the victims. 
In 2007, the BBC Persian website published a report in which Deputy Director of UNICEF, Christian Salazar, said that although statistics and studies on cases of child sexual abuse in Iran is few and far between, the studies that are present indicate that 31 percent of 1 to 3 year olds, 21 percent of 6 to 10 year olds and 9 percent of 12 to 18 year olds face sexual harassment in Iran.