Sami is 13 years old
Sami was in the bathroom of his school when three older students, aged between 15 and 17, cornered him against a wall and begin to touch him.
At first, Sami is paralyzed, shock. But he reacts.
«I started screaming,» he says.
The commotion alerted others, who called the school principal.
The school decided to expel the offenders but never informs parents of the reason or nature of the attack.
Sami was first sexually assaulted at age 13 in the school bathroom. (Illustrative image)
Sami (which is not his real name) was called by the principal to his office. What happened there, as he felt, is a second attack.
He was told that the school would treat the incident as a conmensuent sexual incident and that he was lucky not to be expelled alongwith his attackers. Sami had «another chance» to stay.
«Everyone thought I was acting in collusion with them,» he says.
Shocked and overwhelmed by the attack, Sami decides not to tell his family, keeping it to himself and barely communicating for months.
This was the first time Sami was sexually assaulted.
Sami is 15 years old
It is 2007 and Sami’s father had died just over a year ago. The loss of the one who brought money to the house is a big blow to the whole family.
Growing up in a typical city in the province of Babylon, about 100 kilometers south of Baghdad, Sami had a happy childhood.
He would wake up at 7 a.m., go to school and come back around noon. In the evenings he studied and spent time with his brother or sister. And in the evenings the family would visit their grandparents for dinner.
Sometimes he would help at the candy store where his father worked to make doughnuts as payment.
Sami grew up in the Iraqi province of Babylon.
But his father’s death meant That Sami had to go out and work. He got a job at a store in the local market.
That’s when it happened again.
Sami was uncomfortable with the amount of care she received from the shop owner.
One day, when they were alone, he cornered him and tried to kiss and caress him.
Sami acted impulsively and snifled a glass jar on his head. He ran out.
He doesn’t know what the store owner was saying, but it took him a year to get another job.
Sami is 16 years old
His mother and siblings are far away and an older cousin came to visit. Sitting next to Sami, his cousin pulls out his phone and starts looking at pornographic images in front of him. Then, all of a sudden, he grabs him, beats him and sexually abuses him.
The attack is too painful for Sami to talk. If you remember too much, you have nightmares.
Sami could no longer stay at his childhood home.
«I managed to convince my family to move home and neighborhood. We cut ties with our relatives and friends in the neighborhood,» he says.
The family headed to Baghdad where they all found work.
But the trauma of the attacks continued, leading Sami to avoid romantic relationships.
Later, as he built confidence with new friends in the city, Sami makes the decision not to keep carrying the burden of his experience alone.
He begins to tell a small group of close friends what had happened to him. And the reaction was unexpected. Sami realized that he was not alone in this experience.
Many of his friends had also suffered harassment or sexual assault.
The BBC poll in ten Arab countries, including the Palestinian territories, found that in Tunisia and Iraq a greater number of men than women reported having suffered some sexual, verbal or physical assault.
In Tunisia, the margin is small, only 1%. But in Iraq the difference is striking. Thirty-nine percent of men said they had experienced verbal sexual harassment, compared to 33% of women.
And 20% of Iraqi men said they had experienced physical sexual violence, compared to 17% of Iraqi women.
More Iraqi men also reported experiencing domestic violence.
These results surprise, given the serious state of women’s rights in the country: Article 41 of the Iraqi penal code even states that it is not illegal for a man to beat his wife.
Dr. Kathrin Thomas, of the Arabic Barometer, the research network that conducted the survey, warns that women who experience sexual violence may prefer to remain silent.
First, «people tend to underestimate bullying, as it can be embarrassing and unpleasant for them to talk about the issue» and second «reporting harassment can have negative consequences for them.»
«Women may be more prone to harassment (…) compared to men,» it’s just undocumented, he warns.
Sami felt that in Baghdad he could have a new life.
Belkis Wille, Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch, agrees.
«Women are often reluctant to admit and classify their experiences as domestic or sexual violence. Even the terminology can be unknown,» he says.
This trend has been felt in Iraqi hospitals, he notes. By law, hospitals have policemen present at all times and doctors are required to inform them if a woman says she is a victim of abuse.
«It’s very common for women to lie and protect perpetrators, especially if they’re a known person, because they’re afraid to trigger a criminal investigation that could put them at risk,» she says.
Human Rights Watch is also aware of cases of sexual violence perpetrated against gay men and trans women in Iraq, although it appears that these cases are also not reported to the police.
«Gay and transgender men continue to face sexual harassment in Iraq. Those who look and sound more ‘feminine’ (based on local stereotypes) are often subjected to sexual violence,» says Amir Ashour, founder of IraQueer, a Swedish-based NGO that focuses on the experiences of LGBT people in Iraq.
«These crimes continue to be less reported because social norms do not allow men to talk about these things and the fact that they file such complaints could also reveal that the victims are homosexual, which could lead to more violence and discrimination.»
Sami agrees with this and adds that even though male rape is illegal, the police and society at large have little sympathy for the victims.
«If someone files a complaint with the police about a man’s rape, the cop is likely to laugh at you,» he says.
Sami recalls his experience at school at 13, when he was blamed for being the victim of an attack, and says it could happen again today.
«If I reported that I was raped, the police probably won’t see me as a victim, but even sent me to jail because they would see me as part of it, that it would be considered a homosexual act, which is illegal,» he says.
«The law is on my side, but those who must enforce the law are not.»
Iraqi police issued a statement in a statement: «Our door is open to all citizens. Sex stalkers were arrested after the victims reported incidents.»
The statement adds that a new strategy was adopted in 2003, in line with the country’s new human rights policy, and that specialized officers had been hired to deal with such cases.
Sami is now 21 years old
Life’s better now. Sami likes to live in Baghdad.
He has a career in a large international company and a group of friends who know him and who are not hidden from him what has happened to him.
He hopes that by telling his story to the BBC, he will encourage other men to talk about their experiences.
But he still hasn’t been able to get over the past. You still don’t feel like you’re ready for a relationship.
Maybe one day he’ll find a partner, he says, when he and The Iraqi Society have changed.
He says he’ll think about it again when he’s 35.