In the wake of the Weinstein affair in October 2017, the Me Too movement, created over 10 years ago by American feminist activist Tarana Burke, has had an international coverage. The slogan freeing the voices of victims of sexual assault and harassment, from daily sexism and street harassment to sexual assault, has quickly taken on a viral dimension on social media as well as in reports and testimonials. Regarding this issue, I interviewed Homayra Sellier, president of a global action plan for the defense and protection of children called Innocence en Danger.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I am Homayra Sellier; I was born in Iran, together with my twin sister who sadly passed away in 2006. Our parents sent us to Paris for our studies. In France, we attended Paris Descartes University and, afterwards, CELSA of the Sorbonne University.
Why did you launch Innocence in Danger? What were the motivations behind the project?
In 1999, Federico Mayor, the director-general of UNESCO, nominated me to carry out the action plan of Innocence in Danger—an international child protection movement. This occurred following the crackdown of an Internet pedophile ring. I had been active in the field of child protection for years as a world citizen, and hence, my activity led to this nomination.
Back in Iran, I had a beautiful and protected childhood and wonderful parents; however, when we moved to France, I witnessed and experienced what it means to become a pray, to be groomed; and later, I learned that many, myself included, had been subjected to sexual assault and, in some cases, rape. I understood what it means to be vulnerable when one of my close friends committed suicide after she was raped. Her suicide was a tipping point for my activity.
Is your association concerned with child molestation in Iran? Are you able to help them in any way?
Sadly, we are not yet active in Iran. I do know that there are a number of wonderful organizations in this field in the country. I did try to help a few years ago, but the nature of our work requires regulations and their implementation, and of course, the support of the institutions. Most importantly, the taboo of sexual abuse needs to be broken. I have hope that Iran and the Muslim world will also wake up to this pandemic to realize that by ignoring this plague, by not acting upon it, the only mortgage is the country’s future. A country can only be strong when it has strong policies to protect the integrity of its children and youth. Our children hold our future in their hands. If we fail to protect them, we endanger our own lives and communities.
It is now proven that victims of sexual assault are not willing to come forward regarding their experiences. How can one help the victims feel more welcome to share what they have been through?
The only way to help the survivors come forward is to be a supportive community and to show understanding and empathy. It is up to us, the people, to show that we care and to mobilize resources and centers for victims to feel safe. We have to condemn the rapists, not the victims. It will only empower Islam and Muslim countries if they stop being bystanders and claim that a child or minor IS NOT a sexual partner.
What are your opinions on the Me Too movement? How has social media contributed to the matter?
The Me Too movement is a great start to change the conversation on these topics. However, what I regret is that it’s not inclusive of children and men. Let’s wait and see how things will evolve around the movement. Let’’s see if our communities will have the courage to try powerful and big names. Again, what is at stake is our own future. Without the courage to act, words are swept away with time.
What should parents or guardians of sexually abused children do in that situation? How are they supposed to deal with their child?
Reactions should and can be juridical in countries where sex with minors is not tolerated. But first, the guardians have to listen to the child and make him/her understand that he/she is not guilty of anything. They have to make sure that the abuser no longer has access to the minor and, of course, seek help through therapy. In an ideal world, victims should be heard, supported, and accompanied in their medical, juridical, and recovery needs.