Egyptian TikTok star Haneen Hossam has been sentenced to three years in prison following a retrial on “human trafficking” counts. 20-year-old Hossam first made headlines in April 2020 after being arrested for inviting fellow female followers to join the platform and sharing advice on how they can monetise their content on social media—an act the Cairo Criminal Court has viewed as exploitative.
But Hossam wasn’t the only young woman struck with such charges. Among the five that were arrested at the time, Maward Elhadham also made the news. The pair were facing serious prison time and in July 2020, were found guilty by Cairo’s Economic Court for “violating family values and principles,” the BBC reported. The TikTokers also faced huge fines of around 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($16,100; £12,400).
Denying the charges, Hossam was eventually acquitted in January 2021 and Elhadham’s two-year sentence for the distribution of ‘indecent’ imagery was also dropped. “Haneen went through a lot of psychological pressure because of being jailed for the past nine months,” lawyer Hussein El Bakar told Reuters in January 2021. However, progress did not last long as the young TikTok creators were later officially charged with “human trafficking”—a crime linked to her public invitation to motivate her followers in making money through live videos on the app.
Just six months later in July 2021, Hossam was sentenced (in absentia) to ten years while Adham, who was present in court that day, was stuck with six years of jail time. In a video posted after her sentencing, which has since been removed, Hossam pleaded with the president for a pardon, “Ten years! I didn’t do anything immoral to deserve all this. I was jailed for ten months and didn’t say a word after I was released… Why do you want to jail me again?”
The two-year-long saga had its latest update on Monday 18 April 2022 when a retrial cut the TikToker’s sentence from ten to three years—she will still have to face the large fines put to her. These cases have ignited outrage among activists in the country.
“What does it mean for an Egyptian court to convict TikTok vlogger Haneen Hossam on ‘human trafficking’ charges? It means that the justice system is criminalising what influencers globally do every day when they invite others to work with them and monetize TikTok activity,” Mai el-Sadany, managing director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in a tweet on the latest ruling.
“Women TikTok influencers are being punished for the way they dress, act, influence on social media, and earn money online,” said Amnesty International researcher Hussein Baoumi in Al Jazeera’s reporting. “This is part of the authorities’ attempts to control cyberspace by policing women’s bodies and conduct.” The double standard in the Egyptian courts’ treatment of women couldn’t be more clear in Newsweek’s investigation of male YouTubers dedicated to ‘exposing’ girls in the country on social media.
The publication surfaced a plethora of videos made by a group of verified YouTubers that aimed to have ‘TikTok girls’ castigated, imprisoned and even raped for their online dancing. Calling on the video platform to do something about the issue, Newsweek highlighted how such misogynistic users were being rewarded with Creator Award plaques (the iconic ‘Play Buttons’) for their attacking content—ironically while YouTube pushed the celebration of Women’s History Month throughout March.
Following Newsweek’s exposure, several videos have since been removed both by YouTube and the male creators themselves.
Unsurprisingly, yet another disturbing trend has formed on the internet. Having started on TikTok and group chats, a rumour has surfaced that 24 April is also celebrated as ‘National rape day’. First of all, to be clear, this is not true. Although an official investigation is underway, no one knows exactly where the rumour originated from. Here’s everything we know about the vile and potentially dangerous trend so far.
‘National Rape Day’ or ‘National Sexual Assault Day’ is an alleged holiday claiming to legalise sexual assult for 24 hours on 24 April. There is not a holiday in the US or anywhere else in the world that legalises sexual assault at all, or for any time period. Rape and sexual assault are crimes, and will continue to be crimes on 24 April.
In April 2021, over the last couple of weeks, warnings of this upcoming horrific day started popping up on TikTok. According to many videos and reports that are currently circulating, the trend was started by six men on TikTok who shared a video encouraging other men to sexually assault women on this day.
They allegedly said it is legal to do so, and shared tips on how to carry out the act. . The origin of the video, first posted in March 2021, is uncertain and has since been removed from the platform for obvious reasons. . Despite this, rumours are still gaining traction as users continue to post videos on the topic, unknowingly adding to the trend.
A TikTok spokesperson told USA Today that “The supposed ‘National Rape Day’ trend being reported upon is abhorrent and would be a direct violation of our Community Guidelines, and while we haven’t seen evidence of this trending on our platform, our safety team remains vigilant and would remove any such content.”
Having dug a little deeper, it appears that these rumours about a ‘National Rape Day’ aren’t new to 2021. Archived pages from Urban Dictionary show entries for this day dating back all the way to 2018. Although these entries have since been deleted from the website, a ‘correction entry’—added by Stevi Hardford—now states: “Don’t rape people it’s bad and national rape day is to put a stop to it. National rape day is to stop people raping girls and sometimes boys.”
The day may go back even further—Know Your Meme wrote that “Jokes and posts about a ‘National Rape Day’ date back to at least 2010 on Twitter, although none mention April 24th specifically or purport the day to be a real, practiced thing, more so using the phrase for comedic shock value.”
Social media has inevitably lapped this up, and women are now being urged to stay indoors and ‘safe’ on the day, which is certainly ridiculous but also quite terrifying. The ironic problem with such rumours and gossip is that they literally allow things to be talked into existence. In this case, the fact that this entire hoax is not true must be what is circulated the most. That being said, the surfacing of the entire ordeal is also bringing people into wider discussions about sexual assault, which can only be a good thing.
The 24 April rumours have also spread through UK universities. At the University of Exeter, rumours were circulating about a group chat of students with a “plan to rape as many girls as they can” on and around the day. Exeter’s university has now advised students to ignore the threats and has publicly stated that they are “designed to cause fear and to play on serious and genuine concerns regarding sexual assault.”
According to The Tab, the university has relayed these rumours to Devon and Cornwall police and that they are “currently making enquiries regarding the credibility of the group.” It also said the police believe the rumours are linked to the 24 April “international phenomenon.”
Although there is no clear evidence of it all, one thing is for sure: social media can be, and mostly is, a manipulative tool at best, and this is what we should all be aware of.