Letter from abroad: Jordan

A student in Jordan speaks to men about sexual violence in Amman

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Before venturing to Jordan, the danger of sexual harassment was at the forefront of my mind. Everyone was made well aware of the likelihood of women experiencing unwanted attention. However, since arriving here, I noted that sexual harassment towards men also exists, and too is hugely damaging to its victims. Two men agreed to share their experiences:

Harry, 19: “I was walking away from Rainbow Street [a local LGBTQ+ organisation] with the intention of going to the café where I work, when a man I didn’t know began to walk right next to me. Initially, I didn’t think much of it because here it’s quite common to talk to strangers. Ten minutes passed and he began to talk to me. I replied by saying ‘hello’ and asked him how he was. He responded by describing himself as being 32 years of age, tired and not as young as he had been. He explained this sentiment by stating that if he touched my dick it would grow hard in a couple of minutes, whereas if I touched his it might take half an hour. Initially, I didn’t know what to say. Then he leaned over, grabbed my groin saying, ‘you know dick, yes?’ I immediately told him to stop and said that I had a girlfriend, but he continued his pursuit. He said that he would show me his ‘ass’ and that I should go down an alley with him so he could ‘suck my dick’ because he was sure I would like it.”

Thomas, 18: “I was in a taxi, something I do everyday and almost always without any trouble, when the driver began talking to me about the cold weather and how important it was to wear layers. He took my hand and placed it on his thigh so I could feel that he was wearing them. I didn’t really pay any attention the first time, but he kept doing it and then leaned over to touch me, telling me I needed to start wearing layers too. This made me feel uncomfortable, but I felt like I couldn’t do anything, I just tried to keep my hands out of his reach. He then took my hand again, this time placing it closer to his penis and I felt it harden. After I pulled my hand away he reached for my groin. But, seeing as we were near my house I just moved away and got out of the taxi as soon as I could. Once I left the taxi all I could think about was getting home and washing my hands.”

I spoke to Kevin Steen about the matter. Kevin lived in Jordan for several months in 2012 and is the founder of the Jordanian-American non- profit organisation, Rainbow Street.

“I imagine that the older men are looking for sex, though not necessarily exclusively with a man,” he said. “In Jordan, it can prove much more difficult to have a discreet affair with a woman than with a man. Few people would expect two men to be in a sexual relationship. So if an older gentleman is looking for sex, he may focus on young men because that’s who he’s attracted to, or just because it’s a more likely scenario. My guess is that it happens more often to people visiting Jordan because there’s a slimmer chance of those people having some personal or familial connection with the older man’s family. Family ties are strong in Jordan, and ‘family’ can refer to a large clan with a presence in multiple cities. This makes a place like Amman feel like quite a small town, where everyone knows each other, despite it having a population of about two million. The public street has a degree of anonymity that probably emboldens men who are looking for sex from other men.

I hope that incidents would be reported and that action be taken to punish the perpetrator. But I doubt very much that either of those things would take place. Sexual assault is a shameful topic, and for a man to profess that he’s a victim could expose him to a large degree of unwanted attention and possible harassment. The onus falls on Jordanian men to educate each other on what is respectful behaviour to women and other men. If sex outside of marriage and same-sex relations were not both so deeply stigmatised in Jordanian society, solicitations for sex would likely not come in the form of harassment quite so often. These are not issues that are easy to undo.”

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