EgyptFeatures/InterviewsMiddle East

Mother seeks justice after sexual assault on austistic son

The mother of an autistic boy has alleged that he was seriously sexually assaulted while at school in late September, prompting denials from both the school and the Education Ministry.

Talking by phone during a live TV show, Eman Ragab said that her son, Ahmed Yasser al-Sheikh, was attacked during class hours at the special-needs center that he attends at Al-Basheyer International School in Maadi.

On the celebrated TV show “Al-Ashera Masaan”, hosted by Wael al-Ebrashy, Ragab explained how she had discovered that her child had been sexually assaulted, assuming that the attack had occurred at school, although she said she did not know who was responsible.

Since the allegations hit the headlines this week, the ministry has launched an investigation, quickly asserting that the child was not in the school's care at the time the attack occurred. The ministry said the boy's father had moved him to a new school around the time of the attack — apparently without the mother's knowledge — suggesting that somebody outside of the school may have been responsible.

Shocking discovery

Ahmed suffers from a severe form of autism that renders him unable speak and in need of constant care. He has been receiving his education and daily care at a special needs center attached to the Al-Basheyer International School, returning home each day to his mother by bus. Ragab is divorced from the boy's father, who lives in a different area.

Ragab could hardly contain her distress as she told TV host Ebrashy how she came to discover that her son had been attacked. On several occasions during the phone interview, Ebrashy asked her to be less graphic in relating the details of her horrific discovery.

On Wednesday, Ragab spoke with Al-Masry Al-Youm, telling her story once again, keen to keep up the media attention that she hopes will lead to her son's attacker being caught.

She told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “I want justice for myself, and I am calling for the execution of all sexual predators.”

According to Ragab's version of events, on September 28 and 29, Ahmed came home from school with marks on his neck and arms, including bite marks, scratches and pinch marks. She was worried, but at first suspected that her son had been involved in a fight with another child at school. However, what made her suspicious was the fact that he came home two hours later than usual, arriving on a different bus from his normal one.

On the second day, Ragab told Ebrashy, her son was acting very strangely, having no interest in eating his dinner, and she knew something must be wrong. She attempted to find out what the problem was, but since Ahmed can't talk, she had no success.

The next morning, as she was doing her ablutions, Ahmed ran into the bathroom and peed himself. Ragab was angry at first, as she had trained him to use the bathroom and clean himself.

She asked him, “Why did you do that? Why did you do that?”

She began to undress Ahmed so she could wash him before school, and she noticed something appalling. There was blood up and down his legs, some of it dried and some fresh. She washed him and found that his anus was badly torn, apparently the result of a serious sexual attack.

“My son’s psychological state is a mess and so is mine," Ragab, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "He will not stop crying and I am at a loss for what to do. I will bring him justice.”

On making her discovery, Ragab rushed Ahmed to the nearest hospital, Om al-Masryeen, where a surgeon examined him. The doctor informed Ragab that her son had indeed been sexually assaulted, and by an adult male, ruling out the possibility of an attack by other students in Ahmed's class.

Ragab took the medical report to the police station, whose jurisdiction includes Ahmed's school, and informed them of the events, filing a complaint of sexual assault. Since then, she has been seeking to highlight the case in the hope that the publicity will force the police and authorities to conduct a proper investigation and bring the attacker to justice.

Demanding more evidence, the police directed Ragab to a doctor specialising in forensics who looked over the report and asked to examine Ahmed. The specialist briefly examined the boy and confirmed the diagnosis in the report: Ahmed had indeed been sexually assaulted by an adult. Ragab soon learned that the school had been notified of the incident, and neither she nor Ahmed have been back there since.

The initial response

The school's response on learning of the allegations was to deny that any of its staff were involved in the attack. Ragab's claims were forwarded to the Ministry of Education, specifically to the Department of Secondary, Private and International Education, headed by Mohamed Saad.

Saad released a statement saying that an investigation would be carried out immediately to ascertain the legitimacy of the claim.

“We don’t take these claims lightly, and we will get to the bottom of this,” Saad told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

On Wednesday, the school sought to distance itself from the controversy, saying in the statement that Ahmed's special-needs center does not fall under the school's management and is not its responsibility.

At the same time, the school's management said that Ahmed's father had removed him from the special-needs center around the same time of the incident, placing him in another school in a different location. If true, the claim might explain the reason for Ahmed returning home later than usual and by a different bus around the time of his attack.

The school's management said that they have documents proving that Ahmed is now enrolled in a different school entirely.

According to the school's version of events, Ahmed's father came to school on September 29 and had an argument about the school bus being late picking the boy up from Sheikh Zayed. The father decided to pull his son out of the special-needs center and have him placed in another center in a different location.

The school's management further stated that they had parted with the father on good terms, assuring him that Ahmed was welcome to return to the school in future.

So far, Ahmed's father has not confirmed the school's version of events, nor made public his reasons for enrolling Ahmed in a different institution.

Ministry investigation

The Ministry of Education released a statement on Wednesday asserting that Ahmed was removed from the special-needs center before the attack took place, according to records provided by the school.

Attendance records show that Ahmed attended a session at the special-needs center on September 25, although school records show that his last day at the center was September 27, according to the ministry.

Furthermore, records for September 28 and 29 (the two days Ahmed was allegedly late for school) show no record of Ahmed being present, says the ministry.

Ragab has accused the school of negligence, saying that her son was supposed to be in school on those days, so far as she was aware.

In its statement, the school raised the question of why the father did not contact them with concerns about the boy's well-being after the attack became known. They claim that when they contacted the father on the issue he was generally unresponsive.

Furthermore, the school says it has records of a phone call made by Ahmed’s paternal grandmother on September 27, the last day Ahmed attended the center. During the phone call, she asked the school to have Ahmed dropped off at his father’s house, and that his stepmother would be there to meet him.

The school insists that the special needs center is very safe and that there is no way that an attack on a child could take place. The school says that with such a high staff-to-pupil ratio, it is unlikely that staff would lose track of any pupil in their care.

The school management insists that the incident must have happened outside the school, during those days when they say Ahmed was no longer in attendance.

The school also point to another feature that they consider suspicious: Ragab's claim that she was not told about Ahmed being moved to a new school. Why, they ask, did the father not inform Ragab of the change?

The school's management say that they have been wrongfully accused, insisting that they will take all necessary steps to restore the school's good reputation.

Meanwhile, Amed's mother insists that she will not rest until her son's attacker has been identified and brought to justice.

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