More French women are reporting incidents of sexual misconduct 

claudiodivizia/iStock/Thinkstock(PARIS) -- The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has been reverberating far beyond the United States’ borders, and in France, where male chauvinism is ingrained in the culture, the allegations of sexual misconduct have inspired women here to speak out.

Reports of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in France rose 25 percent in October compared to the same month a year ago, a spokesman for the French interior ministry told ABC News.

In the wake of the #MeToo hashtag started by actress Alyssa Milano in the United States, French women invented a hashtag of their own to speak up about sexual harassment.

#Balancetonporc, which translates to “Expose your pig,” went viral as thousands of French women posted stories of inappropriate sexual behaviors and abuse. According to the French research institute Odoxa, 335,300 tweets with the hashtag #balancetonporc were posted in just five days. Seventeen thousand of them were testimonies of sexual aggression and harassment.

“In recent years in France, we have seen female journalists and politicians speaking up about sexual abuse,” Alice Debauche, an associate professor of sociology at Strasbourg University who specializes in violence against women, told ABC News. “But what we are seeing is unprecedented.”

The fact that famous actresses kicked off the Weinstein scandal has resonated in France, Debauche said.

“Women feel like they know these actresses by watching their movies and seeing them on the cover of magazines. There is sentiment of proximity,” she said. “Women identify themselves to actresses much more than to politicians, intellectuals or anonymous females.”

The recent increase in reports of sexual assault and harassment show that French women are trying to change cultural norms.

“Filing a complaint is always an obstacle for victims,” Debauche said. “It shows that they are feeling empowered to come forward after the campaigns on social media.”

According to Claire Ludwig, a member of the French feminist organization “Stop Street Harassment,” there is definitely a connection between the rise in reports and the numerous sexual misconduct stories of the past few weeks.

“This demonstrates that we are on the right path,” Ludwig said. “Fear is switching from the victim’s side to the aggressor’s.”

In a study published last year, the French Institute for Demographic Studies said an estimated 62,000 women in France are victims of at least one rape or attempted rape each year. Additionally, the study said that around 580,000 women are victims of sexual violence every year in France.

“Authorities need to extend this ongoing cultural debate through information, prevention and education campaigns," Debauche said. “Otherwise it might be short-lived.”

The massive wave of sexual harassment and assault stories in France is having political and legal repercussions, too.

French President Emmanuel Macron said during a television interview last month that he had begun the procedure to strip Harvey Weinstein of France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor. “His actions lack honor,” Macron said.

The ongoing debate in France amid the Weinstein scandal might also lead to changes in the law.

Marlène Schiappa, France’s minister for gender equality, wants to fine men for catcalling women in public.

A task force of legal professionals, policemen and politicians are working to define street harassment. The proposed law is expected to be presented next year.

“The creation of a legal framework to denounce street harassment is a victory for us,” Ludwig said. But she believes that the new law will be very hard to enforce. “Sexual harassers will have to be caught 'in the act' by police officers in order to be fined,” she said. “Is the government planning to put a police officer behind every woman on the streets of France?”

Schiappa admitted in a newspaper interview that “we know that policemen won’t be able to fine every acts of street harassment.”

“Street harassment is a cultural fight,” Schiappa said. “This law will open a public debate and change attitudes.”

The question of France's child sex laws is also on the table, after two recent separate controversial cases where men were acquitted of raping two 11-year-old girls because authorities could not prove coercion.

A minimum age of sexual consent does not currently exist in France, and the French government is now drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.

France's justice minister received criticism after suggesting in a radio interview Monday that 13 could be the age of consent.

Establishing a legal age of consent is part of pending bill that will be presented next year to address sexual violence and harassment in France.

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Prince William releases first-ever online code of conduct to combat cyberbullying

Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince William announced recommendations Thursday for combating cyberbullying after convening a task force of leading tech companies to look at the issue.

The online code of conduct, called "Stop, Speak, Support," is the first in the world of its kind. Its aim is to create a safer space online for children and give them online resources if they feel threatened or lost.

William, 35, brought together the world’s leading tech firms -- including Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat -- as part of the Royal Foundation's task force on the prevention of cyberbullying. The task force, which first convened in May 2016, also included parents, children and representatives from children's charities.

The campaign will work with tech giants Facebook and Snapchat to initiate a trial program to support victims of cyberbullying and implement safety guidelines for online users.

The tech firms that are part of the task force have also agreed to make changes, William announced in his speech Thursday.

"The technology company members of the task force have agreed to adopt new guidelines to improve the process for reporting bullying online and to create clearer consequences for those who behave unacceptably," he said.

The online code of conduct includes a website where kids can go for support. The website teaches children to stop participating when they see negative comments, speak out to adults and/or report the bullying to the social media platform, and to support the person being bullied.

Kensington Palace on Wednesday released a moving video of William speaking with a mother who lost her son to suicide and a teen girl who attempted suicide after being the victim of cyberbullying.

"I started to self-harm as a way to cope, to make me feel better. And then I decided that I couldn't take this anymore and I tried to end my life," Chloe, who was cyberbullied at the age of 13, told William during their conversation at Kensington Palace.

In the video, William praised the women for their bravery and told them, "I only wish that neither of you had gone through what you've gone through."

"I think it is worth reminding everyone what the human tragedy of what we are talking about here," William said. "It isn't just about companies and about online stuff. It's actually real lives that get affected."

William said he became particularly interested in how social media can affect children after becoming a father to Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2. William and Princess Kate are expecting their third child next April.

William also became interested in this cause through his work as an air ambulance pilot, where he witnessed and responded to many young men in despair and on the verge of suicide. After hearing a story of a little boy who killed himself due to online abuse, William vowed to get involved himself.

"Through my work on mental health, I have spent time getting to know parents and children for whom the impact of online bullying has been devastating," William said. "And as a parent myself, I understand the sense of loss and anger of those particular families who have lost children after they were the targets of campaigns of harassment."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Police: Grenfell Tower fire killed 71 people, including a stillborn baby

Carl Court/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The Grenfell Tower fire killed a total of 71 people, including a stillborn baby, London’s police said on Thursday after recovering and identifying all those believed to have died in the blaze.

In June, London’s Metropolitan Police estimated that about 80 people had died in the fire, which started on June 14 just before 1 a.m. local time.

Since then, police said they have searched every apartment on every floor and every communal area of the 24-story building and examined 15.5 metric tons of debris on each floor. The search operation is not expected to end until early December, but the police said it is very unlikely that anyone remains inside Grenfell Tower -- and all those reported missing have been found.

“I cannot imagine the agony and uncertainty that some families and loved ones have been through whilst we have carried out our meticulous search, recovery and identification process,” Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy said in a statement.

Detectives used CCTV footage to identify the residents who escaped the tower. The videos show that 223 people escaped Grenfell Tower that night and survived. Police believe that 293 people were inside at the time of the fire, while a number of residents weren't home.

"The human cost and terrible reality of what took place at Grenfell Tower affects so many people,” said Cundy. "Our criminal investigation is continuing, and we are determined to do all we can to find the answers that so many people so desperately want."

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Tillerson 'deeply concerned' about violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

iStock/Thinkstock( NEW YORK ) -- Secretary of state Rex Tillerson stated that he is “deeply concerned” about the continuing atrocities involving the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. His comments came during a press conference with Burmese De-Facto civilian head of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Wednesday in Myanmar.

The ethnic group has faced oppression in the predominantly Buddhist area for years. Since the August 25 attacks by Arakan Rohingyan Salvation Army on security forces and Muslim minorities, over 600,000 Rohingyan have fled to Bangladesh. An unknown number from multiple ethic groups remain internally displaced with limited access to food, water and shelter.
As a result, Tillerson announced an additional $47 Million in humanitarian assistance for refugees, bringing the American response to the Rakhine State crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh to more than $87 million since August of 2016.

Last week, the United Nations Security Council slammed called upon the government of Myanmar to ensure no further excessive use of military force in Rakhine State, to restore civil administration and apply rule of law, and to take immediate steps in accordance with their obligations and commitments to respect human rights.

In a report on its Facebook page, the Myanmar Military cleared itself of any role in the abuse of the Rohingya, reporting that the atrocities are at the hands of ARSA Bengali terrorists. Human rights organization Amnesty International has slammed the military’s report, labeling it an attempted “whitewash” of the injustices against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Tillerson calls upon Myanmar’s civilian government and military to conduct a “full, effective, and independent investigation” into the atrocities -- an investigation that Tillerson assures “The United States strongly supports.”

When asked if Tillerson and the State Department would follow the United States Congress recommendation to use the term "ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, Tillerson said "we're evaluating the criteria and the information available to us, and we'll make a determination on that probably after I return."

Secretary Tillerson said he believes that the Rohingya crisis is a test for Myanmar’s new government. “Myanmar's response to this crisis critical to determining the success of its transition to a more democratic society. The key test of any new democracy is how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized populations.”

Last Week, Suu Kyi neglected to answer questions regarding the conflict while attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) summit in Manila, Philippines. During the press conference, the de facto civilian leader of Myanmar said that she watches her statements in an effort to avoid further instability in the region, "We mustn't forget that there are many different communities in the Rakhine, and if they are to live together in peace and harmony in the long term, we can't set them against each other. We cannot make the kind of statement that drive them further apart."

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Trump administration to reverse ban on elephant trophies from Africa 

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Trump administration plans to allow hunters to import trophies of elephants they killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States, reversing a ban put in place by the Obama administration in 2014, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to ABC News Wednesday.

Even though elephants are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import these trophies if there is evidence that the hunting actually benefits conservation for that species. The official said they have new information from officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia to support reversing the ban to allow trophy hunting permits.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said in a statement.

This change only applies to elephants in those two countries but questions about using game hunting to generate money for conservation efforts also came up during the controversy after Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe in 2015.

The government has not actually announced this policy change yet but it was reportedly announced at a wildlife forum in South Africa this week, according to Safari Club International, which filed a lawsuit to block the 2014 ban.

It's unclear how the current political situation in Zimbabwe could affect this decision, but a blog post from the president of the Humane Society points out that poaching has been a problem in Zimbabwe over the years and that the hunting industry there faces corruption issues.

A notice regarding this change will be posted in the Federal Register on Friday with more specifics on what new information justifies the changes.

The finding applies to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, and elephants hunted in Zambia during 2016, 2017 and 2018 for applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements, according to Fish and Wildlife spokesperson.

Savanna elephant populations declined by 30 percent across 18 countries in Africa from 2007 to 2014, according to the Great Elephant Census published last year, which put their remaining numbers at just over 350,000.

The elephant population declined six percent overall in Zimbabwe but dropped by 74 percent within one specific region. Elephants saw "substantial declines along the Zambezi River," in Zambia while other areas of that country were stable, according to the census.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has been talking with wildlife officials in Zimbabwe since the ban was announced in 2014. Since then, Zimbabwe officials have stepped up efforts to combat poaching, established a system to report financial benefit from American hunters, and provided more information on how officials establish hunting quotas, according to the text of the federal register notice that will be posted Friday.

The census reported around 82,000 elephants in Zimbabwe. Wildlife officials set annual quotas limiting hunting there to 500 elephants in different areas.

Elephant hunting has been banned in Zambia several times over the years due to declining population size but was re-established in 2015 after surveys found a larger population in some areas. Zambia is home to some 22,000 elephants, according to the census.

Tourists can hunt elephants on private game ranches or specified areas in Zambia, many of which are on the outskirts of national parks. Zambian officials also carry out anti-poaching efforts and manage elephant hunting through permits and quotas, according to the Federal Register notice. In 2016, 30 elephants were allowed to be killed there as trophies but the government reported that only 12 males were killed, according to the notice.

Fees paid by hunters are also used to fund the country's conservation efforts.

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Scientists discover Earth-sized planet that 'could potentially sustain life'

Tokarsky/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A newly discovered Earth-sized planet that "could potentially sustain life" is poised to become Earth's closest stellar neighbor in a cosmic "blink of the eye," scientists at the European Southern Observatory announced in a press release Wednesday.

Ross 128 b is an exoplanet currently located 11 light-years from our solar system, but it is moving closer and is predicted to become Earth's closest stellar neighbor in 79,000 years, scientists said. It is currently the second-closest temperate planet to Earth, after Proxima b.

Every 9.9 days, Ross 128 b orbits a red dwarf star known as Ross 128. Ross 128 is relatively quiet, cool and has just over half the surface temperature of the sun, scientists said, which could make Ross 128 b conducive to life. The star Ross 128 is part of the constellation of Virgo.

"Many red dwarf stars, including Proxima Centauri, are subject to flares that occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. However, it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life," ESO scientists said in the press release.

A research team at the La Silla Observatory in Chile used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) to locate Ross 128 and Ross 128 b. Their full findings were published in the scientific journal Astronomy and Astrophysics on Nov. 8.

More research is needed to determine if Ross 128 b has all of the conditions to sustain life, scientists said, and they plan to use ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope to explore the planet's atmosphere.

"While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a temperate planet, uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet’s surface," scientists added.

ESO also released a video about the new planet's significance Wednesday.

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Pope Francis sticks with popemobile instead of $200K Lamborghini 

Hornet83/iStock/Thinkstock(VATICAN CITY) -- Billionaires, get out your checkbooks. A one-of-a-kind Lamborghini -- blessed and signed by Pope Francis -- is coming to auction soon.

The Italian sportscar maker designed and built a special Huracan for the pope, who officially received it at the Vatican Wednesday with Lamborghini executives in tow. The donated car was painted to replicate the Vatican's flag colors, complete with papal-gold accents on the hood, roof and doors. Pope Francis smiled as he signed "Francesco" with a black marker on the car.

The Huracan RWD Coupe starts at $200,000.

Sotheby’s will auction off the sportscar, the Vatican said in a statement. The money raised will go toward several charities the pope has selected, including one that helps Christians who are living as refugees in Kurdistan to return to their communities in Iraq.

The pope, who prefers to be driven around in the modest popemobile, will not take the pricey Lamborghini for a joy ride before the May 12, 2018, auction.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe 'confined to his home' as military seizes control

Rainer Lesniewski/iStock/Thinkstock(HARARE, Zimbabwe) -- Zimbabwe's military apparently seized control of the southern African nation overnight, deploying tanks to the capital, taking control of the state-run broadcaster and confining longtime leader Robert Mugabe to his residence.

An established Zimbabwean journalist, who spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity, said there is an increased military presence in Harare, with tanks stationed on the outskirts of the city center. The streets were quiet early Wednesday, but overnight Tuesday into Wednesday the journalist said he heard the sound of heavy artillery firing from the military vehicles.

Meanwhile, soldiers are inside the state broadcaster's headquarters and have told employees there to not be afraid, that "we are here to protect you" and to continue their work as usual, the journalist told ABC News.

The journalist noted that Mugabe has had strained relations with the army in recent months, and this activity is an indication of that. Officials, journalists and residents alike are not sure what to make of it, he added.

It's uncharted waters for Zimbabweans. Mugabe, 93, has led the country since its independence in 1980, making him the world's oldest head of state. Despite his age and concerns over his health, Mugabe so far has showed no signs of relinquishing his grip on power.

In December of last year, Zimbabwe's ruling party confirmed Mugabe as its sole candidate for the 2018 election.

Though the ongoing situation bears many hallmarks of a coup d'etat, Zimbabwe's army said on state-run media early Wednesday that "this is not a military takeover" and that the president and his family are "safe and sound."

"We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country, in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy," Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, said in a statement on the state broadcaster.

"To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe Defense Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict," he added.

Moyo urged other security services to "cooperate" with the army "for the good of the country," and warned that "any provocation will be met with an appropriate response."

As the political turmoil continued to unfold Wednesday, it remained unclear whether Mugabe was still in power.

The president of neighboring South Africa, Jacob Zuma, said he spoke with Mugabe on Wednesday morning, who told him he was "confined to his home but said that he was fine." Zuma is sending "special envoys" to meet with Mugabe and the Zimbabwean army "in light of the unfolding situation," according to a press release from the South African presidency.

The whereabouts of Mugabe's wife, Grace Mugabe, were unknown Wednesday.

The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe issued an advisory Tuesday night, urging all employees to stay home the following day and warning American citizens in the southern African nation to shelter in place "as a result of the ongoing political uncertainty."

"U.S. government personnel have been instructed to shelter in their residences Wednesday night and work remotely from home. The embassy will be minimally staffed and closed to the public," the U.S. embassy said in its statement. "U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice. Please monitor news and embassy notifications."

The United States in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and his close associates, citing the Zimbabwean government's human rights abuses as well as evidence of rigged elections.

U.K. Acting Ambassador to Zimbabwe Simon Thomas confirmed in a video message posted to Twitter that the Zimbabwean military remained deployed at "strategic locations" around the capital Wednesday morning. Thomas advised British nationals in and around Harare to "stay at home, stay in your hotel room, wait until things settle down a little bit."

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Another South Korea earthquake more cause for alarm about seismic activity

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL) -- A magnitude-5.4 earthquake shook southeastern South Korea on Wednesday, marking the largest in the nation since last year’s trembler in nearby Gyeongju.

Today’s earthquake, which caused minor injuries, struck around 2:29 p.m. local time about 6 miles north of the city of Pohang. Old buildings collapsed and concrete roads cracked open. Some residents in Seoul even detected the vibration several hundred miles away.

Officials said there have been 18 aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from 2.2 to 5.4 as residents tweeted in real-time about the damages. At Handong Global University, an outer wall of a school building collapsed. Books fell from shelves and furniture trembled, as seen through videos from social media accounts.

Fifty people suffered minor injuries, according to the National Fire Agency, but the number is expected to rise. The epicenter of the quake was about 5 miles underground, according to South Korea’s Meteorological Administration. The more shallow the epicenter, the bigger the shock above ground.

“The earthquake is the second-strongest natural earthquake to take place in the Korean peninsula since last year’s quake in Gyeongju,” the meteorological administration said.

Last year’s earthquake had a magnitude of 5.8, damaging many cultural sites and buildings.

The Korea Meteorological Administration stressed that South Korea is no longer free from earthquake threats. Seismic activity has reached a new phase since last year’s Gyeongju earthquake.

A total of 139 quakes of magnitude 2 and above have been detected this year alone, which is more than twice the historical average. South Korea had been known to have little seismic activity compared to neighboring Japan.

Meanwhile, no leakage or breakdowns were detected at the six nuclear reactors in Gyeongju, according to Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.

But because of the possibility of more quakes, the annual college entrance exam scheduled for Thursday has been postponed for safety concerns until next week. It is the first time the entrance exam has been delayed for any reason in its 24-year existence.

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Fear and paranoia grip Egypt’s LGBT community: ‘I want to be forgotten’

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When the crackdown began, LGBT people across Egypt began dropping off dating apps, stopped meeting friends and charted their escape.

As police in the conservative, Muslim country rounded up dozens of people over the past two months, intensifying their persecution of the country’s LGBT citizens, a wave of paranoia and fear swept over the community. In interviews with ABC News, half a dozen LGBT people in Egypt described feeling trapped and terrified that they, too, could end up imprisoned and tortured by the security services.

For one 32-year-old man from Cairo, taking refuge in the desert seemed safest.

The man, who teaches young adults about gender studies, identifies as pansexual, where one does not prefer one specific gender or orientation over another. He moved to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and started volunteering at a guest house. Like others interviewed by ABC News, he requested anonymity, worried he could be detained for speaking out.

“I want to be forgotten for a bit,” he told ABC News. “That’s exactly how I feel right now.”

He said his boyfriend attended a Sept. 22 Cairo concert by the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila, where several people -- including someone he knew -- held up rainbow LGBT pride flags. Images of the flags went viral on social media in Egypt, prompting anti-LGBT hysteria in Egyptian mass media and, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights group, the arrests of at least 75 people.

At least 20 have have been given prison sentences ranging from six months to six years after “significantly expedited trials,” and at least five men received anal examinations that amounted to torture, Amnesty International said. Human rights groups have issued harsh condemnations.

“I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to see anyone,” the man from Cairo said. He spends his time binge watching television, avoiding exercise and friends.

“I feel like a reject,” he said. “I lost my belonging to this place.”

Last week, just over an hour down the road from his desert sanctuary, Egypt hosted the World Youth Forum, an international conference in the resort city of Sharm El Sheikh that, according to its website, aimed to promote "peace, prosperity, harmony and progress.” Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah El Sisi, attended and asked the young people participating “to deliver a message of peace and tolerance from Egypt to their countries,” according to his office.

But at the guesthouse, the pansexual Egyptian felt paralyzed and persecuted -- and regretful. He had spent time in Europe and even applied for asylum there earlier this year, ultimately growing homesick and unhappy with the process, coming back to his homeland.

But his countrymen’s hatred threw him into depression, he said.

“I wake up every day asking myself, ‘What the f--- am I doing here?’” the man, who has since left Sinai for another Egyptian city, said. “The crackdown awakened the homophobia of the masses. People are cheering for the arrests of the gays.”

Dating app entrapment

Analysts told ABC News the current crackdown comes in the context of increased oppression against a variety of minority, political and religious groups in Egypt since 2013, when the military took control of the government.

LGBT people have been targeted in particular, not only during the past several years, but for decades. It’s been worse lately, though. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a local human rights group, said at least 232 people who were LGBT, or perceived to be, were arrested between 2013 and 2017.

Human rights activists have warned of police officers using gay dating apps to entrap users, luring them to meetings only to arrest them. Other methods, activists said, involve forcing detainees to reveal acquaintances’ names and rounding up people who have visited imprisoned LGBT people.

Users also tell stories of straight civilians using apps to find LGBT people, beating them and blackmailing them for money.

Several gay dating app companies and LGBT Egyptians said they did not know of an instance where police used entrapment in the current crackdown, but they did worry about the practice continuing.

The spread of smartphones and ubiquitous internet use have created new risks, according to Scott Long, a longtime human rights activist focusing on LGBT issues.

“This makes it really easy, on the one hand, for homophobic propaganda from online media to sort of show up in your face, and I think it’s helping to indoctrinate the public,” Long, who lived in Egypt from 2012 to 2016, told ABC News. “And I think, on the other hand, the apps have made gay and trans people more vulnerable.”

Apps move to protect users

A variety of gay dating apps have proliferated in Egypt in recent years, giving LGBT people a new way to make friends and chase romance.

The arrests have led several of the apps to re-examine the protections they offer their users in Egypt.

The app Hornet sends general safety recommendations to its Arabic-speaking users, which the company said number over one million, like holding video calls before meeting in person and checking in with friends before and after dates.

When users of Scruff travel to one of more than 80 countries with limits on same-sex acts, including Egypt, they receive an alert and information about restrictions. In areas with those advisories, users’ precise locations are automatically hidden, and they can flag suspicious profiles.

“At the end of the day, people -- gay people, straight people -- they’re going to want to connect, they’re going to want to meet,” Eric Silverberg, Scruff's CEO, told ABC News. “No regime, no matter how repressive, can stop that fundamental human need for companionship and for relationships.”

Grindr, another popular app, regularly shares safety tips with its users in Egypt and in other parts of the world, and like Scruff, exact locations are not provided in high-risk countries. Its director of equality, Jack Harrison-Quintana, told ABC News the company is working on giving users the ability to change the app’s icon in case their phones are confiscated by the police, and is studying behavior associated with suspicious profiles.

“Our user community is really just our first line of defense against these things,” Harrison-Quintana said. “Educating and empowering them makes a real difference.”

Sean Howell, Hornet’s chief executive, said he was so concerned that he flew to Cairo himself for a day last month to meet with users, activists and non-governmental organization workers -- some of whom were in hiding.

Howell told ABC News he was dismayed at how uninformed his app’s users were despite the company’s best efforts, and that generally, their behavior had not changed much in recent weeks.

But the answer, he said, was not encouraging them to give up online dating, particularly when meeting virtually may still be safer than frequenting coffee shops or bars popular with LGBT people.

“The consensus was that telling people not to use the app would be punitive to the community,” Howell said. “Meeting online has just become such an important part of a gay person’s evolution, especially for young people.”

Tinder, a dating app that does not target just LGBT people but which Egyptians said was commonly used by them, did not respond to multiple requests for information about protections for its users in Egypt.

Happiness turns to fear

While security services have picked up their persecution of LGBT people in recent years, it was not always clear that the crackdown this fall would grow into what some believe is the worst wave yet.

When Mohamed, a 30-year-old gay man from Cairo, saw the rainbow flags raised at the Mashrou’ Leila concert, he initially was happy.

Then, Egyptian media launched tirade after tirade against LGBT people. The intensity, Mohamed and other LGBT Egyptians said, was frightening.

Mohamed quickly deleted photos, text messages and gay dating apps from his phone, and started using an encrypted communications app.

“This crackdown terrified me because I saw them arresting people who had nothing to do with the concert,” he said. “They arrested people randomly because the police know gay guys’ meeting places.”

Mohamed said he wants to flee Egypt and has friends who already have.

“I am not only afraid of the police,” he said. “I am afraid of the people even more.”

Harsher penalties proposed

Meanwhile, scores of Egyptian legislators are lobbying for a law that would explicitly criminalize homosexual acts to ensure harsher penalties by replacing a 1961 anti-prostitution law that has been used against LGBT people for decades.

“Homosexuality” is not clearly defined or mentioned in Egyptian law, so authorities have been prosecuting LGBT people under charges of “habitual debauchery” that can send them to jail for up to three years.

More than 60 Egyptian members of parliament have backed a bill that for the first time would explicitly punish those who engage in “homosexual” acts or promote “homosexuality.” The act would imprison violators for up to five years for individual offenses and up to 15 years if convicted under multiple provisions, according to Amnesty International.

“If passed, this law would further entrench stigma and abuse against people based on their perceived sexual orientation,” Amnesty International’s North Africa campaigns director, Najia Bounaim, said in a statement.

‘Miserably depressed’

A gay man in Cairo who attended the Mashrou’ Leila concert told ABC News he knew three people who were arrested. He said the crackdown has overwhelmed him, making him physically ill and leading him to stay away from the internet.

“I’m trying not to be paranoid and just trying to be very cautious,” the man, in his mid-20s, said. “But yes, I’m afraid. I’m definitely afraid for my life. I haven’t been seeing anyone who I don't know.”

He said he felt like a political pawn and was not sure if he wanted to stay in Egypt.

“It’s funny that people, at some point, think that they have a say on whether I have a right to exist or not,” he said. “I know people who are miserably depressed now, after the amount of hate speech they were subjected to in the media.”

While some of the dozens arrested in recent weeks have been released, the social stigma against LGBT people means defendants and their families can continue to face harassment, according to Dalia Abdel-Hameed, the head of the gender program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Often, when LGBT people are arrested, they have not come out to their families, who sometimes reject them, Abdel-Hameed told ABC News.

After 26 men were detained during a round-up at a bathhouse in 2014 -- and were later acquitted -- one man tried to light himself on fire, she said, “because society doesn’t forgive.”

Seeking a way out

While not everyone is ready to give up their life in Egypt, some don’t think they have a real choice.

In 2011, Egyptian Samer Habib, who is gay, moved to Canada to attend college. He returned home once the next year, eventually deciding it was not safe for him to live in his hometown of Cairo as he increasingly opened up about his sexual orientation.

Rather than go back again and likely face discrimination during his mandatory military service -- Egypt has conscription for young men -- Habib applied for asylum in Canada.

He received refugee status in May. Now 24 years old, he lives in Winnipeg, Canada, with a Canadian boyfriend and a job at the University of Winnipeg, but he misses his family -- and the country where he grew up.

“There really isn’t a day that goes by where I don't wish I could go home and go visit everybody,” Habib told ABC News. “But of course, there’s no getting around the fact that the culture is embedded with homophobia, and there’s nothing really I can do to change that.”

‘Hate was always here’

Mohamed, a 22-year-old recent university graduate in Alexandria, is trying to escape. He hopes applying to universities in Germany -- but first learning German -- will put him on a path out of Egypt, where he said he now struggles to make friends because there is so much distrust in the LGBT community.

He still uses dating apps, he said, but exercises extreme caution. “I only chat with people who speak English, which I know sounds a bit elitist, but I’m trying to keep myself safe,” he said.

Raising the rainbow flag did not turn Egyptians against LGBT people in itself, he said, but it exposed his countrymen’s true beliefs.

“Really, the hate was always here,” Mohamed said. “That part never changed. It’s just more open now.”

Living with a disguise

LGBT Egyptians described a feeling of being trapped and paranoid.

“I started avoiding gathering in any means with any of my LGBT friends, in any of their houses,” a 33-year-old transgender man from Cairo said. “I actually went one time, and I had this feeling that, ‘OK, police are going to come any minute now.’”

Transgender people in Egypt are generally viewed through a different lens than gay or bisexual people. Egypt has in recent years allowed treatment for gender dysphoria, although the social stigma can still be strong.

The transgender man from Cairo said he started presenting as a man about 10 months ago and planned to have gender reassignment surgery abroad this month. In the meantime, he has been using his brother’s identity papers, as his show him as a woman.

“As long as you are living here in Egypt with a disguised identify,” he said, “as long as people are seeing you as a normal man, they don't know your history, they don't know your case, you don't have any problem.”

‘Queers make an easy target’

Ahmed, a gay man in his late 20s in Cairo, said that LGBT people had been living under heightened pressure ever since the military took over four years before. He said he was socially privileged and could be relatively open with his friends about his sexual orientation.

“I was always cautious,” he said in an email. “Because the danger has been there for years and it is not just restricted to the police, there is also risks of thugs, violence and hate crime.”

He said he had contemplated leaving the country because, no matter what, his life would “always be in the shadows” and that he was not sure if there was “anything left to fight for here.”

“This wave was loud and was loud for a reason,” he said, though observers can only speculate why.

“But it is vital to know that in terms of media frenzy and arrests, queers make an easy target,” he added. “Very few care about us. Very few would be moved to stop this. Even less would stand up for us.”

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