Mental scars

Fashion designer raised in the U.S. and Iran recounts being lashed for attending co-ed party

Fashion designer Tala Raassi (Instagram).

Tala Raassi is enjoying much success as a fashion designer. Her swimwear line has been worn by contestants in the Miss Universe pageant. She recently authored a book on her life, which could’ve taken a different turn altogether. Indeed, at times it has veered into the frightening, a topic she discussed candidly with Miranda Frum of The Daily Beast.

Raassi recounted an experience she had with the Basij, Iran’s notorious military police, in 1998 that led to her spending nearly a week in an Iranian jail and saw her lashed as punishment for her crime. Raassi was born in the U.S., but moved to Tehran when her parents moved back there when she was 2 years old. As a teenager who loved Western culture in 1998, Raasi attended a co-ed party — the type of gathering that’s illegal in Iran. There were no drugs, not even any alcohol, Raasi said. But none of that mattered when the Basij arrived, she quickly discovered. “I never thought we would get lashes,” she said in the interview. “Normally, if you apologize, they will let you go. We were convinced we would never go to jail. In the car on our way [to jail], we weren’t taking it seriously. We were sort of laughing. I was convinced there was no way they would keep us there. Someone would pay for our release, and then we would leave.”

But that’s not at all what happened. Instead, Raassi and her friends were taken to prison, where they were sentenced. Raasi and the other girls in the group were sentenced to 40 lashes, the boys 50. While she waited to endure her punishment, Raassi said she had to endure the torture going on around her. The screams of women prisoners in the night. “Sometimes they were raped with glass Coca Cola bottles,” Raassi said. And she was subjected to mental torture as the guards would insinuate that the lashing was about to happen. Then, it wouldn’t.

Eventually, though, at the end of her stay, the lashing did happen. A judge lectured the group of friends on what they’d done wrong. They each went into a detention room to receive their corporal punishment. She watched as each of her friends emerged from the room, their backs bloodied by the repeated lashing. “Next thing I know, I’m in the room myself,” she said. With her family waiting outside and able to hear her screams, she took her punishment. “It’s not like getting punched or hit. It burns,” she said. “For me, it was personally so insulting and disrespectful. The mental part was just as bad as the physical agony.”

Perhaps even more agonizing is how Raassi ended up in that position to begin with — how the Basij learned about the illegal party in the first place.

Read the full story at The Daily Beast.

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