Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dubai rape case controversy

A case involving a Norwegian woman in Dubai who was imprisoned after reporting her rape by a work colleague has been making headlines in the UAE and the US. In case you haven't heard the story, here is a basic run-down of the case from CNN.

A day after that article (and many others, in different news sources and social media sites) ran, the victim was "pardoned" and allowed to leave the UAE.

I've put "pardoned" in quotation marks, but that is quite literally what happened. The woman was charged with (convicted of? It's not clear) consuming alcohol, having sex outside of marriage, and making a false statement to the police (stemming from when she tried to improve her situation by changing her story and claiming that the sex was consensual). When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum pardoned her of those crimes on Monday, she was free to go.

Guess who else was free to go? Her rapist.

There are so many issues with this case that it's hard to know where to begin. The UAE's The National newspaper has had an interesting series of articles in the past few days that give some perspective.

First, The National points out in an editorial that yes, the UAE needs to take a hard look at how it treats victims of sexual violence. It also highlights a key element of this case, which is that at one point, for whatever ill-advised reason (and it was advised to her; by whom is in dispute), the victim said the sex was consensual, which is a crime in the UAE. That seems to have complicated her situation beyond the awful experience of being arrested in the aftermath of a rape, for consuming alcohol.

Second, The National gives a fuller account of the victim's experiences, and places them in the context of the legal system where they took place.

Lastly, The National explains how Sharia Law is and is not relevant to this case, and explains more about the finer points of rape law in the UAE. Coming from a Western perspective, it's certainly a relief to know that the crime of rape does not have to be established by the witness of four males. However, there is still plenty to be squicked out about, particularly if we are to accept the comments of the legal consultant quoted in the above article. For starters, the consultant seems to imply that a woman can give consent just by being drunk. Um, no. Also, he says that "how...strongly a victim [resists]" can determine whether it was rape or not. I'm not sure that's a benchmark we want to even begin to define.

I'm especially interested in the controversy and East/West divide surrounding this case because it is tangentially related to my thesis. I am studying the experiences of Westerners who come to the UAE to teach English. In my thesis, I discuss the appeal of the UAE to Western teachers because it offers them a style of living that, on the surface, seems to be on par with what they are used to in their home countries.

But there are very real differences between Dubai and, say, London. Sometimes, under the gloss and glare of Dubai's charms, those important distinctions are lost. Those of us who are guests in the UAE - which is to say, most of the population - ignore these fundamental and sometimes quite alarming differences at our peril. Many of us are used to a Western-style treatment of the report of rape, which, while not without its weaknesses and misapplications, at least has a built-in sense of presumed innocence on the part of the victim. As this and other cases show, however, even something that seems so basic to Westerners cannot at all be assumed when you're in the UAE.

By Western standards of justice and legality, what happened to the Norwegian woman in Dubai was truly atrocious - the crime itself, and her treatment by the police afterward. But when you look at the case in its Eastern context, everything turns on its head and it's hard to know what to think. Taking a more benign example, is it fundamentally ridiculous that during Ramadan, I cannot take a drink from a bottle of water during daylight hours in public, including in my own vehicle, without risking someone reporting me to the police? Well, yeah, but so says me and my Western upbringing and life experiences and status as a non-Muslim. It's almost as if there is no right answer...except that the "right answer" in a rape case should never involve the victim being put in jail, not even for a little while, not even if she was drunk when she made the report in a country where being drunk is a crime.

What are your thoughts on this case?


Susanne said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective on this. I've been reading about it some so it's nice hearing from someone who lives in the area.

Glenda The Good said...

The hard part for me, the part that I think exist in West as well is that so often in rape cases the victim is blamed. Sure in the US, she would not have been charged but the fact that she had been drinking heavily, had asked him to take her to her room, and then had gone into a room with him may have made a district attorney think twice about taking the case to court, would certainly have come up in a trial, and would very well have had an affect on the outcome of the case. Really stupidly annoying. It is as if in our attempts to make ourselves feel safer on why a rape would never happen to us we look for reasons that the victims made it happen to themselves, so that we can avoid them. And yes it is true that we have choices and some of them may or may not have us taking chance but in the end when someone commits a crime it is their fault, not ours. But seriously even within the, and I'm going to just say it, seriously messed up way that the East chooses to deal with sexuality and crimes against it...Egypt and Indian I'm thinking about your in particular at this moment, did they also charge the man with drinking alcohol and sex outside of marriage? Maybe I missed that in the article but I didn't see it. I mean because even if they choose to blame the victim for the "rape" and force her into a confession, it seems to me he'd at least be guilty of the same crimes. Did you ever bother to watch Half the Sky? It made me so angry. A definite must for everyone!

Glenda The Good said...

I didn't mean to put rape in quotations...because I think it was rape....I just had Peach talking to me about toast and Cheetah being on the table and I guess I was just doing too many things at once... :-/

Glenda The Good said...

Also pss...I didn't mean to say bother...good grief my post seems so confronational. I'm just in a mood. What I intended to say is, "Have you had the opportunity to see Half the Sky." Because really it was eye opening. Stuff I'd known but to see all put together like just touched me on a deeply.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

The medieval attitude of the government in this case (and others like it) is troubling. Yet I keep going back to the foolishness of the woman in the case. She did not cause the rape, she was not "asking" for it, she did not "deserve" it, etc. But she put herself at risk through excessive drinking and subsequent behavior.

Was a crime committed? Yes, she reported one and should be presumed an innocent victim. But when you put yourself at risk, bad things can happen. That never excuses a crime, but as is often said, you can control your actions but not the consequences of those actions. This sounds harsh, sorry.

Some parts of the world, and some parts of our own country must shed their medieval attitudes towards women on any level.

Bridget said...

Somewhere in one of those articles it said that the man was charged with the same crimes: drinking alcohol and extramarital sex. He was also pardoned.

Yes, I've read Half the Sky. Great book.

Liz Johnson said...

"Many of us are used to a Western-style treatment of the report of rape, which, while not without its weaknesses and misapplications, at least has a built-in sense of presumed innocence on the part of the victim."

I think this is interesting, because in the US, the presumed innocence on the part of the victim is EXACTLY what makes it rape. And I think that's why there's such a backlash against victim-blaming in the US right now, because culturally, we seem to want to muddle the waters and suggest that, perhaps sometimes, the victims aren't entirely victims. "Maybe they sorta caused their own rape." We don't do that when people are carjacked or murdered - we feel awful for them and see them as victims that were not complicit in their crimes.

(Although, thinking about it, I guess to a certain degree we think that drug-dealer-on-drug-dealer murder, we sometimes will wave our hands and suggest that they were involved in activities that they shouldn't have been involved in... which is a lot like the victim-blaming we do with rape cases. Now I'm all sorts of angry about victim blaming on both of these levels. Bah!)

Point being - if we can't presume innocence on the part of the victim, then the ability to report rape (and have it prosecuted) is a huge, huge problem.

I thought the article about sharia law was really interesting and points to a broader problem of proving rape as opposed to making consensual sex illegal. The burden of proof is still entirely on the victim - you have to prove it was non-consensual, or else you're at fault. Why would you ever report rape, then, if the burden of proof (and risks of failing to prove it) were so high? In my mind, in order to have effective laws against rape, presumed innocence of the victim is paramount. Which is why we have a problem here.

And now I have rambled for like an hour. Time to push publish and see if any of it makes sense! :)

Kathy Haynie said...

I appreciate your thoughts, the links, and the comments by others. Ultimately, I came away feeling just...sad. Sad for the way victims are blamed. The article with the details of the case left me feeling icky about so many things. With all that, it was good to get actual information instead of the screaming headlines. Lots to think about. Thank you.


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