A 22 year old Dutch woman on holiday in Qatar was jailed for nearly three months on unclear charges after reporting her rape to Qatari authorities.
Her drink was spiked while she was at a hotel bar with friends and she realized she’d been raped when she woke up in an unfamiliar room. The alleged attacker, reported to be of Syrian nationality, was not tried for the rape. Instead, the woman was immediately arrested after alerting police and incarcerated.
She has now been found guilty of “illicit sex” and being drunk. Sex is illegal in the Gulf state unless it occurs between married persons. She was given a one-year suspended sentence, three years of probation and fined $823. It is expected that she will be immediately deported.
The alleged rapist was found guilty of the same crimes. He was sentenced to 140 lashes. No mention was made of any sexual assault accusations during the trial.
Unsurprisingly, the reaction of most commenters has been to see this as a tourism issue. Some blame the woman — identified only as “Laura” — for travelling to Qatar, as if somehow she should have foreseen her rape and imprisonment. Others blame the Qatari legal system.
However, this isn’t just a problem for tourists. In fact, tourists may well be better off than local Gulf women.
Local women do not have other nations advocating on their behalf. It is no coincidence that Laura’s alleged rapist received a harsher penalty, though he was found guilty of exactly the same crimes. It is no coincidence that, after holding Laura since March, the sentence was effectively no punishment: the suspended sentence and deportation mean she can go free.
As she was a tourist, it is unlikely there is any reason for her to feel anguish at being deported; and if she hasn’t finished sightseeing all she has to do is not commit a crime next time she’s there (if she visits before her three-year probation period expires). Even the fine is likely to be cancelled out by the fact that deportation saves her the cost of a flight home. And, take the 2013 case of a Norwegian rape victim found guilty of fornication in nearby UAE: according to CNN, she was pardoned by Dubai’s ruler.
Women without another country’s citizenship — or, most likely, without the citizenship of a country which does not share Gulf states’ views on rape — are vulnerable to receiving harsher punishments (such as that given to Laura’s Syrian rapist). In fact, Laura faced up to 7 years in prison. If she were a local, she might be serving a full sentence or facing lashes.
Not only do locals and tourists from other Middle Eastern states lack a government to protect them, they may also face ostracism from their own communities and families for being raped or being perceived to have had sex. As homosexuality is illegal in the region, male rape victims also face very real risks for reporting rape.
Sadly, it may not even be the law that is the problem, but how it is applied. CNN states that Qatar’s Penal Code 2004 (Law No. 11) reads, “anyone who copulates with a female above sixteen without compulsion, duress or ruse is convicted to no more than seven years in prison. The same penalty is also imposed on the female for her consent.”
This text suggests that rape (using “compulsion, duress or ruse”) would incur a more severe punishment — more than seven years. And unlike the statements made by certain American political figures, the law appears not to require use of force to qualify a crime as rape, or at least as different from illicit sex. This does not appear much different from sexual assault laws in Western states.
However, clearly — at least in this case — the attitudes and choices of the police and court system preclude the law from being enacted in the way it was intended. And these attitudes ultimately pose more of a threat to local women, men, adolescents, trans and agender people than they do to those who have an embassy to — though it may fail in getting any sort of justice — at least attempt to prevent the worst injustice of all.
Local residents also face another danger: the add-on effect of jailing rape victims while refusing to prosecute the perpetrator for rape is likely to deter victims from reporting. This may well contribute to creating a ‘safe haven’ for sexual predators.
Watch “Dutch Woman Accuses Man Of Rape, Gets Arrested In Qatar” from Newsy:
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