Monday, 31 May 2010

Rape in the UAE - an update

My last post but one was about a rape case in which an 18-year old Emirati woman reported a gang rape, was arrested, held in prison, and put on trial for having sex outside wedlock. The 6 men accused in the case were on trial both for rape and for having consensual sex outside wedlock - two charges which, I would have thought, were mutually exclusive, but apparently not here. I haven't been able to find it explicitly stated anywhere, but it seems that if the prosecution fails to make the case for rape (which can carry the death sentence) against the men, they will still be done for unlawful sex, which carries a jail sentence and possible flogging.

Then a couple of days ago it was reported in The National that the woman had retracted her statements, including the charges of rape against the men. She is still on trial for having sex though, and appeared in handcuffs. The men are still on trial as well - although charges against one of them have been dropped. One, under questioning in court, was visibly supressing his laughter.

There are quite a few questions that this report leaves unanswered - most of them about procedure (are the men still on trial for rape, or just for consensual sex?) - but the main question is, why on earth would anyone ever report a rape in this country?

The first reponse seems to be to arrest the victim and treat them as a criminal - and this applies to male rape victims as well as to female ones, as witness the appalling story of the French/Swiss teenage resident a few years ago. The 15-year-old was abducted and raped by 3 locals (two adults and one older teenager), escaped and went to the police - only to be accused of being homosexual and asked by the doctor examining his injuries to "confess he was gay." Furthermore, one of his attackers was HIV+, and knew it, but according to the boy's family, local officials assured them for months that there was no risk to the boy of sexually transmitted disease.,8599,1680682,00.html

To put this in some sort of perspective, rape convictions in my own country are shockingly hard to come by - about 6.5% of the cases that actually come to court in England and Wales result in conviction, compared with about 34% of criminal cases generally - and it's only a 2.9% conviction rate in Scotland.

This is the lowest conviction rate in Europe, and the convictions that are obtained are almost always the result of confessions by the accused. So basically, if you plan to commit a rape in Europe, your best bet for getting away with it is in Scotland, and whatever else you do, if you get caught, just keep denying it.

The careers of some rapists who eventually became well known (Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer and child rapist; Kirk Reid, who enjoyed a 12-year long stint as a rapist and stalker; and John Worboys, who combined his work as a taxi driver with his hobby as a rapist over 13 years, are examples that spring to mind) show them shrugging off accusation after accusation.

But one important difference is that accusations of rape in the UK very seldom proceed with the arrest of the victim. Although, (to quote the Guardian quoting from the Home Office report) victims in the UK are "found to experience delays, "unpleasant environments", inappropriate behaviour by professionals, insensitive questioning during interviews and "judgmental or disbelieving attitudes" when coming forward with complaints of rape", they are seldom arrested as soon as they make the charge, banged up in prison until the trial is heard, or appear in court in handcuffs.

Here, however, sex outside wedlock is a criminal offence, and it seems as if prosecuting this takes precedent over deciding whether sex was consensual or forced. Of course it's difficult to prove consent or the lack thereof, as consent leaves no bodily signs, and lack of consent cannot necessarily be inferred by bruising or other damage. Easier to determine whether sex took place - although from the reports, there may also be some peculiarities of the forensic tests as used (or as interpreted) here - for example, the 15 year old boy raped by three men was told the tests proved he was homosexual, which no test could in fact prove.

For rapes amongst Emiratis there is also a powerful disincentive to report rape in the value placed upon women's physical intactness, and the role that physical intactness plays in the pride and status of her male relatives. This young Emirati woman has apparently been beaten by her brother, disowned by her family, and ... well, now what? If she is found guilty of consensual sex she is likely to have a prison sentence and lashes, after which - who knows? If she is acquitted of consensual sex (which presumably would require the charges of rape to be upheld), will she be returned to her family without a blemish on her character?

The only possible safeguard for her now would be for the court to magically find that no rape at all has occurred and no sex either - in short, that she is completely untouched by hand of man... except that the court has already heard that she got into a man's car, and this alone is enough to destroy her reputation and her family's pride in the eyes of many.

So who can guarantee her safety now? Nobody - not her family, from whom she is clearly in danger, not her fellow nationals, and certainly not the legal system of her country.

And what about the accused, "supressing their laughter" in court? I don't know whether or not they are guilty, obviously, and would not like to speculate. But it seems to me that if any potential rapists are following this story - people who would quite like to rape somebody, if they only thought they could get away with it - they will be supressing some laughter of their own.

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