Monday, July 22, 2013

Rape Victim Sentenced -- For Being Raped

raped and initially sentenced for having sex out of wedlock
by Jack Gerson

It doesn't get much worse than this. Last week, a 24-year-old Norwegian woman who had been raped in Dubai by a co-worker was sentenced to 16 months in prison for having sex outside of marriage. I am not making this up.

We need to condemn the legally sanctioning of rape in Dubai and beyond that the  generalized oppression and victimization of women there. We need to condemn the mass gang rapes in Tahrir and elsewhere in Egypt, and support the heroic Egyptian women who have banded together to fight them. But  it's not just a problem in Dubai, nor the entire Arabian peninsula, nor Egypt. There are the out of control gang rapes in India and elsewhere in South Asia -- as discussed on this blog; see


There are the gang rapes carried out for years by Central African militias and armies, and those by militias on all sides of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And then there's the Catholic Church's enforcement of marriage as legalized rape in Ireland, tellilng generations of Irish women it was their religious duty to endure sexual slavery. (For those who haven't yet read John Throne's brilliant novel on this subject, The Donegal Woman, I urge you to do so.)

We can't help but notice that the ruling families in Dubai -- and Saudi Arabia, and the other emirates wallow in oil-drenched opulence, control multinational construction conglomerates, own world-class football (aka soccer) teams, etc.  They are "our" allies. The enlightened democracies of North America and Western Europe will not lift a finger to change that awful situation.

But it's too easy to look at this, say "Shame! Shame!", and look past what's going on right in our own backyard. And this reinforces a smug complacency and thus a tacit complicity in the shameful prevalance of sexual violence against women right here in the U.S.:

The epidemic of rape in the military -- it has taken decades for this scandal to break, and still nothing concrete has been done about it.  Gang rapes and all manner of sexual baiting in high schools across the country -- winked at for years and years ("boys will be boys"). Sexual harassment on the job from bosses and managers. As Sana Saaed explained in a Guardian op ed piece that we reprinted  earlier this month, focusing on mob sexual violence in Egypt, India, and Africa is too often used to avoid looking at the sexual violence in our own society -- see

So yes, we need to massively publicize and protest the atrocity that continues to be perpetrated on the Norwegian rape victim in Dubai. But that must lead us to deepen our resolve to expose the truth about the prevalance of sexual violence in the U.S., and to put an end to the system that produces and reproduces it.

Note: Just as I was about to post this piece, dispatches from Dubai came across the web reporting that Dubai's ruler has pardoned the Norwegian rape victim. Some of these stories are accompanied by a video of a visibly relieved victim smiling and even laughing about the news.  "All's well that ends well", or so CNN et al would have us believe.  But what's really going on here? Well, Dubai is a global tourist resort, a vacation spot for many Europeans, and the news that they can be jailed for casual sex and will be jailed if they're raped is exceedingly bad for the tourist trade. The uproar around this case was enough to make Dubai's bosses realize that. We are very glad that the Norwegian rape victim is now free. But nothing much has really changed. Not in Dubai, where those laws are still on the books and where women -- especially domestic servants imported from Asia -- remain prey to sexual violence. Nor elsewhere around the world. It's urgent to oppose it everywhere, and it's critical that we understand that the fight against sexual violence and oppression, like the fight against racism, must be in the forefront of the fight to transform society.


Anonymous said...

well said, Jack
I think that you omitted the need for education and its basic role in this area - by removing sex education - and discussion of reproductive rights and obligations from the schools - we have abandoned our daughters and our sisters to systematic abuse

keep up the good work

Jack Gerson said...

Thank you, Ulyon. Very good point.