Rape Case in Dubai Gives a Whole New Meaning to "Victim-Blaming"

A 25-year-old Norwegian woman has been sentenced to 16 months in jail in the United Arab Emirates for having sex outside marriage. The young woman, who was raped in Dubai while on a business trip in March, went to the local police to report the assault.

But instead of investigating her case, they seized her passport and threw her in jail on suspicion of having sex outside marriage. She had to spend several days in a cell before she was even allowed to use a telephone.

According to the Daily Mail, the Norwegian consulate was able to negotiate a release with the help of family members. She has been living under the protection of the Norwegian Sailor's Church in Dubai until her sentencing this week. 

The woman has now been found guilty of sex outside marriage, drinking alcohol without a license, and perjury, and is sentenced to 16 months in jail.

Even more shockingly, her rapist received only a 13-month sentence for the assault. 

"This verdict flies in the face of our notion of justice," Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told the NTB news agency. "It appears very odd that a person who reports rape is convicted for crimes that in our part of the world are not considered crimes." 

The family said the help and assistance of the Norwegian Sailor's Church has been critical in keeping their daughter's spirits up. The pastor's wife reportedly sat in on the hearings with the Norwegian women because "men and women cannot sit together."

Sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal in the United Arab Emirates, which has sadly led to multiple instances of foreigners unaware of the law being prosecuted when reporting rapes. Alcohol consumption is also strictly controlled within the country. 

"I have received the harshest sentence for sex outside marriage, harshest sentence for drinking alcohol, and on top of that I was found guilty of perjury," the woman told Verdens Gang.

"It is a terrible situation she is in," said Gisle Meling, the priest at the Norwegian Sailor’s Church. "We are very surprised and had hoped it would go another way, but we live in a country which has a justice system which draws its conclusions with the help of Sharia law."

Earlier this year, Australian Alicia Gali spoke of her own horrific experience where she was jailed for eight months in Dubai after she reported a rape.

Gali was working at hotel chain Starwood when her drink was spiked at the staff bar and she woke to find that three colleagues raped her. When she went to the hospital for help, they turned her over to the police instead. 

In December 2012, a British woman was also arrested and fined for drinking alcohol illegally after reporting to the local police that she was gang-raped by three men. 

"In the UAE, there have been multiple cases over the past few years where the state has charged women with criminal offences after they have reported rape," said Samer Muscati, a researcher in the women right’s division of Human Rights Watch. "When it comes to seeking justice for sexual violence, women in the UAE still face formidable and often insurmountable barriers."

According to the Daily Guardian, foreigners jailed in Dubai are immediately deported after completing their sentences. 

This vicious cycle needs to stop. To further victimize someone for reporting a sexual assault, no matter what the local law or perception dictates, is an outrageous human rights violation and needs to be treated as such. 

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Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Hyacinth is a graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. Her interests include cultural, social and political trends in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as human rights issues across the globe.

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