Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Rape & Islam: are victims punished?

Until victim-blaming is purged from society, raped women will find themselves treated as architects of their own suffering.

by Monsura Sirajee

"I have been raped. I am in prison. Please call the Embassy," Marte Deborah Dalelv of Norway told her stepfather over the phone as she sat in a Dubai jail. 

A woman is raped and she finds herself jailed upon calling authorities. 

It is a case that has sparked international outrage for its illogical standard of justice, yet is far from being an outlying incident. Dalelv, 24, claims she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker while attending a business meeting in Dubai. She immediately called the police. Her alleged attacker received a 13 month sentence, not for rape, but for extra-marital relations and alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, Dalelv received a longer 16 month sentence. 

According to the Emirates Center for Human Rights, UAE law states a rape conviction can only be secured after a confession from the rapist or as the result of testimony from four adult male witnesses to the crime - evidence that is virtually impossible for a rape victim to bring forth. Since Dalelv was not able to offer either piece of evidence, this incident was treated as a case of extra-martial sexual relations. By confessing that she had been a victim of rape, Dalelv was also a party to the crime of extra-marital sex. 

Cases of 'victim jailing' are widespread in countries that have adopted similar rape laws. In Pakistan alone, according to the National Commission for the Status of Women, 80% of female prisoners are in jail as a direct consequence of extra-marital sex charges. In 2009, 13 year old blind girl named Safia Bibi was raped and impregnated by her employer and his son in Pakistan. Since she was unmarried, pregnant and unable to prove that she was raped, Bibi was sentenced to three years of imprisonment and 15 lashes, while her rapists were never prosecuted.

Critics and supporters alike are quick to point out that these rape laws are Islamically influenced, but in reality they represent a complete distortion of Islamic shariah law. At the crux of the problem is that adultery, or zina, is expanded to include rape, zina bil-jabr, a crime unrelated to adultery precisely because the former involves the consent of both parties, while the later does not. According to the Quran, in order to prosecute adultery, four eye witnesses to the actual penetration must testify. If found guilty, both parties, male and female, are punished equally with 100 lashes. The Quran places the burden of proof on the accuser, not the accused, in order to prevent widespread accusations of adultery, which are especially levelled against women since they often carry the 'proof of adultery' in the form of pregnancies. In fact, not even pregnancies are to be admitted as evidence for adultery. These high standards of proof are meant to protect against anyone being falsely accused, not of rape, but of having a consensual extra-marital sexual relationship.

In the Quran, rape is never mentioned, indicating that it falls under an entirely different set of rules. By superimposing definitions of adultery onto rape, the entire spirit of shariah law regarding adultery - that is, the necessity to suppress accusations of adultery especially aimed at women - is completely distorted. Instead of protecting women, these rape laws especially burden women and other victims of rape.

While the laws are reprehensible, they are symptomatic of a victim blaming rape culture that is not specific to Muslim countries. In March 2013, a case called the Steubenville rape involving the sexual assault of an incapacitated high school girl gained widespread coverage in the United States. A number of public figures, including tennis star Serena Williams, blamed the girl for 'put[ting] herself in that situation'. 

American Sociologist Patricia Yancey Martin writes that the victim blaming culture begins with law enforcement and extends to the courts, legal authorities, media and even hospitals whom she accuses of 'unfairly portraying rape victims as emotionally unstable, morally dubious, unpredictable and erratic'. The consequence is that an alarming amount of rapists are never prosecuted. 

Thanks to international pressure, Dalelv was 'pardoned' for her crime. However, even this implies that she was a party to it. Until and unless victim blaming is purged from our societies, rape victims - especially women - will find themselves treated as architects of their own suffering, while giving rapists license to continue committing acts of horrific violence. @newreligionEU

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