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article imageReporting rape means prison time for women in UAE

By Brandi Fleeks     Oct 27, 2015 in Politics
When Marte Deborah Dalelv reported being raped by a work colleague during a 2013 visit to Dubai, UAE, she expected that her attacker would be brought to justice. Instead, the Court convicted her of unlawful sexual relations between Muslims (Zina).
Women who report rape in the UAE risk being accused of, and are routinely imprisoned for, committing Zina- adultery and fornication in Islam. The country abides by Sharia Law, which punishes sex outside of marriage with prison time and even flogging.
Many of the jailed women are pregnant, or are migrant domestic servants who left their country to work for an employer, reports The Guardian. Some of the women who report being raped only to face prosecution and imprisonment are UAE residents, but the majority are domestic servants to wealthy citizens.
The situation is more common than not, according to Amnesty International researcher Drewery Dyke. “Rape victims have been accused of having engaged in illicit sexual relations, while the rape allegations themselves have been left uninvestigated,” he said.
An unmarried, pregnant woman accused of “illicit sex” must prove she was raped with four male witnesses who confirm her story, or a confession from the rapist. Without proof, women accused of Zina are customarily sentenced to months or years in prison.
Many women in the UAE avoid reporting that they have been raped for fear of imprisonment. Monica, a former Philippine domestic servant is one such example. According to the BBC few months after leaving her husband and three children to earn money work for a family in the UAE, she was attacked by the family’s driver.
Monica remained silent about the rape, only to realize three months later that she was pregnant. Because she lacked proof that she was raped she hid the pregnancy, as it would have been proof of guilt of “illicit sex” in the UAE, and she would have been imprisoned.
Under the Kafala system, workers who come to the UAE must be sponsored by their employers. Employees may only work for that employer and are forbidden from leaving the country without permission. Often, the employers confiscate employees’ passports, leaving them with no other options but to live under the same roof as their victimizers.
Although men have faced prison time for violating the law and engaging in extramarital sex, it is more common for pregnant women to face accusations and prison time, because the pregnancy is used as proof of Zina.
The unlawful sex ban has drawn criticism from human rights organizations, which argue that the law violates international human rights laws. The solution to this problem, according to Rothna Begum, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch in London, is to decriminalize extramarital sex. “This would then lift off the possibility that victims could be prosecuted,” she said. “Then you need to be able to ensure that those who end up as victims are in a situation where they are not vulnerable.”
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