What to know about rape in Qatar

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Norwegian citizen Marte Dalelv has left the UAE and arrived home in Oslo after being pardoned from serving a 16-month jail sentence for having sex outside of marriage.

The 24-year-old, who first ran into trouble with Dubai police after reporting a rape in March, has been the focus of international media attention this week after going public with her story. 

Though that coverage is dying down now, questions about how sex crimes are handled in the Gulf will likely linger for some time.

In Qatar, where the expat was based, the case has prompted furious debate about women’s rights, alcohol consumption and personal responsibility. Rape crimes are not commonly heard about here, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

Rape in Qatar

In Dubai, only 9.5 percent of sexual assault victims reportedly end up coming forward. Recent statistics for rape – reported and unreported – are not readily available in Qatar, but the number is low, according to Dr. Najeeb al-Nuaimi, a criminal lawyer and former justice minister of Qatar.

Though al-Nuaimi said sexual assaults happen rarely in Qatar, he admitted that it’s possible female victims remain silent about it out of fear.

“Maybe they are afraid because they are expatriates and she might be asked to leave the country or lose her job,” he said.

Not being believed is another major concern among women who are attacked here, a former resident and women’s activist told Doha News.

While she lived here between 2006 and 2011, Anna (not her real name) said she was raped, but chose not to report it, and met many other victims of sexual assault who made the same choice. She said:

I knew women who had been assaulted and told by their attackers that the police would only punish them, and not the men who assaulted them. I knew women attacked by the very people people hired to keep them safe. 

I knew women who reported and were told they should have fought harder. Should have screamed louder. Not have been kind to him. Not have been rude to him. Should have known better… I knew women who were told by their employers that they shouldn’t have been so careless and stupid.

Speaking about her own assault, Anna said she was raped in 2007 by someone working at an event she attended, but a myriad of factors kept her from reporting the crime:

I kept silent because I didn’t want my family and friends to find out. I bought the lie that somehow, this must have been my fault. I didn’t want to jeopardize my sponsorship. I didn’t want the worst moment of my life used against me.

…I kept silent because I wanted to forget. And honestly, I didn’t know the process of reporting it to the authorities. I still don’t.

According to al-Nuaimi, when such attacks happen, they should immediately be reported to police, so that evidence can be collected. The case is then referred to the prosecutor’s office, to evaluate whether a crime took place.

Physical evidence trumps

In the absence of witnesses – who are not needed to secure rape convictions in Qatar – the amount of physical evidence will usually decide the case.

“She could push him (or) resist the movement by moving her hands – that would show a mark or scratch, which proves that she was under a physical struggle,” he said. “But if that doesn’t show, she’s lying. That’s clear for any investigator.”

In contrast to that logic, rape support groups say a woman’s testimony, not physical scars, should be the most important factor in determining the crime.

“She may decide to survive by cooperating with the rapist. She may think that by not fighting him she will be hurt less,” said Tracy Glenn, a registered nurse who has lived in the Gulf for more than a decade.

In the case of Dalelv, a medical examination showed no physical signs of a struggle, the National reports. Other factors that worked against her in court was that she was intoxicated when reporting her rape to the police; she entered her colleague’s hotel room willingly, according to footage; and that she later recanted her accusation.

Because of these facts, Dalelv was convicted not only of extramarital sex, but also drinking alcohol without a license and making a false statement.

In Qatar, drinking alcohol is not a punishable offense for tourists – or even nationals, al-Nuaimi said. And prosecutors here are apparently less likely to pursue extramarital sex cases.

Case dismissed

If, like in the case of Dalelv, a court determines no rape occurred, the case would be dismissed and the woman bringing the accusation might be asked to sign a statement saying she’ll drop the issue. Or she might spend one night in jail, al-Nuaimi said. 

If physical evidence is more conclusive, the attacker could be convicted and serve a jail term of up to three years, he added. But if someone is convicted of having sex outside of marriage, the jail term usually lasts three months, as opposed to a year in Dubai.

As she left the UAE, Dalelv told media that she learned she should have called her embassy for help before reporting the rape to the police. The National reports:

“Back in Norway we are always trained with three numbers to call – the police, fire department and hospitals – when in a crisis, and I was in shock and so I called the police,” she said. “But maybe if I had contacted the embassy someone would have given me advice.”

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo for illustrative purposes only by Raoul Pop

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