Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes

A lot of you have sent me varying versions of this story: A rape survivor in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 200 lashes for the crime of being alone with an unrelated man. For vigorously defending her, her lawyer has had his license revoked and faces a disciplinary hearing. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes, but her sentence was raised after her attorney told her story to the media.

I don’t think I need to emphasize how disgusting and horrible this is; but I do think it’s interesting that the Western media is reporting that there was a singular rape victim, and saying things like, “Some liberal commentators said her sentence highlighted the justice system’s failure to treat women fairly.”

The Saudi justice system does fail to treat women fairly, there’s no question about that. But here’s what happened:

The young woman’s offense was in meeting a former boyfriend, whom she had asked to return pictures he had of her because she was about to marry another man. The couple was sitting in a car when a group of seven men kidnapped them and raped them both, lawyers in the case told Arab News, a Saudi newspaper.

Emphasis mine. The boyfriend was sentenced to 90 lashes as well; the only information I could find about his sentence was from Arab News, which states that the man decided not to appeal his conviction.

What’s interesting to me is how this story is getting molded into the traditional narrative that seems to surface whenever a crime against a woman in a majority-Muslim nation becomes publicized (this post by Fauzia explains the issue much more eloquently than I can). There’s no question that women are treated as second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia; but turning the story into a “women-are-always-mistreated (and see how much better we have it here?)” lesson obscures a messier reality. Yes, women are mistreated there, and yes, they get completely and totally screwed by the justice system; there’s no question that this is an issue of misogyny. But it’s also an issue of broader human rights abuses. Now, justice systems in misogynist societies have a nasty habit of particularly handicapping women, and that shouldn’t be ignored. And when judicial systems are already corrupt and ass-backwards, women are going to be treated even worse.

This is a women’s rights issue, and it’s a human rights issue. But the erasure of the male rape survivor serves a variety of purposes, of which highlighting women’s rights abuses is only one. It lets us separate us from them; when we highlight the atrocity of a rape victim being put on trial, we allow ourselves to ignore all the other ways that our own systemic human rights abuses reflect those of Saudi Arabia: the death penalty, secret prisons, harsh punishments for juvenile offenders, lack of due process rights, disproportionate prosecution of minorities, and on and on. We position ourselves as the enlightened saviors, the ones who speak truth in the face of a nation of backwards Muslims. Of course, the people who were initially outraged over this case and who publicized the woman’s cause are Saudi — the lawyer, human rights activists, the media. And while that gets a mention, it’s only to further highlight the backwardness of Saudis.

Now, make no mistake, Saudi law is backwards. But individual Saudis are speaking out, at great personal risk, for human rights, women’s rights, and feminism in general. That deserves to be highlighted. I’d rather go to trial here than in Saudi Arabia any day of the week, so I’m not suggesting that we’re on equal footing when it comes to our criminal justice systems. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore these issues, or that we should white-wash how horrific they are. But I am suggesting that legitimate women’s rights issues are too often twisted in order to suit other ends, and in our current Islamophobic culture, misogyny is highlighted “over there” as a way to demonstrate our moral superiority, not as a way to express genuine concern for women’s rights (just look at how women’s rights in Afghanistan got tossed to the side as soon as they were no longer politically expedient). We wring our hands over the horrible misogyny in cases like this, and yet we remain allies with some of the worst human rights abusers in the world (like Saudi Arabia). We continue to imitate others (like Egypt and Syria) in our War on Terror. We exploit stereotypes about women’s rights in the Middle East in order to justify wars in countries like Iraq, where women are worse off now than they were before we invaded. We ignore the work of human rights activists in their own countries, and we regularly undermine them by positioning feminism as a Western concept and then dredging up anti-Western sentiments by invading their countries, killing people, and supporting oppressive regimes when it suits us. We breed anti-Americanism, claim feminism as an American invention, go to war with women’s rights as a justification, and then wonder why women’s rights are treated skeptically. We hold up the burqa as the ultimate symbol of misogyny, but seem unconcerned with things like torture, secret prisons, mercenary-led murders, and rape as a war crime.

It’s troubling, and it’s frustrating to see feminist issues used to foster bigotry, to back up the call to war, and to prop up abusive policies.

Ultimately, women’s rights are meaningless without human rights, and the other way around. Saudi Arabia violates both with astonishing regularity. But we need to maintain a skeptical eye on the way these stories are reported in the Western media, and we need to remember just how thoroughly politicians and media-makers have demonstrated their general disregard for women as a class, here and abroad. We need to keep that in mind when reading these stories, and we need to be simultaneously horrified at the situation and cynical about how it’s being reported and the agendas and assumptions behind the coverage.

If we really want to help — if we’re genuinely concerned about human rights here and abroad — we need to start cleaning up our own house, we need to cut ties with abusive regimes, and we need to make and follow through on commitments to human rights activists in their own communities.

I suspect, though, that we’ll just get more articles like these, and no action to back up our supposed outrage.

Thanks to Teddy for the link — and I’m interested to learn that I’m one of the “most ardent Islamophiles” you know (you don’t get out much, do you?). Hopefully I made you proud.


Similar Posts (automatically generated):

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Gender, Law, Religion, Sexual Assault and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes

  1. dinogirl says:

    Great article Jill. I completely agree.

  2. Cecily says:

    dinogirl stole my ‘Great article’ line, so I’ll say, thanks for looking deeper and helping us to do so.

  3. Cecily says:

    Oh, I was also going to say that one of the unsavory truths we share with Saudi Arabia is treating male rape victims poorly. I am reminded of the case of the French youth in Dubai and I wondered if this girl’s ex, in addition to his 90 lashes, received the same homophobic treatment from doctors and cops…or maybe he just didn’t press charges, so they would stop bothering him.

    Just another facet of the case that the MSM is not getting into in order to follow the script.

  4. Awesome says:

    Why is this filed under “crazy conservatives?” Wouldn’t the craziest of conservatives go and reform this backwards and barbaric nation? What would liberals do? Talk to them?

  5. james says:

    Jill – she was sentenced to 200 lashes for the crime of being alone with an unrelated man. It doesn’t explicitly state what he was given 90 lashes for, but it wasn’t that – I’m guessing from the context it was something to do with taking pornographic pictures of her when she was 16 and blackmailing her with them. I don’t believe in lashing anyone, but what he did is illegal for perfectly good reasons, they had him bang to rights, and I’m not really that choked up about it. He’s not exactly the victim she is.

    The reason he isn’t mentioned is probably less to do with twisting women’s rights issues for nefarious purposes, and more to do what he did is actually wrong and has nothing to do with the rape. She’s being punished because she’s a woman, he’s being punished because he’s a criminal.

  6. Leo says:

    I just fail to understand why one can’t just simply be outraged at the barbarism and backwardness without going into our war on terror and ways in which it is apparantly less than perfect. It seems no one on the left can condemn evil when they see it without say “but we have problems too.” Of course we have problems. But what goes on over there, yes, over there, is not even close to the same category. It’s sick and it should be condemned as backwards unequivocally. Do our “systemic human rights abuses” really relfect a rape vicitm getting 200 lashes? I think the way this is being portrayed by the western media is worthy of skepticism as well. Because the outrage is insufficient and the attempts to compare what just happened to anything in the west is preposterous.

  7. english_rosebud says:

    This is a fascinating take on this issue Jill; really enjoyed reading this, and I think you’re right. Lee, to my mind, the point is not that this story and the women’s abuses in it aren’t horrible (because they are), but that women are used as intellectual pawns for asserting cultural and moral superiority. It’s not only the West that does it, however: back in March when Iran captured British sailors, they used the fact that one was a mother of a young child to play the look-how-much-better-we-treat-our-wimmenz card.

  8. english_rosebud says:

    Rereading my comment, I’m not sure I made my point particularly obvious. To clarify: yes, the abuses of women’s rights (and human rights) in saudi arabia and other countries are an outrage. But lots of conservatives will be touting this story, and others like it, as proof that we’re superior to the backward, ignorant Muslims – when in reality, they don’t give a damn about the girl herself, and moreover, they indicate in other contexts that they’d like to impose the same moral strictures for their own women, given the chance. The girl is just incidental for them – an intellectual chesspiece, that allows Bush’s cosmic oppositions of ‘a war between good and evil’ to sound plausible.

  9. Mnemosyne says:

    To me, the most frustrating thing was not that she got 200 lashes per se, but that she got them added on to her original sentence for complaining that the rapists got off too lightly. And, yes, it makes me worry about the broader human rights implication of how that justice system is run when the judges can basically hand down any punishment they please.

    Our justice system isn’t perfect by a long shot, but our appeals courts will at least try to pretend they’re following the law and not make shit up as they go along.

  10. Mnemosyne says:

    Why is this filed under “crazy conservatives?” Wouldn’t the craziest of conservatives go and reform this backwards and barbaric nation?

    You’re under the impression that Saudi Arabia is run by liberals and not conservatives?

    And our current program of reforming the “backwards and barbaric nation” of Iraq is going so swimmingly that I suppose that we can easily branch out and take over Saudi Arabia, yes?

  11. sarah says:

    I had not heard that the man was raped as well. Interesting.

    What I find upsetting about all of this is not just that this is used as fodder for Islamophobia or that it’s yet another case of horrible treatment of women and/or rape victims.

    It’s that it will be decried by people all over the board without noting that Saudi Arabia is supposedly our ally and is cited as one of the ‘good guys’ in so many Middle East situations. And that will not be mentioned. The barbarity of one country’s laws will be used to demonstrate the barbarity of a whole people.

    Anyone know if male-on-male rape is common in Saudi Arabia?

  12. Jill says:

    I just fail to understand why one can’t just simply be outraged at the barbarism and backwardness without going into our war on terror and ways in which it is apparantly less than perfect. It seems no one on the left can condemn evil when they see it without say “but we have problems too.” Of course we have problems. But what goes on over there, yes, over there, is not even close to the same category. It’s sick and it should be condemned as backwards unequivocally. Do our “systemic human rights abuses” really relfect a rape vicitm getting 200 lashes? I think the way this is being portrayed by the western media is worthy of skepticism as well. Because the outrage is insufficient and the attempts to compare what just happened to anything in the west is preposterous.

    Leo, my point is that it’s a complex issue, and simply registering outrage doesn’t do anything. Yes, this is a hideous crime. No, the punishment she received does not parallel anything that happens in the West. So… what are we doing about it? That was the point of my post — to highlight the fact that we aren’t promoting women’s and human rights, and that our international policy is in fact setting them back.

  13. Jill,

    While I agree with you, I think it might have been better for this discussion to emphasize how utterly appalling continuing US support for the regime in Saudi Arabia is, and how hypocritical as well.

    For heaven’s sake, even the realists (a school of thought I am by no means fond of) are starting to understand that supporting brutal regimes while they’re “on our side” doesn’t work out for ANYONE in the long-run.

    Call it ethics, call it standing up for human rights, go ahead and call it good strategic planning, but we need to do a whole lot more of it and whole lot less myopic “enemy of my enemy” based decision-making.

    As my mother used to say to me as a child, you reap what you sow.

  14. Clarification. You do make the point of calling US support for Saudi Arabia hypocritical, but what I meant was to make that a bigger point within the post. That is all.

    Oh, and I’m glad this is up on Feministe. I’ve been fuming about this story for days now. In fact, I’m fuming now.

  15. exholt says:

    I just fail to understand why one can’t just simply be outraged at the barbarism and backwardness without going into our war on terror and ways in which it is apparantly less than perfect. It seems no one on the left can condemn evil when they see it without say “but we have problems too.”

    Hmmm…….

    Could it be that similar types of oversimplistic unthinking outrage at a non-Western country’s “barbarism” and “backwardness” were used in the past as pretexts to justify and support Western colonization of many non-Western civilizations??

    It is crap like this which causes many non-Westerners to wonder about Western ulterior motives whenever Western governments and human rights groups bring up human rights abuses committed by their governments. This includes those who are fighting within their countries for more respect for individual human rights and political freedoms as I have found from discussions with some exiled Chinese dissidents.

    This hits home for me both as someone who has studied the history of colonization within East Asia as well as having an ancestor who was part of the Chinese resistance against the British effort to flood China with opium during the first Opium War (1839-1842). This incident alone underscores the rank hypocrisy in colonizing other countries to “civilize them” tripe when the “civilized” British were essentially wholesale drug pushers while banning the use of opium on their own shores. And if you’re wondering “What does that have to do with the Americans”, American merchant ships were used to ship some of that opium for the British.

  16. alsojill says:

    I don’t believe in lashing anyone, but what he did is illegal for perfectly good reasons, they had him bang to rights, and I’m not really that choked up about it. He’s not exactly the victim she is.

    You missed Jill’s point–as a *rape victim* he has been elided out of the story entirely. It has nothing to do with what he may or may not have done with the woman when they were together, and everything to do with his rape.

  17. Alana says:

    James wrote:
    Jill – she was sentenced to 200 lashes for the crime of being alone with an unrelated man. It doesn’t explicitly state what he was given 90 lashes for, but it wasn’t that …

    Yes, it was. From the NYT:
    The woman and the former boyfriend were originally sentenced to 90 lashes each for being together in private.

    It’s not clear to me from either article whether or not he actually attempted to blackmail her or whether photographing his girlfriend naked was in fact illegal (was he also 16 at the time? Would that matter under Saudi law?), but as alsojill points out @16, it really isn’t relevant to the elision of his rape from the “story.”

  18. james says:

    Okay. I was going off the Arab News article. I’m genuinely surprised they sentenced him to lashing for being alone with a woman. That’s a level of principled egalitarianism I didn’t expect from the Saudis. I guess Jill has a point.

    But I do think you have to ignore certain things to draw an equivalence between him and her. He did have a right to be in that car park and to wander around without a male escort. The system of laws asks him not to be alone with a woman, it makes her give up far more of her independence. There’s a real sense in which she’s being punished for being in a place where she was raped, and he isn’t. If she hadn’t been there he wouldn’t have been lashed, be she would have still been in trouble if he hadn’t been there. He’s being punished for impropriety, she’d being punished for being independent.

    I don’t really buy the idea that these fair minded Saudis are being equally repressive to both men and women and these evil bigots are trying to elide his story to paint the kingdom as being unfair to women. There’s a good reason to flag her story: the punishment’s incidental to his rape, it isn’t to hers.

  19. james says:

    And I still feel that if he’s being unjustifiabily punished for being alone with a woman, while not being justifiably punished for the child porn and the blackmail, the net effect is the same as if they’d got it the right way around. It’s a shame he’s not being punished for what he did, but there you go…

  20. Alana says:

    James,

    First of all, you’re quite right. Saudi law is quite clearly more draconian in restricting women’s rights than men’s. I’m pretty sure that at least one of the points Jill was trying to make is that women’s rights are human rights and that the obfuscation of that simple fact by the journalistic media in the framing of this story is tendentious in several ways, but, nonetheless, well spotted.

    However – child pornography? Are you serious? Two of my best friends from high school made a tape of themselves having sex when they were, I think, 16. We still joke about their “Spanish Project” (after the label of the tape they recycled for the purpose). What say you, 90 lashes all around?

    Child pornography is about the exploitation and sexual abuse of children. A little consensual photography between a couple of romantically-involved teenagers? Not the same thing.

    As for “blackmail,” it’s obvious that threatening to release the photographs was an asshole thing to do. Just how much of an asshole thing it was to do is impossible to say from those articles (was it blackmail? was he trying to coerce her in some way? or was he just immature, jealous, and making an empty threat?). You’ll note, however, that he in fact didn’t release the photos. He agreed to surrender them to his ex. We know this because he was in fact gang raped in the process of doing so.

    It’s really, I admit, because of that last bit that I find your rather blasé attitude to his subsequent treatment by the Saudi legal system a bit difficult to stomach.

  21. Alana says:

    Let me actually clarify the final bit of my last post, which is in moderation:

    Two people were gang-raped, and then sentenced to 90 lashes for being alone with one another. The Western media all ran a bunch of “why are the brown people still beating their wives?” stories.

    The fact that you think one of those people might have done something else in his life to deserve punishment does nothing to mitigate how fucked-up that is. (Neither, by the way, does the objective fact of women’s oppression in Saudi Arabia; it’s not that we, as Western feminists, can’t decry the violation of women’s rights in other cultures – it’s a question of appropriate framing.)

  22. denelian says:

    Leo said
    ” Do our “systemic human rights abuses” really relfect a rape vicitm getting 200 lashes?”

    have you ever been the victim of a rape and gone to trial?

    *I* would rather take 90 lashes than go through THAT; being drug through the mud, EVERY ACTION i take, EVERY article of clothing, every word, my sub-cultural influences, my friends, my hair, all to be told that i am a slut and therefor i was not raped, i wanted it, no matter how hard i fought

    the lashed are over. the humiliation drags out for months, the smug fucker walks free to DO IT AGAIN, and you can’t even file a restraining order, because you have no reason, because you are a slut and probably also a crazy stalker girl.

    pay attention sometime to a rape trial.

    that is, if they will, in future, be CALLED rape trials. there is now precident to “protect” the “accust ” rapist from being CALLED a rapist. but no protection for the girl, who is still having her name dragged through the mud

  23. denelian says:

    accused. the word was NOT accust, it was accused. sorry

  24. Pingback: Raped Men and Silence « Feminist Philosophers

  25. Jill says:

    I don’t really buy the idea that these fair minded Saudis are being equally repressive to both men and women and these evil bigots are trying to elide his story to paint the kingdom as being unfair to women.

    Well, sure — but who said that? You’re arguing against points I never made.

    But I do think you have to ignore certain things to draw an equivalence between him and her.

    Again, no one is drawing equivalence. I specifically say in the post that women are usually treated worse than men are in the Saudi justice system. But I think it’s quite possible to argue that point and still take note of the fact that men aren’t treated particularly well either, and that the exclusion of the man’s rape from the story serves a specific purpose for Western interests.

  26. Kristen from MA says:

    and yet we remain allies with some of the worst human rights abusers in the world (like Saudi Arabia)

    yes, yes! thank you

  27. Micky says:

    While it may appear horrific to us, its their culture and they have a right to decide matters within their own national boundaries. It is not like Americans are the moral arbiters of the world.

  28. Jill says:

    Micky, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding. “It’s their culture”? Hell no. Lots of horrible things have been done in the name of “culture” — was slavery ok because it was part of our culture? Anti-Semitism? Human rights are universal and basic, and culture is not an excuse for violating them.

  29. False Flag Operative says:

    and yet we remain allies with some of the worst human rights abusers in the world (like Saudi Arabia)

    It’s because of their oil. The US and Saudi Arabia have been allies ever since the end of WW2.

    As for the 200 lashes fo rthe rape victim, it’s pretty fucked up and words can’t describe the injustice.

  30. Charlotte says:

    “in our current Islamophobic culture, misogyny is highlighted “over there” as a way to demonstrate our moral superiority, not as a way to express genuine concern for women’s rights” —

    YES, YES and YES. *That* really is part of the wingnuts’ definition of their feminism. You nailed it!

  31. Pingback: Unvieled: Saudi Rape Victim Sentenced To 200 Lashes : Elaine Vigneault

  32. exholt says:

    While it may appear horrific to us, its their culture and they have a right to decide matters within their own national boundaries. It is not like Americans are the moral arbiters of the world.

    IMHO, this has less to do with being moral arbiters and more with not becoming effective enablers of human rights abuses through passive non-action. There is a great chasm between uncritical outrage which Jill is criticizing and doing nothing due to one’s feeling s(he) has no moral standing to do so.

    I’ll admit I have some sympathies with the “it’s their culture” due to all the “civilizing” rhetoric used by Western missionaries* and colonialists to justify their effective colonizing of many parts of the non-Western world in the past…as well as the present.

    However, that sympathy is tempered from my own observations of how “it’s our culture” has been effectively utilized by tyrannical ruling elites in Mainland China and elsewhere to violate human rights, continue gender discrimination, and to discriminate against minority groups. Such rhetoric has often been used to equate all human rights activism, including those by native citizens as “Western interference” and thus, playing on their own citizens’ fears of this being used as a convenient pretext for Western neo-colonialism. In this context, “it’s their/our culture” is a rhetorical smokescreen used by tyrannical ruling elites to effectively silence any criticism and dissent of their oppressive policies. IMHO, it is the flipside of the same oppressive coin.

    Moreover, while the Saudi judiciary lacks transparency and does not have as many checks and safeguards against judicial excesses as many others, it would be disingenuous of us to think the American judiciary is the paragon of judicial virtue considering the many problems it currently has in handling cases of rape and other matters.

    *Pat Robertson is one good example of the latter-day missionary using “civilizing” rhetoric to encourage war-mongering in non-Western societies…and assassinations of foreign leaders.

    Begin snark/*
    So much violent rhetoric from someone serving as a spokesman for a “religion of peace”. */end snark

  33. ggr says:

    Is there something of impact we can boycott or sign to send some kind of message of protest as a large powerful group?

  34. ggr says:

    Is there something of impact we can boycott or sign to send some kind of message of protest as a large powerful group?

  35. Ibrar says:

    hello peoples please tell me what punishment does rapist get from the saudi judicary system.

  36. Ibrar says:

    according to my knowledge in total seven people raped a girl anong them four are married and three are not please tell me what punishment each person gets

  37. Pingback: Women’s issue at SoE in a new home

  38. TS says:

    This is a women’s rights issue, and it’s a human rights issue. But the erasure of the male rape survivor serves a variety of purposes, of which highlighting women’s rights abuses is only one. It lets us separate us from them

    It is also a men’s rights issue. By glossing over this fact and relegating it to human rights–which in our highly politically correct society is just another way of saying women’s rights–one is participating in the othering of male victims that one claims to find so troubling when done by the media. One’s treatment of the male victim as somehow undeserving of full and actual recognition is one of the reasons why media outlets ignored that he was also raped and lashed in the first place.

    One presents the real issue as the woman being raped. Her experience is more traumatic, speaks to greater, more important underlying social issues, demonstrates a reality of bias and sexism and violence against women, the extent of the lack of human rights in that region of the world, etc. In terms of the male rape victim, he technically does not fit into that gendered worldview or its set of concerns, so his experience is essentially irrelevant, at least in terms of the conclusions reached as a result of those views. At best, the most that would be stated is “and he was raped too,” effectively othering male victims into the status “not all that important”, which despite one’s initial intent, is exactly what one did in the post.

    This then goes back to one’s initial point that the erasure of the male rape survivor serves a variety of purposes, of which highlighting women’s rights abuses is only one, which reads more like justification of ignoring male rape victims rather than an agreement that such assaults against them are equally as wrong as when committed against women–or wrong at all–and are deserving of equal recognition and attention.

  39. Pingback: 16 Days: Radio Silence « So Che Sei Mia

  40. Pingback: Xyre : The pardoning of a rape victim

Comments are closed.