Rape survivor in Dubai sees charges against her dropped

Marte Deborah Dalelv was working in Dubai when she was sexually assaulted by a coworker. She immediately fled the room and went to the hotel lobby, then reported the assault to police. For her troubles, she was sentenced to 16 months in jail for having sex outside of marriage. Luckily, the government of Dubai today dropped the sentence and is allowing her to leave the country.

Dalelv’s case sparked international outrage, as it should. It’s abhorrent to sentence rape victims to prison time. It’s abhorrent that this is hardly the first time a woman as reported rape in Dubai and been charged with a crime herself. It’s abhorrent that “justice” was served not by prosecuting a rapist, but by allowing a rape victim to avoid prosecution. And it’s abhorrent to sentence anyone to prison time for the “crime” of having sex before marriage. Dalelv was able to get publicity for her case in part because she didn’t feel shame about being raped, and has a community of people behind her who also see rape as a crime and not as an event that tarnishes a woman’s virtue. She was able to get publicity because she’s from Northern Europe, and was assaulted and charged in a country that’s trying to bill itself as cosmopolitan and modern, and positioning itself as a good place for international business. It’s increasingly difficult to be a modern, international business hub and also brutally oppress women.

And yet it’s quite possible to be a very wealthy nation that engages in international business while still brutally oppressing women (see, e.g., Saudi Arabia). And it’s particularly easy to oppress women who are citizens of your country while looking the other way for foreigners. It would be nice if large businesses simply refused to do work out of places where women were legally designated as second-class citizens. Perhaps if more women were in charge of large companies, we’d see that. And as more Emirati women work their way up the ladder of big businesses, my guess is that some of these things will change. But in the meantime, Emirati women and migrant female workers (and the wives of migrant male workers) in Dubai typically don’t have the same set of connections and circumstances that allowed Dalelv to eventually be freed after a horrific ordeal.

I’m glad Dalelv can finally return home. I hope her case will inspire real legal reforms for all women who reside and travel through Dubai, but I’m not holding my breath.

Author: has written 5251 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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66 Responses

  1. JBL55
    JBL55 July 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm |

    It would be nice if large businesses simply refused to do work out of places where women were legally designated as second-class citizens.

    What a lovely thought. :-)

    1. matlun
      matlun July 22, 2013 at 5:55 pm |

      Yes, but that would basically mean staying out of the Middle East. Since they have critical resources (oil), this will not happen.

  2. Opiuchus
    Opiuchus July 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm |

    Yet another reason why I do not understand the international aid and diplomatic communities’ love of going to Dubai for their holidays. It’s like every person I ever talked to who works for the State Department in, say, Vietnam or Tajikistan just cannot wait to go ski indoors and around a bunch of oppressed foreign workers and their rape apologist “hosts.”

    Then they go back to working on water projects in Turkmenistan or mine removal and human rights in Cambodia or whatnot.

    It’s super gross.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune July 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm |

      Yep. It’s almost like they’re not actually concerned with human rights violations, but with exercising imperialistic power over colonised countries with (stolen!) limited resources that have no ability to resist their white man’s burden bullshit!

      1. matlun
        matlun July 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm |

        … colonised countries with (stolen!) limited resources that have no ability to resist their white man’s burden bullshit

        Are we talking about Dubai here? (Or Turkmenistan/Cambodia?)
        *confused*

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 22, 2013 at 6:55 pm |

          Turkmenistan/Cambodia/what have you. Basically, the attitudes of Western governments towards (poor former colony of choice) vs (rich POC-majority country of choice).

        2. Hugh
          Hugh July 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm |

          Turkmenistan isn’t a former colony of the West.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 22, 2013 at 7:22 pm |

          Matlun asked me which category I was discussing (Dubai or Turkmenistan/Cambodia). I was discussing the latter category. Whether or not any one particular country was a colony (and keeping in mind that colonialism does not always follow one true path/MO) is incidental to my point, which makes a distinction between the attitudes of government officials towards rich and poor POC-majority countries.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm |

          CRAP. I also meant to point out that the original comment referred to Tajikistan, which was most certainly colonised by the USSR, and Vietnam. Matlun was the one who changed it to Turkmenistan and Cambodia.

        5. matlun
          matlun July 22, 2013 at 7:33 pm |

          I also meant to point out that the original comment referred to Tajikistan, which was most certainly colonised by the USSR, and Vietnam.

          @mac: The original article mentioned Vietnam, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Combodia (and Dubai).

          So as you noted my comment was not a complete list of the countries mentioned.

          Still: More an abstract criticism of the general western attitude to many remote countries? Fair enough – I just found the comment a bit confusing in context.

        6. matlun
          matlun July 22, 2013 at 7:38 pm |

          Ouch. With “original article” I meant Opiuchus’s post above. And “Cambodia”, obviously.

          (Note to self: Do not quickly write posts late at night while tired…)

  3. Donna L
    Donna L July 22, 2013 at 4:28 pm |

    Thank goodness. But as the article points out, a “pardon” still implies that she did something wrong. I hope this never happens again to anyone, including women who aren’t fortunate enough to be from a country like Norway that could (and was willing to) exercise influence on her behalf.

  4. Henry
    Henry July 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm |

    And news reports state the perp also got a pardon too. How lovely.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/2013722133556357619.html

    This is not the first time this (sentencing rape victims to prison) has happened in the UAE. People should stop hosting international conferences there because a government should not charge victims with crimes. Why did I even have to state that as a principle of law?

    1. Donna L
      Donna L July 22, 2013 at 6:29 pm |

      Anyone reading that article should be careful to avoid the extremely explicit and graphic rape apology in the comments.

  5. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve July 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm |

    Has everyone missed the fact that the man (i.e. the RAPIST) was pardoned too?????

    The alleged attacker, identified as a 33-year-old Sudanese man, was charged with the same offenses and received a 13-month sentence. He also cleared by a pardon, according to Dalelv.

    I was expecting far more outrage to this fucking bullshit.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune July 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm |

      What. The. Actual. Fuck.

    2. matlun
      matlun July 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm |

      Yes. And from the beginning he was not charged with rape of any kind but just sex outside of marriage. So the Dubai authorities seem to declare that it was a “symmetric”, consensual relationship.

      It is just disgusting.

    3. Ally S
      Ally S July 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm |

      The justice system in UAE is shit. That is all.

    4. Donna L
      Donna L July 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm |

      As if what they did was exactly the same. Horrible.

    5. Ens
      Ens July 22, 2013 at 10:52 pm |

      …and he had a shorter sentence in the first place.

  6. Sid
    Sid July 22, 2013 at 5:47 pm |

    This case is pretty horrific, but indicative of the deeper problem of the schisms within Dubai society; the ruling family and the business class vs. far more conservative citizenry/judiciary. I don’t think its clear that a Western “embargo” of business in Dubai would effect much change, given how ambivalent many Dubai-tes feel about the “Westernization” of Dubai. Law enforcement is itself tremendously inconsistent: prostitution is rampant and is obviously tolerated, but evidently rape cases are difficult to impossible to prosecute properly.

  7. bleh
    bleh July 22, 2013 at 9:12 pm |

    It’s not as if we can prosecute rape in the US either.

    1. yes
      yes July 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm |

      Rape is prosecuted in the US. Yes, not always with the success or fervor that would be ideal.

      Childish snark like this is insulting and counter-productive. You may think you’re fashionably talking shit about the US, but you’re really just demeaning the plight of women who have to live under monstrously cruel laws.

    2. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune July 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm |

      Er, not to lose my anti-US cred or anything, but there’s “pathetic, half-assed and insincere”, and then there’s “heinously misogynistic and proud of it”, and while the US is in the first category, the UAE is most certainly in the latter.

    3. A4
      A4 July 23, 2013 at 11:24 am |

      It occurs to me that perhaps you’ve had a terrible and oppressive experience with trying to prosecute rape in the US justice system. I would not be at all surprised. I agree with your statement. I had several friends who were raped in college, and none of them even began to think about the prosecution of their rapist because they were busy fighting all of the parts of rape culture telling them that they a) weren’t raped, b) deserved it, and c) should be ashamed of it and stay quiet.

  8. Sonia
    Sonia July 23, 2013 at 12:00 am |

    It would be nice if large businesses simply refused to do work out of places where women were legally designated as second-class citizens.

    This would mean disengaging with almost all of the Arab world.

    1. FYouMudFlaps
      FYouMudFlaps July 23, 2013 at 2:55 am |

      Yes, that is right. Probably not feasible, HOWEVER, we can travel boycott such places. I used to be an admirer of Dubai for their rapid ascent to Global City status, and truly amazing sense of aesthetic and design. However, for their ongoing human rights abuses and baked-in misogyny, they merit much contempt.

      If Dubai were a person, they’d be a sexy 28 year old millionaire, that exploits their maid and abuses women.

    2. Sid
      Sid July 23, 2013 at 2:59 am |

      Um, No.

  9. Sonia
    Sonia July 23, 2013 at 12:25 am |

    Thank goodness. But as the article points out, a “pardon” still implies that she did something wrong. I hope this never happens again to anyone, including women who aren’t fortunate enough to be from a country like Norway that could (and was willing to) exercise influence on her behalf.

    She’s lucky to be in a somewhat liberal part of the Middle East. If she’d been in Saudi Arabia, say, she would be sentenced to a 100 lashes.

    1. yes
      yes July 23, 2013 at 3:04 am |

      Or 200 if she complains too loudly.

    2. Jamie
      Jamie July 23, 2013 at 9:54 am |

      Wondering if this is feeling like a welcoming place to comment for women of Arab extraction right now. I think we can address the fucked up shit in other countries without coming off… like this.

      1. Safiya Outlines
        Safiya Outlines July 23, 2013 at 10:59 am |

        Jamie – This is all about the airing of acceptable prejudices. Arab countries are just evvvvvvil. So you won’t be hearing about any feminist/women’s rights movements or organisations in any Arab countries.

        Arab women are currently being slaughtered on a daily basis in Syria, but the only Syrian women to get mentioned on this blog was the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogger – who turned out to be a fraud anyway.

        Before anyone starts, I agree with Feministe covering these stories, I disagree with the casual bigotry and failure to see countries as places where women are aware of the problems they face and are working for change.

        When we talk about problems in the US and elsewhere, we have a bit more nuance then “Just boycott them, they’re assholes anyway”. To not extend that to other countries seems highly dubious to me.

        1. Sid
          Sid July 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm |

          Spot on. Many comments conflate Dubai with the entire UAE, or that rape is never prosecuted in Dubai without impossible standards. At the very least, the mods can do a better job vetting the comments.

        2. tigtog
          tigtog July 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm | *

          Sid, sometimes we mods slip up, and this is one of those times. That’s why we ask readers to send us Giraffe Alerts for those times when we miss a problematic comment so that we can make an inspection and determine an appropriate moderation option in response. We encourage more readers to send us Giraffe Alerts – we have lots of options other than outright banning, so commentors shouldn’t feel that calling for a giraffe is any sort of nuclear option.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune July 23, 2013 at 11:02 am |

        Why recognise nuance when you can just be prejudiced? ;)

        I for one refuse to recognise that the US is even partially desegregated, because of that one white prom place in Georgia.

        1. Radiant Sophia
          Radiant Sophia July 24, 2013 at 7:23 am |

          Mac, Georgia and Florida and other states that are part of the deep south are hardly indicative of the U.S. as a whole. They might as well be a different country.

          The last time I was in Georgia was the early ’90s, and It was desegregated in name only. In actuality PoC were relegated to certain neighborhoods, certain areas of the classroom, certain public areas, and the back of the train.

          I’m in the midwest now, and it is totally different.

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 24, 2013 at 9:16 am |

          >_> Er, I was being sarcastic. I guess it didn’t come across. I don’t really think the US is still all segregated; I was trying to make the point that “the Arab world” has some pretty wide variations in terms of human rights in general.

        3. amblingalong
          amblingalong July 24, 2013 at 9:53 am |

          VV

          ;)

          ^^

    3. tigtog
      tigtog July 23, 2013 at 5:38 pm | *

      Sonia, your broad generalisations do you no credit and are hurtful to readers of Arab descent. We expect more from our commentors than that.

      1. amblingalong
        amblingalong July 24, 2013 at 10:00 am |

        She’s lucky to be in a somewhat liberal part of the Middle East. If she’d been in Saudi Arabia, say, she would be sentenced to a 100 lashes.

        Sorry, but how is this attacking/offensive to Arabs? It’s true that Saudi Arabia is even more regressive than the UAE, and that much- though not all- of the rest of the Middle East is pretty bad as well.

        I’m kinda sick of the idea that we need to pretend that every country is exactly as bad as everything other country on this type of thing in order not to be imperialists/racists/pro-colonialists whatever. Pretending women in the US have it as bad as women in Saudi Arabia isn’t anti-colonialist, it’s actually misogynist and racist, for the same reason I sprained my ankle it be be obnoxious to then tell someone with two broken legs ‘oh yeah, I know how much it hurts.’

        1. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve July 24, 2013 at 10:25 am |

          Sorry, but how is this attacking/offensive to Arabs? It’s true that Saudi Arabia is even more regressive than the UAE, and that much- though not all- of the rest of the Middle East is pretty bad as well.

          I’m kinda sick of the idea that we need to pretend that every country is exactly as bad as everything other country on this type of thing in order not to be imperialists/racists/pro-colonialists whatever. Pretending women in the US have it as bad as women in Saudi Arabia isn’t anti-colonialist, it’s actually misogynist and racist, for the same reason I sprained my ankle it be be obnoxious to then tell someone with two broken legs ‘oh yeah, I know how much it hurts.’

          It’s certainly a generalization and AFAIK an exaggeration (unless you can point me to a reference that says the punishment for reporting rape in Saudi Arabia is 100 lashes.)

          I agree with your second paragraph, but Sonia was doing more than just saying both countries are dissimilar, she was attributing an actual cruel punishment to that country without giving a source.

        2. Ms. Kristen J.
          Ms. Kristen J. July 24, 2013 at 10:42 am |

          I agree wrt to generalizations, but the 100 lashes is not an exaggeration. Its based on a real case from a few years ago. CBS News.

        3. Safiya Outlines
          Safiya Outlines July 24, 2013 at 11:43 am |

          I’ll tell you the problem, it’s that whether you are discussing Morocco, Iraq or anywhere in between people want to talk about Saudi Arabia instead.

          Screw talking about issues or actual people in the actual country – Arabs and Muslims are all the same right? Let’s talk about that bogeyman country Saudi Arabia instead.

          It is dehumanising and othering and it suits dominant narratives extremely well, while Arab blood gets spilled like water and the world looks the other way.

          When the U.S is the subject of the post, that’s where people discuss BTL, they don’t say,” oh let’s all talk about Canada instead, same difference right? “

        4. TomSims
          TomSims July 24, 2013 at 11:15 am |

          @amblingalong;

          Spot on!

        5. Sonia
          Sonia July 24, 2013 at 11:35 am |

          Reply to Fat Steve: This is not an arbitrary figure, it comes from Sharia itself. The punishment is hundred lashes if you are unmarried and stoning to death if you are married. There have been many cases where it has been applied. In reporting a rape, if you cannot prove (by 4 upstanding male witnesses) that you were raped, you could be opening yourself to a charge of sex outside marriage. That’s just the way it is.

        6. yes
          yes July 24, 2013 at 11:53 am |

          And then when she and her lawyer objected, they increased it to 200 lashes. This was a specific example. When political pressure finally forced the king to intercede and pardon her, he made it a point of saying “that the verdicts are just and fair.”

        7. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm |

          I’ll tell you the problem, it’s that whether you are discussing Morocco, Iraq or anywhere in between people want to talk about Saudi Arabia instead.

          Yeah, no shit.

        8. Jamie
          Jamie July 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm |

          I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t pretend every area is equivalent in terms of how they abuse human rights. I just didn’t like how glib everyone was being, when this issue is so fraught and laden with racism. Like, I’m not saying that we always have to walk on eggshells or never make macabre jokes or whatever, but… idk, I just feel like, on a Mainstream (White) Feminist Blog, we need to be careful about how we talk about this shit.

          Then again, Lawyers, Guns & Money makes macabre jokes all the livelong day and I don’t say shit, but I’ve just kind of resigned myself to LGM being Well-Meaning Straight White Dude Land, whereas I know Feministe always strives to be better than that? Idk.

        9. Sid
          Sid July 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm |

          Do you know jack sh*t about the legal systems, intricacies, and political systems of Dubai or Saudi Arabia that you didn’t learn from Wikipedia or news sources? If not, then how about doing the world a favor and refrain from speaking.

          I’m kind of sick of the idea that every time something bad happens “over there” we pat ourselves on the back “here” because everything is fabulous and rosy over here.

          Less Bill Maher, More Tavis Smiley.

        10. Sonia
          Sonia July 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm |

          I did not say that punishment for reporting rape is 100 lashes in Saudi Arabia, I said in her case, which is that she wasn’t able to prove it is rape, which means it was sex out of wedlock could lead to a 100 lashes. I am aware of the fact that for proven rape Saudi Arabia has rather harsh sentences. I am not the one advocating for cutting off ties with nations which consider women as second-class citizens. I don’t even think it would help in this case where they have a valuable resource where they would easily find other takers and you’d have even less influence than you do now.

      2. Sonia
        Sonia July 24, 2013 at 11:38 am |

        Generalizations will not apply to every single person but they can be useful generalizations. I’ve been to Dubai and Kuwait and have friends and relatives in Saudi Arabia. It is accurate to say that Dubai is fairly liberal, Kuwait less so, and Saudi Arabia fairly conservative.

        1. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve July 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm |

          Generalizations will not apply to every single person but they can be useful generalizations. I’ve been to Dubai and Kuwait and have friends and relatives in Saudi Arabia. It is accurate to say that Dubai is fairly liberal, Kuwait less so, and Saudi Arabia fairly conservative.

          But how is it useful to say “She’s lucky to be in a somewhat liberal part of the Middle East. If she’d been in Saudi Arabia, say, she would be sentenced to a 100 lashes.”?

          Would you say “She’s lucky to be in a somewhat liberal part of the Middle East. If she’d been in America, there would have been a crowd standing around watching and doing nothing.”?

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm |

          “She’s lucky to be in a somewhat liberal part of the Middle East. If she’d been in America, there would have been a crowd standing around watching and doing nothing.”?

          Or posting images to Facebook and Youtube. Just saying.

        3. matlun
          matlun July 24, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

          @Fat Steve & mac

          Would you say “She’s lucky to be in a somewhat liberal part of the Middle East. If she’d been in America, there would have been a crowd standing around watching and doing nothing.”?

          Are you saying that the situation for rape victims and their chance of getting justice is similarly bad in the US and in the Middle East?

          Is this your honest opinion?

        4. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve July 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm |

          Are you saying that the situation for rape victims and their chance of getting justice is similarly bad in the US and in the Middle East?

          Is this your honest opinion?

          No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying it is utterly stupid and pointless to hypothesize whether a rape victim would have somehow been treated ‘worse’ if she were in another country. Plus, if you pick the country to compare it to solely based on the religion of that country, then I would say you have a bias.

        5. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune July 24, 2013 at 3:26 pm |

          Cosigning Steve. Also getting really fucking tired of US tendencies to engage in circle-jerks about how moral and superior y’all are.

      3. matlun
        matlun July 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm |

        Could someone make a more specific criticism of Sonia’s post so that it becomes clear what people see as the problem with it?

        As I see it, Sonia’s post contains two statements:

        1. Dubai is a “somewhat liberal part” of the Middle East

        I guess this depends on which countries you count in the “Middle East”, but it is not obviously incorrect AFAIK. I would say it is a very mainstream view.

        2. In Saudi Arabia, she would have gotten 100 lashes

        As mentioned above, it is a punishment that has been meted out before. (Here is another example where the punishment was 100 lashes plus one year in prison). Perhaps it is this that is seen as the exaggeration and generalization, since it does not happen to all rape victims?

        Or is it just a tone argument?

    4. PrettyAmiable
      PrettyAmiable July 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm |

      FFS. Can we not call a rape victim lucky just because some rape victims have it worse? How stupid.

      1. Sid
        Sid July 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm |

        But its so useful to generalize about how backwards all those Ayrabs are.

        1. Donna L
          Donna L July 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

          But its so useful to generalize about how backwards all those Ayrabs are.

          But that’s so dated. 20 or 30 years ago the fevered rhetoric was all about “the Arabs.” Now, it’s all about “the Muslims,” Arab or otherwise, so that Iran, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. can be included in the condemnation.

        2. yes
          yes July 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm |

          Talking shit about a pretty horrible government != demonizing an ethnicity or religion.

          Acknowledging endemic misogyny in legal codes so bad that shocking and disheartening injustices in dubai are far from the worst these systems have to offer != teh racisms.

  10. FYouMudFlaps
    FYouMudFlaps July 23, 2013 at 2:50 am |

    This is quite the bizarro world story. Like Mr. Rogers said, it’s always good to “look for the helpers” which in this case is Norway. The Nordic Countries lead the world in feminism and egalitarianism, and they really went to bat for their citizen, and human rights, in this story. Honestly, the outcome of this story made my day like few recent news stories have.

  11. Marksman2010
    Marksman2010 July 24, 2013 at 7:46 am |

    This is something that might be included in a satirical novel, like a resident who reports a home burglary but is thrown in jail and has all of his/her property confiscated by the police.

  12. Sweet and Sharp, Vol. 28 | In Our Words

    [...] Charges against a Dubai rape survivor (who reported her attack and was arrested for doing so) were finally dropped. [...]

  13. McMike
    McMike August 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm |

    Has everyone missed the fact that the man (i.e. the RAPIST) was pardoned too?????

    He was cleared of extramarital sex. I dont think he should have been charged with extramarital sex.

Comments are closed.