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.

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 Feminism, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault. Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Rape survivor in Dubai sees charges against her dropped

  1. JBL55 says:

    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. :-)

    • matlun says:

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

  2. Opiuchus says:

    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.

    • 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!

      • matlun says:

        … 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*

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

      • Hugh says:

        Turkmenistan isn’t a former colony of the West.

      • 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.

      • 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.

      • matlun says:

        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.

      • matlun says:

        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 says:

    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 says:

    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?

    • Donna L says:

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

  5. Fat Steve says:

    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.

  6. Sid says:

    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 says:

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

    • yes says:

      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.

    • Jill says:

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

      Seriously? Yes, the U.S. has a wildly imperfect justice system when it comes to a lot of crimes, including rape. But comparing it to Dubai is just… clueless.

    • 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.

    • A4 says:

      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 says:

    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.

    • FYouMudFlaps says:

      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.

    • Sid says:

      Um, No.

  9. Sonia says:

    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.

    • yes says:

      Or 200 if she complains too loudly.

    • Jamie says:

      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.

      • Safiya Outlines says:

        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.

      • Sid says:

        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.

      • tigtog says:

        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.

      • 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.

      • Radiant Sophia says:

        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.

      • >_> 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.

      • amblingalong says:

        VV

        ;)

        ^^

    • tigtog says:

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

      • amblingalong says:

        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.’

      • Fat Steve says:

        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.

      • Ms. Kristen J. says:

        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.

      • Safiya Outlines says:

        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? “

      • TomSims says:

        @amblingalong;

        Spot on!

      • Sonia says:

        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.

      • yes says:

        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.”

      • 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.

      • Jamie says:

        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.

      • Sid says:

        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.

      • Sonia says:

        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.

      • Sonia says:

        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.

      • Fat Steve says:

        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.”?

      • “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.

      • matlun says:

        @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?

      • Fat Steve says:

        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.

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

      • matlun says:

        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?

    • PrettyAmiable says:

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

      • Sid says:

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

      • Donna L says:

        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.

      • yes says:

        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 says:

    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 says:

    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.

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  13. McMike says:

    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.

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