Women, Rape, and the Law in the UAE
The UAE hosts ultra-modern architecture, advanced technology and the image of a progressive Arab state. But beneath that facade, similarities with the West come to an abrupt dead end. Underlying its up-scale Western appearance, the UAE is a conservative Muslim State that adheres to an array of laws and rules the Western world finds unequivocally deplorable, particularly in the area of human rights, and most notably, the rights of women.
Married or single, women who consider a teaching position in the UAE will want to seriously evaluate the possible consequences of a society that relegates women to the level of third-class citizens. As foreigners in a foreign culture, we are all subject to the laws and customs of that land but the notion that “nothing’s going to happen to me, I’m protected as an American/Australian/European/Canadian” lends itself to a false and foolish sense of security.
The following incidences of rape and legal action against the victims happened to Western women in the UAE and should send up an imposing red flag to any woman considering a move to the UAE.
As the following events reveal, you’ll get no special treatment:
Marte Dalelv, a Norwegian, was in Dubai on business in March of 2013 when she was raped by a co-worker. She reported the incident to the Dubai police and was taken into custody where she spent four days in jail and was later sentenced to 16 months in prison for the crime of illicit sex outside marriage and alcohol consumption. In reaction to Marte’s case, thousands of people around the world signed petitions and threatened to boycott Dubai. Such actions could destroy the UAE’s carefully crafted reputation as one of the more open and progressive places in the Middle East. The authorities were shamed into doing the right thing. She was released.
A rape victim who was far less fortunate was an Australian woman who reported to the police she had been raped while working at a Dubai hotel in 2008. She spent eight months in jail after being tricked into signing a confession in Arabic. After release she has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
In 2010 a British woman celebrating her engagement reported she had been raped in a hotel bathroom. Only she and her fiancé were arrested, charged with drinking and unlawful sex. When she withdrew her statement the charges were dropped. She was interrogated by five male police officers who, she says, were only interested in quizzing her about her preferred sexual positions.
Again in 2010, this time in Abu Dhabi, the police jailed an 18-year-old Emirate woman who reported being gang-raped by six men, one of them a police officer. The men were not charged but she faced 100 lashes and a minimum of three years in prison for extramarital sex. Not until she appeared in court, shackled and dressed in inmate’s clothing, was she released after rescinding her allegations.
Iayman Najafi and Charlotte Adams were arrested in Dubai for the mere act of kissing in a restaurant. Of course this is a far cry from rape but their case sheds light on what you will be subjected to in the UAE. The complaint was lodged by a woman who said she was offended by their behavior although the woman had not herself seen the kiss, but had been told by her two-year-old daughter that she saw them kissing. The couple claimed they had merely kissed on the cheek but the judge upheld the conviction.
Another case which reveals the overall mindset of the culture is that of an Indian couple in their 40s who were sentenced to three months in jail in Dubai for sending each other sexually explicit text messages.
Further exemplifying what you will be subjected in the UAE, note that in the first 10 months of 2009 the Dubai police report they had detained 6000 people on Dubai’s beaches for the crimes of kissing or touching, men watching women or taking photographs, and/or topless sunbathing. The police report they took further legal action against those accused of drinking and/or suspected homosexuality.
With the rape victim singled out as the guilty party by the police in the UAE, imagine how many rapes go unreported. One would think the most recent case of Marte Dalelv would help affect a change in regards to women and rape. But, Rori Donaghy, of the London-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights, says “Until laws are reformed, victims of sexual violence in the UAE will continue to suffer in this way. We will likely see more cases such as this one.” She goes on to say the release of Marte Dalelv, through the force of world pressure on the UAE, means nothing in the overall picture of ongoing abuse of victims in the UAE.
Yes, there are cases of rape in all Western nations, but in these countries the victim is not sentenced to jail or a severe lashing. With so many places to teach around the globe, is it worth compromising your safety for the salaries offered to International Educators in the UAE? Consider your future carefully!