Saudi Arabia: Cultures of violence blame the victims
The girl’s case which has attracted international attention, including comments from American presidential hopefuls, remains unresolved. We note a shift in public discourse concerning this case; it has effectively turned from a gang rape — in which the rapists were the perpetrators — to a case of seduction in which the girl is the seducer and guilty party. Some scholars have expressed their belief that the girl and her “partners” deserve the death penalty. Notice please the use of the word “partners.” The word “partner” usually suggests a voluntary link or association.
To take the discussion further, we must wonder about the description of the girl’s appearance which was in a statement from the Ministry of Justice. The statement says she threw her clothes aside. Can we accept such a statement? What exactly does it mean? We learn that this claim — that she threw her clothes aside — came from the rapists themselves. And of course the rapists would say anything as an excuse and when it becomes a case of her word against theirs, men’s words will naturally be believed.
The statements seem to imply that the girl herself was the cause of the rape. After all, she was allegedly involved in an immoral relationship with the man she went out with. The implication has been that the rapists were lured into their crime because of the indecency they saw in front of them. This leads us to the question of whether this is a legitimate defense in such cases and if so, does it absolve the rapists of responsibility for their acts? This girl’s case is a horrible example of both mental and physical violence against a woman, and it should be looked at in that way. The punishment given to the rapists should be as severe as possible; instead of making them “partners” in a crime, they should carry the entire responsibility for what happened.
It has been interesting to follow the online comments from readers and members of the public about the case. A shift in perspective has become very clear; now there are voices asking for stoning and some are asking for death — for the girl of course. Some readers have blamed the media for defaming the girl’s reputation by asking for more information on the case; some others have accused the press of tarnishing the Kingdom’s image abroad. Who, I must ask, has tarnished the image? But why has there been a shift in perspective? Why suddenly is there talk of the victims being the guilty party? How did we lose direction so quickly? It is easy to explain since the official statements made it clear that the girl was breaking a rigid social law. What gave the girl the final blow were details about her appearance and the insinuation that she was breaking a moral law. That evidently was enough to cloud the eyes of the public with prejudice and it was but a single step from there to thinking that she violated a social taboo and so she deserved what she got. And we are celebrating the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women. Here I drop my pen.
By: Abeer Mishkhas
29 November 2007
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