Content warning: Sexual assault
Among the most audacious and cruel crimes against women abroad of slews of acid attacks, brutal murders, child marriages, and the loss of agency and education — the case of the Qatif girl stands out. This case compels the question: Do acts of violence become less a crime just because a particular government sanctions them?
In 2006, a woman who was raped by seven men (whose identity is obscured for her protection) was sentenced by a judge to 90 public lashings and time in jail. When she spoke out against this punishment to media sources, her sentence was doubled to 200 public lashings and six months in jail.
Even her lawyer was attacked and disbarred for deigning to defend her. The Guardian explains: "The victim's lawyer, a prominent human rights defender, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, was suspended from the case as a result of the appeal and his licence, granted to Saudi lawyers by the ministry of justice, has (was) been revoked." To make matters worse, her attackers were given relatively lenient prison sentences of 10 months - five years, where rape is supposed to a capital crime.
Her crime? Being out of her home unchaperoned in the presence of an unrelated man — in their eyes of the judges: she was asking for it. Her crime was that of "indecency."
Not only was this 18-year-old woman raped several times by each of the seven perpetrators, the man whom she was meeting that day to obtain old photographs was also raped. He too, was jailed for his part in luring the young woman into a car, alone with him knowing full well it is illegal in Saudi Arabia for a woman to go outside of the home unchaperoned.
Furthermore, "The women in Saudi Arabia don't have the right to go anywhere without their husband or a male relative. This male person who accompanies a woman is called a Mahram. Without his approval, a woman can't leave the country, get a job, get married, enter a University or even have surgery."
Saudia Arabia is a monarchy. This is important to consider when examining the cause and effect scenarios of this case. This country is based on paradigms vastly different than ones we are used to--and ones that call into question whether or not a country should be allowed to operate in a certain way if it violates an international standard of human rights.
Thankfully international attention flocked to this case, and enough light was shined that the countries King pardoned both victims of any guilt, and the rapists' sentences were increased. Telegraph UK reports:
Saudi Justice Minister, Abdullah bin Muhammed, told the newspaper that the pardon did not mean the king doubted the country's judges, but instead acted in the "interests of the people."
"The king always looks into alleviating the suffering of the citizens when he becomes sure that these verdicts will leave psychological effects on the convicted people, though he is convinced and sure that the verdicts were fair," he said.
The victim's husband welcomed the news. "I'm happy and my wife is happy and it will of course help lift some of her psychological and social suffering. We thank the king for his generous attention and fatherly spirit."
Although a relief to hear that justice prevailed in this situation, it is still deeply troubling the lengths in which a judicial body will go to keep a woman from speaking out.
In a 2007 interview with ABC (that has now been taken down) the woman who will remain nameless was given a chance to tell her story. Although her words and right to speak out have been scourged by the Saudi Arabian Government, the imprint of them will forever last on the internet.
This quotation contains graphic and possibly triggering testimonial of a brutal assault and may be difficult to read. Discretion is adviced:
"I [am] 19 years old. I had a relationship with someone on the phone. We were both 16. I had never seen him before. I just knew his voice. He started to threaten me, and I got afraid. He threatened to tell my family about the relationship. Because of the threats and fear, I agreed to give him a photo of myself.
A few months [later], I asked him for the photo back but he refused. I had gotten married to another man. He said, 'I'll give you the photo on the condition that you come out with me in my car.' I told him we could meet at a souk [market] near my neighborhood city plaza in Qatif.
He started to drive me home. We were 15 minutes from my house. I told him that I was afraid and that he should speed up. We were about to turn the corner to my house when they [another car] stopped right in front of our car. Two people got out of their car and stood on either side of our car. The man on my side had a knife. They tried to open our door. I told the individual with me not to open the door, but he did. He let them come in. I screamed.
One of the men brought a knife to my throat. They told me not to speak. They pushed us to the back of the car and started driving.
We drove a lot, but I didn't see anything since my head was forced down....When we arrived I noticed a lot of palm trees. They took me out to a dark area and forced me to take off my clothes. The first man with the knife raped me. He destroyed me. I thought about running away but where could I go to looking like this? Another man came in and did the same. I was about to faint.
For more than two hours I asked them to leave me alone, I begged them. The third man was violent and the fourth almost strangled me. The fifth and sixth were even more brutal. When the seventh man finished I couldn't feel myself anymore. He was so fat I couldn't breathe. Then they all did it again. When they dropped me home I couldn't walk, my mom opened the door and said I looked sick. I couldn't tell anyone and for a whole week I couldn't eat, but later I went to the hospital"
It is no secret that a woman's agency is restricted within the boundaries of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Not only is her agency highly regulated, her voice and her body are considered property. It's hard to imagine in the United States what it would truly be like to live under these laws because we take things like driving, learning in school, and going for a walk for granted. In Saudi Arabia, even driving as a woman can get you jailed or, worse.
Imagine what it is like in the Qatif girl's shoes — to be punished for being victimized. I'd imagine there had to be a better future for women and girls all over the world.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, I do not intend to discourse with Saudi Arabia as a country, or the laws governed by Islamic rule. Although detest and actively fight against unfair sanction and subjection of women by an encompassing authority, I do not claim to be knowledgeable of the intricate sociology-political religious systems of such countries. My purpose here is to illuminate this trial, give the victims a voice, and use their experience as an example of misogynistic influence in world governments and how it is different and similar to attitudes toward women and rape in the United States.