x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Treat rape as a violent crime

In the UAE legal code "sex without consent" is grouped with acts of sexual misbehaviour such as adultery. Such a classification serves to belie the brutality of rape and the trauma it causes.

A recent case where an Emirati man was sentenced for having sex without consent with his Ethiopian housemaid is both bewildering and tragic. 

As we reported yesterday, the defendant received a six-month sentence at the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance. To many, sex without consent is the very definition of rape but under UAE law, it is actually a lesser charge. The ability of this defendant to receive a light sentence, and other circumstances surrounding this case, raise important questions about how the UAE legal system treats rape.

Since the victim waited to report the crime, there was no forensic evidence to support the charge of rape, only indications that rape had occurred, which merited the lesser charge of "sex without consent". Such an evidentiary standard to convict a defendant of rape is difficult to meet, especially when, as the maid says, it was out of fear that she waited to make the charge. 

The housemaid may not be alone. According to a recent poll by YouGov sponsored by The National, a majority of women feel uncomfortable reporting sex crimes to the authorities for fear that they will not be handled properly or on account of the damage the charges could bring to their reputation. If verifiable, physical evidence is what is required to convict someone of rape, the courts and the country must make it easier for women to report these crimes.

When a victim reports a rape, there can also be pressure to change her testimony. The victim in this case says that she was offered two years' salary to drop the charges. Other victims may stay silent for fear of deportation or retribution from the accused. 

Much of this is due to the stigma of being a victim of sexual crime. Rape is a sexual crime but most of all it is an act of violence. It deserves to be treated as such by the courts. In the UAE legal code "sex without consent" is grouped with acts of sexual misbehaviour such as adultery or sex outside marriage, which are not violent acts. Such a classification serves to belie the brutality of rape and the trauma it causes.