Saturday, 1 December 2007

Unthinking protest

It seems quite a few people are kicking up a stink about a Saudi rape victim who has been sentenced to 90 lashes, calling on Western governments to make protests. At least one news outlets has published reports which conveniently skip half the story and imply that the woman is being punished for being raped. In fact, the sentence is for the crime of being in a car with an unrelated male, before they were both attacked by the group that raped her. The rapists have been separately tried and punished. In terms of the connection between her punishment and the rape, the situation is like that of someone jailed for posessing stolen goods when they were raped.

I suggest that, in that light, going on about a rape victim who is being whipped is unhelpful. At worst it implies false accusations about the woman is being punished for, and at best it muddies the waters and confuses the issue. Consider the slightly less extreme comparision with a hypothetical scenario where a woman in, say, Australia, is charged with dealing dope after reporting a rape that occurred on the way to a customer. Whatever we think about the legal status of various drugs, it wouldn't make much sense for, say, liberal Dutch media to describe her as a jailed rape victim.

It's one thing to protest against whipping as a punishment for mingling with the opposite sex - if that's the issue, then make a big deal over all the people who are facing such punishement, not just the one that happens to have been raped. Some have suggested that there are cases where rape victims are punsihed as adulterers simply because of their rape - if that is so, publicise the plight of these victims, not someone who isn't being punished for that reason. It just doesn't make sense to focus on this one person unless you think that rape victims shouldn't be held responsible for anything they might have done before their rape.

Of course, there is an argument in favour of some level of amnesty being given to victims, so as to encourage not discourage the reporting of crimes such as rape, but that's hardly a black and white issue, or something we can say is only a problem in one part of the world. Rather than looking for any excuse to feel superior and criticise justice in Saudi Arabia, why not look for the more subtle steps to support rape victims wherever they are? Apart from anything else, ridiculously constructed accusations thrown at Saudi justice are hardly going to help the hearing the more serious arguments receive, are they?

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