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[casi] Fwd: Rape (and Silence About It) Haunts Baghdad

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  More from the HRW article

>From New York Times.

Rape (and Silence About It) Haunts Baghdad

July 16, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 15 - In her loose black dress, gold
hairband and purple flip-flops, Sanariya hops from seat to
seat in her living room like any lively 9-year-old. She
likes to read. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up,
and she says Michael, her white teddy bear, will be her

But at night, the memory of being raped by a stranger seven
weeks ago pulls her into its undertow. She grows feverish
and has nightmares, her 28-year-old sister, Fatin, said.
She cries, "Let me go!"

"I am afraid of the gangsters," Sanariya whispered in the
twilight of her hallway. "I feel like they are killing me
in my nightmares. Every day, I have these nightmares."

Since the end of the war and the outbreak of anarchy on the
capital's streets, women here have grown increasingly
afraid of being abducted and raped. Rumors swirl,
especially in a country where rape is so rarely reported.

The breakdown of the Iraqi government after the war makes
any crime hard to quantify.

But the incidence of rape and abduction in particular seems
to have increased, according to discussions with
physicians, law-enforcement officials and families

A new report by Human Rights Watch based on more than 70
interviews with law-enforcement officials, victims and
their families, medical personnel and members of the
coalition authority found 25 credible reports of abduction
and sexual violence since the war. Baghdadis believe there
are far more, and fear is limiting women's role in the
capital's economic, social and political life just as Iraq
tries to rise from the ashes, the report notes.

For most Iraqi victims of abduction and rape, getting
medical and police assistance is a humiliating process.
Deeply traditional notions of honor foster a sense of shame
so strong that many families offer no consolation or
support for victims, only blame.

Sanariya's four brothers and parents beat her daily, Fatin
said, picking up a bamboo slat her father uses. The city
morgue gets corpses of women who were murdered by their
relatives in so-called honor killings after they returned
from an abduction - even, in some cases, when they had not
been raped, said Nidal Hussein, a morgue nurse.

"For a woman's family, all this is worse than death," said
Dr. Khulud Younis, a gynecologist at the Alwiyah Women's
Hospital. "They will face shame. If a woman has a sister,
her future will be gone. These women don't deserve to be
treated like this."

It is not uncommon in Baghdad to see lines of cars outside
girls' schools. So fearful are parents that their daughters
will be taken away that they refuse to simply drop them
off; they or a relative will stay outside all day to make
sure nothing happens.

"Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are
not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," said
Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and
North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "If Iraqi
women are to participate in postwar society, their physical
security needs to be an urgent priority."

Beyda Jafar Sadiq, 17, made the simple decision to go to
school on the morning of May 22 and never returned. Her
family has been looking for her ever since. They have
appealed to every international nongovernmental
organization, the Iraqi police and the American
authorities. Her eldest brother, Feras, 29, has
crisscrossed the country, visiting the morgue in Basra in
the south, traveling to Amara and Nasiriya on reports from
acquaintances that they saw a girl who looked like Beyda.

"I just want to find her," said Beyda's mother, Zakiya Abd,
her eyes swollen with grief. "Whether she's alive or dead,
I just want to find her."

Some police in Baghdad concede that at this point, there is
little they can do to help. Their precinct houses were
thoroughly looted after the war. Despite promises from the
American authorities, Baghdad police still lack uniforms,
weapons, communications and computer equipment and patrol

"We used to patrol all the time before the war," said a
senior officer at the Aadimiya precinct house. "Now,
nothing, and the criminals realize there is no security on
the streets."

The Human Rights Watch report alleges that sometimes when
women try to report a rape or families ask for help in
finding abducted women, they are turned away by Iraqi
police officers indifferent to the crimes. Some
law-enforcement officials insist abduction and rape have
not increased, while other officials and many medical
personnel disagree.

Bernard B. Kerik, a former New York City police
commissioner and now an adviser to the Interior Ministry,
told of recently firing a precinct chief when he learned
that the official had failed to pursue a family's report of
their missing 16-year-old daughter. "The biggest part of
the issue is a culture that precludes people from
reporting," Mr. Kerik said. "It encourages people not to

If an Iraqi woman wants to report a rape, she has to travel
a bureaucratic odyssey. She first has to go to the police
for documents that permit her to get a forensic test. That
test is performed only at the city morgue. The police take
a picture of the victim and stamp it, and then stamp her
arm. "That is so no one else goes in her place and says
that she was raped, that she lost her virginity," said Ms.
Hussein, the nurse.

At the morgue, a committee of three male doctors performs a
gynecological examination on the victim to determine if
there was sexual abuse. The doctors are available only from
8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. If a victim arrives at any other
time, she has to return the next day, without washing away
any physical evidence. Hospitals can check victims only for
broader trauma, like contusions and broken bones.

Dr. Younis said she had seen more rape cases in the months
after the war than before. Yet even when women come to the
hospital with injuries that are consistent with rape, they
often insist something else happened. A 60-year-old woman
asserted that she had been hit by a car. The mother of a
6-year-old girl begged the doctor to write a report saying
that her daughter's hymen had been ruptured because she
fell on a sharp object, a common lie families tell in the
case of rape, Dr. Younis said.

Shame and fear compel the lies, Dr. Younis said. "A woman's
father or brother, they feel it is their duty to kill her"
if she has been raped, Dr. Younis said. "It is the tribal
law. They will get only six months in prison and then they
are out."

Sanariya's family took her to a doctor three days after her
attack only because the bleeding had not stopped. She had
been sitting on the stairs at about 4 p.m. on May 22 when
an armed man dragged her into an abandoned building next
door. He shot at neighbors who tried to help the girl. He
fled when she began screaming during the assault.

Her mother refuses to let her outside now to play. Fatin
lied to her family and said an operation had been done to
restore Sanariya's hymen. But when her eldest brother,
Ahmed, found out otherwise, he wanted to kill Sanariya,
Fatin said.

Out of earshot of her family, Sanariya said she feels no
better now, two months after the attack. "I don't sleep at
night," she said in the hallway. "I don't sleep."
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