clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Thanks, New York Times, for reminding us how fucked up things are in Iraq:

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 assistant.

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!"


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.


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.


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."

The article sort of half-heartedly tries to pin this increase on the war and looting and the defunding of the Iraqi infrastructure, but I think that's unclear. The police patrolled more, sure, but the reporting problem was still there. It's mostly just a reminder of the problems facing us as we try and install a republic in a place where nine year olds will be killed by their fathers because they were raped, and the father will only get 6 months of jail time; where reporting such rape involves letting the (let's be blunt) semen and sweat and blood sit on your body and in your vagina overnight while waiting for a doctor, and after you get examined they give you a stamp that says, "RAPED." In this situation there are, as they say, some cultural hurdles to overcome.