The three policemen put a burlap sack over Khalida's head and took her to the Iraqi Interior Ministry in Baghdad. There, they interrogated her and beat her, knocking out her front teeth. Then they tore off her clothes and took turns raping her.
"After they finished, the fourth man came into the room," Khalida told me, stubbing out one cigarette to light another. "He was an officer. I could see the rank on his shoulders. He looked at me and said: 'Oh, it's my bad luck that you’re bleeding, because it was supposed to be my turn.'" The officer ordered his men to get rid of Khalida. They wrapped her in a blanket, put her in a car, and dumped her, hemorrhaging, on a Baghdad sidewalk.
We pick up Khalida's story from Rape's vast toll in Iraq war remains largely ignored:
As though recoiling from her own memories, Khalida shrank deeper into her faded armchair with each sentence she told: of how gunmen apparently working for Iraq's Interior Ministry kidnapped her, beat and raped her; of how they discarded her on a Baghdad sidewalk.
But her suffering did not end when she fled Iraq and became a refugee in Jordan's capital, Amman. When Khalida's husband learned that she had been raped, he abandoned her and their two young sons.
Rumors spread fast in Amman; soon, everyone on her block knew that she was without a man in the house. Last month, her Jordanian neighbor barged into her apartment and attempted to rape her.
Khalida never reported the incident. Like tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, she does not have a permit to live or work here, and she is afraid that if she turns to authorities for help she will get deported. So instead of seeking punishment for her assailant, she latched the flimsy metal door of her apartment and stopped going outside.
This is not uncommon in post-invasion Iraq. As Amnesty International reports:
Women and girls are being attacked in the street by men with different political agendas but who all want to impose veiling, gender segregation and discrimination. Islamist armed groups have claimed and justified violent attacks on women not complying with their views.
Women are also suffering violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives, particularly if they try to choose how to lead their lives. Many face terrible retribution if they refuse to be forcibly married or dare to associate with men not selected by their families – even though Iraqi legislation specifically prohibits forced marriage, and the right to choose a spouse is guaranteed under international law applicable in all parts of Iraq.
Wars and conflicts, wherever they are fought, invariably usher in sickeningly high levels of violence against women and girls. Amnesty International is concerned that even if greater stability and peace return soon to Iraq, levels of violence against women may remain high if the authorities continue to allow men to kill and maim women with impunity, and if gender segregation and discrimination against women become further entrenched.
The problem is multifold.
First, it involves an oppressive religion from the middle ages, which codifies treatment of women as objects, with an emphasis on their being objects for sexual gratification.
Mixed in with this is a generous dose of tribal culture, where women are kept submissive by being second-class citizens, needing a male to protect them from society.
Superimposed on this is something more familiar to Westerners: the inevitable criminal activity, and especially the victimization of women, that accompanies the chaos of armed conflict.
LICENCED TO KILL
Many men who commit violent crimes against women are never brought to justice because the authorities are unwilling to carry out proper investigations and punish the perpetrators. Six years after the overthrow of former President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi legislators have yet to amend legislation that effectively condones, even facilitates, violence against women and girls.
The Penal Code, for example, provides that a convicted murderer who pleads in mitigation that he killed with "honourable motives" may face just six months in prison. It also effectively allows husbands to use violence against their wives. The "exercise of a legal right" to exemption from criminal liability is permitted for: "Disciplining a wife by her husband, the disciplining by parents and teachers of children under their authority within certain limits prescribed by Islamic law (Shari'a), by law or by custom."
As a result, police frequently fail to arrest men accused of violence against their female relatives and, in the rare prosecutions, judges may hand down lenient sentences, even when a woman has been murdered. This sends out a terrifying message to all women in Iraq – that they may be killed and beaten with impunity.
When things are functioning reasonably well in Western societies, victims of sexual assault can usually turn to the police and various crisis centers for help. But, where do you go when your society has no crisis center, and when the police are your assailants?
Some women do escape domestic violence and seek refuge in special shelters, but there are far too few of these. In the Kurdistan Region, the local authorities have established shelters and others are run by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the rest of Iraq, the authorities do not provide shelters and those that do exist are run by NGOs and often have to function more or less clandestinely.
The following video link opens the PBS page in a pop-up window:
See also Behind the Veil.