A 16-year-old Kurdish Syrian refugee was kidnapped and gang-raped by 6 men in Southern Kurdistan’s Erbil city. She is from the city of Kobane (also referred to as ‘Ayn al-‘Arab), and local news agencies have reported that she was repeatedly raped by 6 men while returning from work. The police have yet to reveal their findings regarding the perpetuators and so-called Kurdish social experts have regarded the perpetuators as “mentally incapacitated”.
There are several issues to note, first the quick dismissal from Kurdish sociologists of this case as a “one-off”, and perpetuated by “mentally incapacitated” men closes the discussion on similar cases that have not been reported by women due to fear of having their reputation tarnished or even shunned by their families. The second issue is the lack of public outcry and general awareness regarding victims of rape, and challenging the consensual attitude towards incidents similar to this that are often socially taboo to talk about. Although initial plans were made to stage a demonstration in support of this teenager, none actually took place.
This rape case might be the highlight news of this week, but it certainly will not last in the headlines for a long time. News is often sensationalised to attract the attention of the public, but what is important is the follow-up by local NGOs and women-rights agencies that can effectively take this opportunity to bring to light rape as a growing issue in Kurdistan.
Here’s what we need:
- Trained professionals
We need professionals who are trained and able to provide counselling and emotional support to victims of rape. This is priority before anything else for the victim, they must have access to counselling that is effective and appropriate.
- Shelter houses for rape victims
Women who are raped are not always welcomed with open arms within their families afterwards and might even face honour violence because their reputation has been tarnished. This is especially the case if a woman or young girl wants to make her case known to the public. Despite the bravery and courageous will to take the lead in making their case known, this is not recognised in Kurdish communities because we still live in a very patriarchal mindset, despite the progress made on an economic level in Kurdistan.
Although there are shelter houses for victims of violence, nothing exists specifically for those who are victims of rape and in need of special/tender/attentive level of care after their ordeal. The distinction must be made between rape victims and victims of other forms of violence because sexual violence has a different emotional/mental consequence for the victim and each must be dealt with accordingly.
- Accountability and access to justice
It is important for women to trust the legal system and to have faith in the justice system. To be able to believe that by taking the courageous step in reporting a crime of rape that justice will prevail, those accountable will be dealt with severely, and that access to justice is not tainted by regulations.
- Public awareness
Despite governmental institutions that supposedly promote the rights of women in Kurdistan, why can’t we see more campaigns led by the government that highlight sexual violence against women? Talking about rape and sexual violence must be normalised within our Kurdish communities. There is no shame for the victim, only the perpetuator is the bearer of shame and that is how we should deal with it.
Rape victims are often perceived as damaged goods or women who have no spousal future and this hinders them from taking their cases to the courts (keep in mind child-rape, and other types of rape/sexual violence exist too, but require research/statistics). We can’t progress or set up institutions that protect women from sexual violence in Kurdistan until we speak about it publicly.