A colleague who has just returned from Mukjar (West Darfur) tells me today that local authorities in the town are again arresting rape victims over adultery charges. (I should add that this happens so commonly in a country like Sudan that is barely raises an eyebrow anymore among the aid worker community.) For those who are not quite as brutally desensitised as we are, here's a very quick, over-simplified version of what often happens in Darfur:
Women are raped. They are too afraid to report the cases to the police, who will often threaten and harass them if they do. They may not even report the case to their sheik (out of shame) or seek medical treatment (for fear of being seen in the clinic, and possibly reported to the national security).
If the women are unmarried and become pregnant as a result of the rape, the police can then charge them with adultery. Since they have not filed an official rape complaint, the women have no legal grounds to appeal their charge. Once in custody or before a court, the already traumatized women usually suffer more shame, harassment and punishment than they have already endured. End of sad story.
In the case of this latest Mukjar report, there seems to be a new twist to the ordeal: the women, who were held in jail overnight, were released under the condition that they sign a document in which they agree to their punishment (100 lashes) - and to a bizarre clause that obliges them "not to harm the babies" once they are born.
While this clause clearly indicates that the police are well aware that these women are rape victims who are likely to abandon and/or harm the babies they have conceived during their attack, it seems to me a tragic paradox that the authorities implicitly acknowledge the women's situation at the same time that they are punishing them for their alleged crime.
Tags: Sudan, Darfur, aid worker, women, rape, Mukjar