Fighting Words

We Should Boycott Dubai Until It Revises Its Rape Laws

 @AlexCKaufman
on July 22 2013 3:06 PM
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Norwegian interior designer Marte Deborah Dalelv, 24, who reported being raped, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Norwegian Seamen's Center in Dubai, July 21, 2013. Dalelv, who was sentenced to 16 months in prison in Dubai for illicit sex after she reported being raped, says she has no regrets about coming forward if her warning will protect others from a similar fate. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh

Tourists should avoid Dubai until it passes new laws to protect women who report being raped.

The city’s glitzy hotels and luxury retailers create a veneer of modernity over the desert city, nestled on the shores of the United Arab Emirates. In many ways, Dubai can count itself among the world’s international centers of commerce -- alongside London, New York and Hong Kong. But like the backwoods cast of CBS’s 1960s hit “The Beverly Hillbillies,” newfound oil wealth can put you in league with the global elite before you catch up with its social mores.

In the UAE, as in some other countries that use Islamic law, a woman can only help convict the man who rapes her if the accused confesses or four adult men must testify as witnesses.

So, when 24-year-old Marte Deborah Dalelv reported being raped by a colleague while on a visit to Dubai, the Norwegian woman was sentenced to 16 months in prison for having premarital sex, a crime in the UAE. She was pardoned on Monday by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum -- the kingdom’s vice president.

Norway’s foreign minister praised the pardon as a step forward, a progressive legal precedent for what he called a “rapidly changing society.”

He’s wrong.

All Dalelv’s pardon proves is that, to be treated with respect and sensitivity after being physically violated in an attack that can destroy victims’ lives, you must be a white, attractive woman with access to Western journalists.

In May, an Australian woman who spent eight months in prison in the UAE after being raped captured media attention with a series of interviews describing her hellish experience in jail. She, too, was pardoned after making headlines around the world.

Then you have the British woman reported being raped in a bathroom by a hotel worker in Dubai Marina three years ago, she was confessing to a crime of her own. She was jailed for drinking alcohol and having premarital sex, both crimes in the UAE.

Worse yet, consider the fate of the Indonesian hotel maid or Bangladeshi waitress -- some of the countless migrant workers in the UAE -- whose plight is unlikely to garner a segment on CNN International. Surely, the full might of sharia law will come down on them.

Earlier this year, Dubai said it would attempt to bolster its annual income from tourism to $82 billion by 2020. Until the UAE can meaningfully reform its laws on reporting rape, Western travelers should not help it get any closer to that goal.

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