Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Cultures, Relative

with 10 comments

For something like the  last five days, while most of the rest of the world has been worrying about royal babies and George Zimmerman playing Good Samaritan and I don’t know what else, I’ve been following a story about a Norwegian woman who was arrested in Dubai for having “illegal sex” after she called the police and reported she’d been raped.

In fact, she was more than arrested. She was actually convicted, of that and of drinking alcohol and of making a false report to the police, and sentenced to 16 months in jail.

You can find the story here:


And, as you can tell, it had a happy enough ending–the woman was “pardoned” and sent home to Norway, which is probably where she wanted to be.

If you had been watching this story the way I have, however, you’d know two things.

First, getting convicted of having “sex outside marriage” and jailed for it after reporting a rape happens to a fair number of Western women working in or visiting the United Arab Emirates, and

Second, happy endings are  not the usual result of the mess they find themselves in.  In fact, in the last two years, at least six women have been charged and convicted of having illegal sex when they tried to report rapes, and all of them did jail time. 

At least one of them went to jail for eleven months. If the Norwegian woman hadn’t been pardoned–and the only reason she was was because of  the international outcry–she would have gone to jail for 16 months.

Now, there is a part of me, watching this over the days, that gets a little impatient.

It’s an Arab country.  It operates on Islamic law.  Islamic civilizations are not famous for being good to women.  Whatever made THIS woman think her rape charge would be taken seriously?  Or treated as anything but a lie told by a whore?

There are things about this case in particular, too, that make me impatient–she’s in a misogynist country and she gets so drunk she can’t perceive that she’s being taken to the wrong apartment?

No, of course, that doesn’t mean she was “asking for it,” and he still had no right to use her body against her will–but, hell, any sane person would have been expecting it. 

But in the end, what really got my attention was this:  the fact that UAE authorities assume all rape reports are false and that the woman is just making excuses and ought to be jailed for behaving like a whore ISN’T NEWS.

The six or so other women who ran into this same problem, all from EU countries, should have been known to authorities in those countries, and to Brussels.

In other words, the fact that a woman who is raped in the UAE should NOT call the police was already known to both the foreign services and the companies who employ Western women to work there.

This is what orientation is for.  It’s also what state departments are for–or part of what they’re for. 

When I go overseas–or at least, when I used to–I can go to the State Department web site and get little “advisory” things that give me just this kind of information. 

Do EU countries not provide their citizens with this kind of information?  Do they provide it, but the citizens don’t go looking for it?

And shouldn’t the companies that hire Western women to work in Islamic states inform them of this kind of thing?

And hasn’t this happened often enough in the last two years–I’m talking 2011 to 2013–that there should be a GENERAL advisory given to any woman who indicates she’s going to the UAE?

This whole thing feels to me as if–I don’t know.

It’s as if all the EU countries whose female citizens had been subjected to t his nonsense decided to treat it as if it weren’t there. 

The only reason this latest case result in the woman’s being able to receive a “pardon” and go home was that there was a media outcry.  If the case had gone unreported in the international press as the others had, this woman would be sitting in jail right now.



Written by janeh

July 23rd, 2013 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'Cultures, Relative'

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  1. I’d seen the story on BBC.

    I think a lot of people, not just Europeans, either don’t read advisories or aren’t taught about major risks and possibly dangerous cultural differences before they leave. People (and not just Americans, who have a bit of a reputation for this sort of thing) don’t realize that if you fall afoul of foreign laws in a foreign country, about all your embassy can or will do is send some official to visit you and perhaps give you a list of local lawyers. And they might not get around to doing that, if you’re not important and no one tells them about you.

    When I went to Africa many years ago with CUSO (like VSO or Peace Corps) we got a pretty good orientation, but there are things they didn’t mention that I later found out were common knowledge on the ground. If you’re driving and run someone over, keep going. Otherwise, you might well be lynched unless the next-of-kin is a devout Muslim and takes the incident as an expression of the will of God. On the other hand, if you catch someone trying to rob you in a busy city street, curse them out by all means, but never shout ‘THIEF!!” or you might cause a lynching. These are details it might be useful to know, but they weren’t mentioned ahead of time.

    Some people don’t pay attention to briefings, some don’t get them, and some think they can behave exactly as they do back home anywhere in the world no matter what they’re told. You think they’d learn by the time they became old enough to be sent abroad on business. I was about 18 when I learned the hard way that people take visas seriously, and I needed to understand the rules concerning how many entrances and exits mine allowed, and I knew before then that different countries had different legal systems and cultures.


    23 Jul 13 at 9:23 am

  2. Oh, and they pardoned the rapist, too. In Dubai. It’s mentioned briefly in some of the online articles.


    23 Jul 13 at 9:25 am

  3. It wouldn’t matter whether Norway keeps travel advisories. It’s not as though you have to prove citizenship to read the US State Department ones. There is, though, some tendency to understate hazards. It’s a diplomatic thing.

    That said, John D. McDonald once proposed that certain US citizens be given passports stamped “NOT VALID OUTSIDE THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES.” This seems reasonable to me, and the Euros might want to consider it themselves. If someone is so provincial that he or she can’t grasp that “they do things differently here.” That person should stay home. The native land will not be humiliated and the person will be much safer.

    Military travel briefings for Permanent Change of Station moves were usually quite good, by the way–traffic signs, customs, legal responsibilities and sometimes language. The Korean brief included start-up costs and maintenance fees for “Yobos”–Korean mistresses: the pay differential was much greater then–and warnings that if a cab hit someone, the passenger was legally responsible. (Leave 10,000 Won on the seat and run.) English-speaking Korean lawyers were given the run of the post golf course–so that if they didn’t help out Americans in legal trouble, we could cancel their golf privileges.

    But I never found out why the chaplain’s office was saddled with the Yobo Briefing.


    23 Jul 13 at 10:31 am

  4. I checked


    It is shown as Exercise a high Degree of Caution
    and includes
    • When you are in the UAE, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. The UAE is a Muslim country and local laws reflect the fact that Islamic practices and beliefs are closely applied. Laws may also vary between individual Emirates. You should familiarise yourself with local laws before you travel.
    • The UAE has a zero tolerance policy towards illegal drugs. Penalties can include the death sentence or life imprisonment. Medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia may be illegal in the UAE. There are strict laws on personal conduct, particularly in regard to sex and personal relationships, as well as the consumption and possession of alcohol.

    That seems like fair warning but it says nothing about reporting rape.

    The story was reported in Australian newspapers but there was no mention of other women being in prison. I assume that someone involved in the case made sure a reporter heard about it.


    23 Jul 13 at 6:22 pm

  5. Stories about the Ugly American Abroad abounded in my youth – probably an echo of the wartime situation down here where American troops frequently outnumbered locals in areas where their camps were located. When I got a bit older, and had travelled a bit, I realised that no nation had a monopoly on offensive behaviour by their citizens abroad, and that, in my experience at least, Americans generally came a long way down the scale of relative offensiveness, with Australians right up there with the worst of them. The Australian influence on resorts such as Bali has not been benign, and I’ve personally been affected and amazed at the offensiveness of some German tourists in the UK.

    We ignore local laws and mores at our peril. An Air Force acquaintance killed a cyclist in a car accident in Thailand. He was eventually released from jail without charge, but it cost him a fortune in bribes and compensation to the victim’s family, and apparently there was never any question that he was at fault.

    The fruit of my own loins, a law student at the time who surely should have known better, frightened the bejasus out of me in, IIRC, Wyoming where we stopped to have lunch one day. Being as deaf as I was at the time, I had no idea what was being ordered, so I was stunned to see that he had ordered a beer with his pizza or whatever it was. He was 19 years old at the time, and a big lad, so it was not surprising that he was not carded (as his younger brother had been in Hawaii where the legal drinking age was 18 as it is in Oz), but had the cops chosen that moment to stop by for lunch, and decided to check, our little time-limited trip to the US and beyond would have come to a nasty grinding halt. Then, a couple of years later, he recounted with some glee his experience of travelling with a friend in a rental car across the Mojave Desert at speeds in excess of 100mph, at night. How we ever reared them is still a mystery to me.

    Just as the younger generations seem never to have heard the story about Peter and the Wolf, the proverb “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” has completely passed them by.


    23 Jul 13 at 8:01 pm

  6. Mique, if it’s any comfort, my parents did a bus tour of Ireland with mostly Australian fellow-passengers and still speak fondly of them despite some language difficulties.
    In Germany, I could always tell when we were close to a US base because I’d start seeing more litter, and there was other behavior not calculated to endear us to our hosts–yet we seem to have been better guests than the British. So, as you say, not one nation.
    I think the US reputation was set by sending out lots of well-paid servicemen in WWII when the Brits, for instance, banked most of their men’s pay and gave them a sort of allowance, followed by the post-war period in which pretty much only Americans had any money.
    And of course we don’t get much practice. Absent air travel, it would take me two days to get out of the country, and three days by road or rail to be insulted in a foreign language. Pre-Euro, the average European could have an early breakfast at home and be cheated over currency exchange ratios at lunch. It makes a difference.


    24 Jul 13 at 7:43 am

  7. The WW II memories linger on. Although my American father came here and met and married my mother after WW II, even today there are still some local people who remember the effect on the local female poplation of large numbers of young, exotically foreign, and, yes, richer or at least more extravagant men when they built US bases here! Over-sexed, over-paid and over here, as the rather jealous local men used to say.

    As for the innocents, or not so innocents, abroad, no, it isn’t only the Americans. We’ve had a spate of Canadians running into problems – usually in Mexico, sometimes on one of the Caribbean islands or on one of those cruises that cater to the party types. Leaving aside the people who end up mysteriously dead while conducting unspecified “business” in Mexico, the university students who end up falling off balconies during parties (in the most recent case, the organizers had felt it necessary to hold “balcony safety sessions”, which were apparently unsuccessful), and (again often students or young people) the ones who unaccountably get into brawls, often late at night and outside bars, there are still cases of violence and even murder of apparently ordinary vacationers, although they’re rare. Even so, the weirdness of the investigative procedures by Canadian standards seems to catch everyone involved by surprise every single time. I don’t know why. It’s not like any of this is new or unusual.


    24 Jul 13 at 8:12 am

  8. Cheryl, Canadians also left memories. About 1946, there was a sarcastic comment in a Dutch paper to the effect that when the next war broke out in about 20 years, Canada would have no need to send an expeditionary force to Europe. They could just send arms and uniforms to the Netherlands to kit out the Canadians they’d fathered there.

    I have noticed here too the surprise when the media report that criminal investigations, trial and punishment are done differently overseas. I think the people who pay attention to foreign affairs are not surprised–but they’re also not the primary audience. The others will be surprised next time, too.


    24 Jul 13 at 12:29 pm

  9. I hadn’t heard that about Canadian soldiers in Holland, but it doesn’t surprise me. More recent stories in the Canadian media have been about elderly soldiers returning to visit graves and battlefields, and being touched by the way their contribution to the war is remembered. That, and the tulips given to Ottawa as a thank-you by the Dutch royal family.


    24 Jul 13 at 1:42 pm

  10. We had a Canadian exchange officer – a LtCol – on my RAAF Staff College course back in in the day. He was a nice guy (when sober) but a bit off when in his cups. Despite being married to one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known (in every sense of the word), his “pick up” line when out on the town was fairly gross. He would shamelessly stop an attractive young woman in the street and confront her with the line: “How would you like to breast-feed a fighter pilot?” We took care to stay a looong way away from him at such moments when he’d had a couple of drinks.

    He got his comeuppance when he was flattened by an Army guy in a pub near a major Army base we had been visiting. The Army guy – a junior enlisted man, and also drunk, objected to his presence in the pub as a “bloody Yank”. Little Canadian bantam rooster took extreme offence (as they do :-)), flared up, took a wild swing and woke up some time later in the hospital. No charges, civil or military, were laid, but I don’t know how he explained his very black eye to his wife when he got home.


    24 Jul 13 at 9:35 pm

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