Lessons from a rape

The disastrous incident of a rape victim may be beneficial to Tunisia's society as it could encourage more women to speak out

by Moez Hababou on 12 October 2012 13:15

Less than two weeks after the burning of the US embassy in Tunis, Tunisia's reputation and name has been muddied once again as the story of the girl that was raped by the police and then subsequently charged of 'lewd behavior' became viral.

If you search on Google 'Tunisia News' today, you find gloomy articles about Tunisia's becoming a terrorist hub, concern of human right groups regarding the press freedom in Tunisia, big concerns over the state of the economy, strikes that are paralyzing large parts of the country, and obviously the story of the poor 'Mariem', who was first raped and then accused of lewd behavior.

The current government led by Ennahdha has shown serious limitations in its ability to govern and this has put a lot of strain on the living conditions and international reputation of Tunisia abroad. In the case of the rape, the Ministry of Interior has initially tried to coerce 'Mariem'  not to file any charges.

Then, the story became public thanks to the bravery of the lawyer Radhia Nasraoui who represented Mariem.

What is bizarre in the whole story is that the main witnesses for the alleged 'lewd behavior' are the same policeman who raped the girl. I'm no jurist, but the credibility of these witnesses is shaky at best. Moreover, it seems so insensitive and immature to bring up these charges this soon when the girl is emotionally devastated and in shamble.

I believe that the Ministry of Interior assumed that they can force the girl into silence by throwing at her these ludicrous charges, and there would be no major reactions to it. The lewd behavior charges may have also brought up to justify the rape by asserting that the 'woman deserves it'.

This gross miscalculation would have worked if not for the awakening of the civil society and the rallying effect that the rape had on the collective conscience of all Tunisians. It also brought to light a topic that is taboo in Arab and Muslim societies, which is rape. Quite often, sexual predators get away with rape because the victim is too ashamed or scared to tell anyone.

This, in my view represents a major test, for the current government, and more specifically to Ali Laarayedh, the Interior Minister, to prove to the people of Tunisia and the World that they are serious about cleaning their act and holding accountable those who carried out this obscene act.

It is imperative to show leadership and transparency in reforming the police forces in order to regain the trust of Tunisians and respect and credibility internationally. Otherwise, the leading party, Ennahdha, will be severely punished at the next elections, especially by women voters.

In the long run, this incident, while disastrous to the reputation of Tunisia in the short run, may be beneficial to the Tunisian society as a whole as more women will speak up against these incidents and fewer perverts will dare to rape. It will also remind us that no woman deserves to be raped regardless on what she is wearing or what she is doing.

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