In the Gulf and especially Dubai, prostitution is available everywhere. Online, at clubs and bars, in private parties. Young girls locked up or seemingly free; Asian, African, Eastern European. My experience is that prostitution is so common and accepted it’s hardly attached to any stigma for the buyers (“Why should I visit a whore?” a man once told me. “I get lots of women, I don’t have to pay!”). For being an Islamic country, this exception seems to exist within any moral remorses with the leadership.
So what’s the deal if you are forced to have sex against your will, if you get raped? The same legal system that overlooks the brutal sex trafficking will most likely confine you for having sex outside the institution of marriage and punish you as the victim instead. This goes for men and women, underage as well as adults.
This week the news broke that the Norwegian woman in Dubai, Marte Deborah Dalelv, who had been accused of premarital sex after reporting a rape to the authorities, was being “pardoned” and did not have to do her previously sentenced punishment in jail. Throughout the process she had been hiding in a Norwegian church in Dubai and international media had monitored the case over the past year. Now would a woman who was not white, westerner and with huge international support have been “pardoned” from the sentence? Probably not. And what else is, Marte’s rapist was pardoned at the same time.
Now many other countries have increased their legal support for victims of violence and sexual violence; in 2011 Iraqi Kurdistan passed a law that forbade domestic violence and in for example Lebanon there is a big network of women’s shelters with legal and social support for victims. Despite their financial lead, Dubai is still many years behind.
I admit it, I have a thing for the Gulf. I like the music; the drums and the monotone singing, the tales of pearlfishing, the culture and the desert. I sincerely appreciated living in the Gulf, being one of few. But the one thing that makes me hesitate to ever go back to live there is the modern day slavery, now spreading over the Middle East, that now is so plain that most people have grown numb to it.
I’ve heard the arguments before, I’ll give them to you before you give them to me: the guestworkers would have made much less in their own countries, now they can put their own children in school. You have to take their passport away from them, otherwise they will run away before the contract is over. They’re poor people that don’t know anything – therefore you have to lock them in overnight, they have to know their place. The horrifying stories I have heard reminds me of tales from American slavery – anonymous people that looses their identity and name.
I’ve heard the other side too, from people who want to be good: we pay her flight ticket to go visit her family, we give her one day off when she’s free, then she can go whereever she likes, our maids can eat as much as they want. As if giving someone what is supposedly their human right is “being good”.