Last August, a young, pregnant woman searching for housing near Sudan’s capital was lured to an empty flat by seven men and subjected to a horrific gang-rape. The attackers, who filmed the assault on a cellphone as they took turns, eventually let her go, but threatened the victim with death if she ever came forward.
She fled from her attackers and didn’t report out of fear for her life. As an Ethiopian immigrant in Sudan, she already faced a certain level of discrimination on this status alone. Yet, what happened next would shift the trajectory of her life forever. The video of the assault went viral on various Whatsapps throughout the region, and suddenly she became the subject of a criminal investigation.
On January 17th, she was arrested by Sudanese authorities and thrown into jail while in her third trimester. The crime she had committed? Distributing pornography and indecent behavior. Most of her attackers were also rounded up and arrested for similar charges, and for a moment it looked like she might have a chance to seek justice. Her lawyers petitioned the Attorney General of Sudan to have her rape case heard. While there was no legal precedence in place that would cause the Attorney General to deny her claim, he decided that while investigations against her were ongoing, he would not open a rape case against her attackers. Applications for the woman’s bail, which were based on the fact that she is near the end of her pregnancy, have been refused, not once, but twice.
At one point the Attorney General stated that since not all the perpetrators against her had been caught, they could not proceed with bail. However, recently the seventh attacker was brought into custody. Activists pointed out that the condition giving for granting bail had been met, and yet her case, and petition for bail, has gone nowhere.
Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) has investigated the case and found appalling conditions in this Sudanese prison. The victim sleeps on a concrete floor, without a mattress and is being denied proper medical care. SIHA has called on the Sudanese government to provide the woman with adequate shelter, medical care, and psychosocial care.
Meanwhile, her case has been brushed under the rug by most of Sudanese media and international news. Despite the fact that the video of her assault has been seen by many, including woman rights groups within Khartoum, the victim has still been portrayed as promiscuous by much of the media. “It is quite clear, when you watch it, that this woman is being coerced,” said one activist familiar with the case.
“This woman needs help, and she needs it right now,” she continued. “Without it, it’s quite difficult to say how the health of her baby and her will fare. Maternal mortality rates in Sudan are dismal in some of the best of circumstances. So it’s quite clear that for this woman, the clock is ticking.”¯
In a public statement on the 4th of February SIHA made their demands for this woman very clear:
“SIHA demands the immediate release of the woman or her transfer to hospital to receive necessary medical attention. Moreover, SIHA believes that the Attorney General should ensure that the victim is immediately able to file a rape case against the perpetrators and directs a full investigation into the crimes of rape and sexual violence.”¯
Yet without publicity or international help, it is unlikely her case will move forward.” Furthermore it sets an incredibly dangerous precedence for women accused of indecency within Sudan. If victims of rape are afraid of being thrown in prison, the already low rates of reporting these assaults could drop to near zero.
The Sudanese Attorney General could grant her bail, he could follow up and prosecute the men who raped her, but so far he has declined from doing his job. This action puts the freedoms of women in Sudan at risk, but for this particular woman, the risk is her life. A life that the Sudanese government would far prefer we all forget about.
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