Monday, June 07, 2004

Why not marry your rapist?

This Washington Post story from Ethiopia is tragic as well as heroic: a young girl and her peasant family pursue the men who raped her, circumventing rural customs that would keep them silent. Twice, Woineshet escape from the same men who kidnapped and raped her.
She was abducted one night in March 2001 by four men who hacked down the front door of her home in the village of Abadjema with a machete. Police and witnesses said she was forced into a nearby shack by the men's leader and raped for two days. She was 13 years old.

The second abduction/attack lasted fifteen days. Her father, wanting his daughter to enjoy the same independence as women in the cities, engaged women's rights organizations and convinced the police and others in the village to push for a prosecution.
The case opens a window on a struggle in Africa between deeply held rural and tribal traditions and a quest to establish internationally recognized legal standards in societies that have long been without them.

Despite gaining a ten year conviction, a local judge released her attacker after one month because, in the judge's opinion, the accusation of rape was a cover for a dispute between families over marriage:
I don't think she was abducted or raped ... The health report did not specify that she was a fresh virgin. No one wants to rape anyone who is not a virgin. Maybe they were just in love. This case has no evidence.

This family is only out for revenge ... Maybe they don't want her to marry him. So they accuse him of rape.

Look, a marriage contract had been signed, and I think we should find it. If she wanted to marry him, then if there was a rape that makes it legally okay.

Some of our new laws and ideas on these matters do not fit with the culture anymore.

To Woineshet, the judge said:
He wants to marry you. Why are you refusing? ... After 13 years, after 15 years, the lady she can be happy. She can be okay.


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