On Saturday, al-Obeidy burst into a hotel in Tripoli, where many international journalists were staying, displaying bruises and scars and alleging she had been raped by 15 men and held for two days. She was then jumped by hotel staff and security officials while journalists intervened to protect her.
She’s like the new Lara Logan for the Libyan people, but the problem is whether she is “innocent” like Logan or “guilty” for being a prostitute and therefore shouldn’t be trusted, according to the Libyan government.
Getting journalists’ attention has assured that the world will not be dismissing what happens to al-Obeidy, especially since we were all able to witness the extreme lengths taken to silence her.
The excuse the government offered that because Libya is a “traditional” country it is not proper to discuss the allegations of rape only makes it easy for the public to then shame al-Obeidy before even finding out whether she is right.
In the United States, part of a journalist’s code of ethics is to not name rape victims in stories to protect them and their families. This makes sense because though it is our duty to inform the public, we must balance that with preventing harm.
However in al-Obeidy’s case, she willingly brought attention to herself so that pro-Gadhafi militia would be held responsible. It is only fair then that her claims be investigated regardless of whether she is a prostitute (which a government spokesman, Musa Ibrahim, on Sunday said), a lawyer (which her mother said) or a travel agent (which other relatives said).
Rape is never part of a person’s line of work and a government will never be considered legitimate or transparent by ignoring the rape of a citizen and failing to offer proof of her whereabouts.
Rape has been a well-documented weapon of war utilized by governments and rebel armies such as in the Congo and Darfur, for ethnic cleansing, demonstrating power and forcing compliance. It even happens to men!
Rape is such a powerful tool because it cuts on so many levels-physically, psychologically, socially, emotionally, and though it has now been considered a crime against humanity by the United Nations, it still remains largely unpunished.
al-Obeidy’s account has yet to be proven, but what’s important is that it gets to be properly heard. The manner in which her case is resolved will speak volumes about the Libyan government’s commitment to human rights as NATO coalition forces continue to try and drive its leader out of power.
On that note, here’s an interesting post on whether Obama had constitutional authority to order Operation Odyssey Dawn.