I didn’t receive justice when I was assaulted in Qatar. This year’s World Cup has reopened painful memories
I lived in Qatar for 15 years and fell in love with the people and place. But this year’s World Cup is also a reminder of the country’s unjust system for sexual assault victims.
16 Nov 2022
Content warning: This article contains mention of rape, sexual assault and murder.
I am not a big football fan. But, like many of us who aren’t football followers, I usually make an exception when it comes to the World Cup. I enjoy the sense of camaraderie as people come together to support the national team they hope will win.
This year’s World Cup is being held in Qatar, the small Gulf emirate where I lived during my formative years, aged 14 to 29. With the start of the international football tournament just around the corner, I have been reflecting on my time living in Qatar, and wondering if the World Cup could symbolise some closure for a number of traumatic experiences I went through there.
Watching this year’s World Cup will bring back a flood of memories from that time, both sweet and painful. Visiting football fans will no doubt experience the wonderful hospitality that Qataris are well known for. In the 15 years I lived there I was showered with love and generosity by the Qatari people whom I studied with, made friends with, worked with and later coached as a personal trainer. Their kindness knows no bounds, and during the most troubling times in my life, my Qatari friends took care of me. During my years there, I fell in love with Qatar’s rich history, culture, and heritage, and made an effort to assimilate into Qatari society by learning the Qatari dialect of Arabic.
‘As the date of kick-off for this year’s World Cup nears, I am still not sure I will be able to watch the football’
However, the run-up to this year’s World Cup has also reopened old wounds. For myself and a number of women who are in my circle of friends – including one woman who is no longer with us – the current media coverage is a painful reminder of the justice we did not receive when we were raped in the country.
Admitting you were raped as a Muslim and Arab woman is an immensely difficult thing to do, particularly when your rapist was someone you went out on a date with. Dating is generally not socially acceptable in Arab culture, nor religiously permissible in Islam.
There is an incredible amount of shame and stigma attached to being raped in many cultures, and the reaction is often one of victim-blaming and shunning. I have lost count of how many people told me: “But you were not kidnapped from the street, so it’s partly your fault.” It is due to this fact – that I had willingly got into my rapist’s car and gone on a date with him – that I could not prosecute him in Qatar.
‘The current media coverage is a painful reminder of the justice we did not receive when we were raped in the country’
I was raped in the spring break before my last semester at university. I had a difficult relationship with my father at the time. I was terrified that if I told him what happened to me he would stop me from completing my degree and force me to stay at home. So I held myself together for nearly six months. I was already taking antidepressants for panic attacks that had begun during my last year at high school and the medication had a numbing effect on my emotions. On the day I finished my final exam at university, I returned home, broke down and told my mother I had been raped, who in turn told my father.
His response was mixed: he felt fury, shame and heartbreak. He was furious that I had disobeyed him by going on a date with a man behind his back, ashamed that his daughter was no longer a virgin and heartbroken that he could not protect me. Despite blaming me for being raped, my father still tried to get me some form of justice.
My father had connections and managed to get a meeting with Qatar’s chief prosecutor to discuss the possibility of pressing charges. The chief prosecutor was kind and understanding, however he warned my father that if he did open a case, I could ultimately find myself being put behind bars for zina, or sex outside of marriage, which is illegal in Qatar. I heeded the warning and, in the end, told my father to stop pursuing legal action.
Upon hearing the name of the Qatari tribe my rapist came from, the chief prosecutor also told my father that he should go home and thank Allah that my rapist had not murdered me.
‘I could recall conversations with other women – friends and strangers – who have comparable experiences to my own’
When my father repeated the words of the chief prosecutor to me, I could recall conversations with other women – friends and strangers – who have comparable experiences to my own. I have heard so many stories of women who have accepted lifts home from parties from seemingly kind men, only to be taken to remote desert spots and raped. These stories end in a similar way to my own: with no justice served and blame directed at the victims and never toward the perpetrators.
In October 2013, three and a half years after I was raped and just beginning to move on with my life, I received news that reminded me of the chief prosecutor’s consolation – that I was lucky I had not been killed.
A good friend of mine was pleading on social media for any news of a girlfriend, a teacher called Lauren Patterson, who had gone missing after a night of clubbing in Qatar. The only updates we were able to find were on British online news outlets; the only local news outlet reporting on it was an independent media outlet called Doha News. A couple of days later, we discovered through British news outlets that Lauren’s remains had been found in the desert. It was reported that she had been stabbed to death and her body so badly burned that the local authorities could only identify her through dental records.
Her convicted murderer, Badr Hashim Khamis Abdallah Al-Jabr, had his death sentence repealed in 2017, and then in 2019 his life sentence was reduced to a mere 10-year-term, which would mean him walking free in 2023 – just months away. For Lauren Patterson’s family, justice has not been served.
As the date of kick-off for this year’s World Cup nears, I am still not sure I will be able to watch the football. I keep imagining myself watching a match and the cameras swerving to the VIPs and dignitaries where my rapist may be sitting and seeing him on my TV screen. Leaving Qatar knowing that I had to remain silent about the identity of my rapist, that he could be possibly doing the same to other women, has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is my hope that by highlighting the injustices that myself and other women have encountered, and perhaps continue to encounter in Qatar, we can begin to have a more open discussion about a difficult topic. And perhaps talking can be a catalyst for change.
Below is list of links to resources that may be helpful if the issues of rape, sexual assault and violence raised in this article have impacted you:
Galop offers supports for LGBT+ survivors of sexual assault, hate crimes and domestic violence. Their services include a helpline and online chatbox, as well as advocates and caseworkers who can give advice and emotional support.
Victim Support is a charity that helps victims of crimes and traumatic incidents in England and Wales. They can provide counselling and legal advice amongst other types of support.
Rape Crisis Scotland is an organisation working to transform attitudes, improve responses and ultimately to end rape and sexual violence in all its forms.
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