By Alice Dahle, Amnesty USA’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group
An 18-year-old Ethiopian migrant woman in Khartoum, Sudan was out looking for housing, when she was lured into an empty property and gang-raped by seven men. A police officer found her after the attack and took her to the police station. However, since it was a public holiday, a formal complaint was not filed.
The perpetrators of the rapes filmed the attack and distributed the video through social media six months later. As a result, everyone involved was arrested.
Of the seven men put on trial, three were convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes. Two more were convicted of indecent acts and sentenced to 40 lashes and fines. Another man was convicted of distributing indecent material and sentenced to 40 lashes and a heavy fine. The seventh individual was released on grounds of insufficient evidence against him. Those sentenced to lashing had their sentences carried out immediately after the trial in a closed court.
But that’s not where the story ends.
The young woman, who is now nine months pregnant, was first charged with adultery, which carries a possible sentence of death by stoning in Sudan. For any married person, sex outside the marriage is considered a capital offense under the Sudanese legal code.
However, the court eventually dropped the charge after recognizing that the woman is divorced and therefore not subject to being charged as a married person for adultery. When she tried to file a formal complaint of the rapes, the Attorney General did not allow her to do so because she was under investigation for a criminal offense.
During the trial, she was found guilty of committing “Indecent Acts,” sentenced to a month in prison, which has been suspended, and fined 5,000 Sudanese Pounds (about $961.00). She has also been threatened with “punishment for illegal entry” under Sudan’s immigration law and faces a prison sentence of 1 to 2 years and/or a fine, followed by expulsion.
Guilty verdicts and immigration charges against survivors of sexual violence only discourage individuals who experience such violations from speaking up and seeking help, reinforcing a culture of impunity for the perpetrators. Governments around the world must protect the human rights and safety of people living within their borders and hold those who violate those rights accountable.
We can help break the cycle of violence against women and girls globally by urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation making this a diplomatic priority. The International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), currently under consideration as H.R. 3571 in the House of Representatives and soon to be reintroduced in the Senate, would do just that. You can start by taking action here to urge your Representative to sign on as a co-sponsor!