Incest in Iraq... A husband asks his wife to put up with his brothers’ desire

Sunday 13 March 202210:24 am
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Activists and civil organizations have been speaking of the high rates of incestuous harassment in Iraqi society, but its victims are afraid to speak out under comprehensive religious and clan power that rejects anything that may disturb the customs and norms of society, regardless of the type of crime committed that holds the woman responsible.

A. M. found no other alternative than attempt to escape from incestuous harassment. The 15-year old had been greatly suffering from her brother’s continuous sexual harassment and her mother’s refusal to believe it, so she was forced to file a formal complaint against her brother at the police station. She then ran away in fear of being killed after having broken the prevailing customs and traditions. She says, “When I told my mother what I was being subjected to, she threatened me and accused me of being in a relationship with someone else. I saw no other choice but file a complaint to the police, but they did not give the issue any importance. Here it was necessary for me to run, because going back means getting killed, for in the eyes of my clan I have broken the norms.”

Hanan, 24, lives in the east of the capital Baghdad. She was subjected to physical harassment by her father-in-law, and decided to report him for incestuous harassment after her husband continued to remain silent on the matter. After the lawsuit, Hanan was divorced by her husband on the pretext of breaking tradition and defaming his father, while no action has been taken against his father to this day. She recounts what happened to her, “I got married when I was 16 years old, and I was often physically harassed by my father-in-law. I told my husband many times, and he promised me that he would act, but nothing happened. My father-in-law would wait for my husband to leave the house, and then would uses the opportunity to begin harassing me, trying to get what he wants in any way he could think of.”

An Expanding Map

Hanan was not the only one who filed a case against incestuous harassers in Baghdad. Shaymaa, a pseudonym, says that on the day after she got married, she was subjected to an attempted sexual assault by her husband's brother, and “had it not been for resisting and screaming, I would not have escaped from the jaws of this beast, and worse still was my husband’s reaction, who asked me to simply accept it until his brother gets married.” She adds, “My shock at what I went through was nothing in the face of my husband’s reaction, after he told me that I had to deal with the desires of his four brothers, until another wife came to help me with it.”

These incidents, which have increased recently and sparked public outrage in Iraq, prompted many activists to call for the implementation of the domestic violence law, and the formation of specialized secret committees in schools, universities, and state institutions to investigate these cases and refer them to specialized centers to follow up on what is happening behind the closed doors of homes without disclosing any details, under the cover of dishonor and tradition.

Proof of Harassment or Death

Even though Iraqi courts and the community police acknowledge the existence of cases such as these, there are obstacles that women face when it comes to proving the abuse and convincing the law and society that they are victims of the wants and desires of those closest to them. Legal expert Safaa al-Lami points out that “the law requires the existence of sufficient evidence to be able to move forward.”

Al-Lami lists the required evidence, which include “a medical examination, a witness testimony, camera footage or any recording that proves the assault, a semen test in the case of rape, the complainant’s statement, and whether it conforms with the evidence. Then comes the role of the investigation in studying this evidence.” He notes that “the necessity of such evidence being present isn’t usually known to girls who are victims of abuse, and the availability of evidence to prove the harassment is one of the most important problems and obstacles that stand in the way of filing a complaint, as well as the fear of being killed if the victim was not believed under the pretext of bringing shame to her family.”

Encouraging drivers

Al-Lami stresses the need to enact new legislations or amend the current legislation, Penal Code No. 111 of 1969. In Articles 393 / 2(b), Article 369 / paragraph 2, and Article 397, it stipulates that crimes of incest count as criminal offenses like all other crimes, without dedicating a specific chapter for it. He explains that “the law only added a period of two years to the penalty. This is flawed handling of such a sensitive and dangerous issue like incest, which affects the core of society and must have penalties that are supposed to be deterrents.”

Social media sites also play a role when it comes to encouraging committing crimes of incest, according to experts. The Director of the Community Police of the Interior Ministry, Brigadier General Ghaleb al-Attiyah, remarks that they have closed down many pages that encourage young people to commit these crimes and urge such impulses, explaining that “incest is an issue that requires privacy in Iraqi society, since it’s an Islamic society, and most parties refuse to recognize it.”

Had it not been for resisting and screaming, I would not have escaped from the jaws of this beast; worse still was my husband’s reaction, he asked me to simply accept it until his brother gets married

Al-Attiyah confirms that the community police have received and documented many cases of incest, calling on victims to “go to centers to report cases, especially after Iraqi courts have imposed penalties against the aggressors.” However, he does not deny that the victims were subjected to attempts of physical elimination due to prevailing beliefs that it harms the family’s reputation. He points out that his department has conducted field visits to provide emotional and psychological support to the victims and to ensure that they were not exposed to violence after reporting what they have been subjected to.

Cover up

Society’s refusal to recognize the present issue of incest exacerbates its damages and the great effects it leaves on the victims, since the Islamic and tribal character casts a shadow in terms of the victims’ refusal to file a complaint, or talk about what they are being subjected to. This comes in addition to the killings that many girls fell victim to, after they chose to talk about what is happening to them behind closed doors and household and clan restrictions.

Raseef22 tried to obtain accurate numbers for these instances of assault to study their causes, but most of the existing statistics are only approximate. But according to the Media Center of the Supreme Judicial Council, domestic violence reached up to 1,449 cases against women in 2021. Whereas the Ministry of Interior announced through its official account that it has recorded more than 5 thousand cases of violence against women since the beginning of 2021, and added in its report that some cases of abuse were not counted because they had not been reported in police centers, since women are afraid to file complaints for fear of being killed.”

When I told my mother what I was being subjected to, she accused me of being in a relationship with another man. I saw no choice but to file a complaint, but the police didn’t give it any importance. I had to run, because going back meant getting killed

Harassment and sexual assault against women at the hands of relatives, have prompted many female educators to spread awareness among women through training workshops. Social media was one contributing factor to easily spread methods of awareness for personal protection, and urge them to file complaints at police centers.

Dr. Ikhlas Jassem Jibreen, one of the awareness activists in this field, explains that “assaults such as these affect the psychological state and well-being of women, since those who are sexually abused are plagued by serious effects that cause psychological and physiological changes, such as feelings of shame, disgrace, fear, and tension, and are linked to physical effects such as indigestion, headache, vomiting, and increased sweating. In addition, this leads to misconceptions, such as the fear of having sex in the future and a feeling of being watched by others, all of which lead to suicidal thoughts dominating the majority of the victims.”

Jibreen talks about the importance of having the victims of sexual violence receive counseling and therapy sessions and be monitored by specialized doctors, noting the importance of addressing these issues in the community, through imposing the law and adopting deterrent laws to get rid of such cases that ruin society.

The rule of clan law

According to psychologist Enas Hadi Saadoun, the reasons that cause women to not report the harassment they are subjected to at the hands of their relatives include “fear, which is the main reason that prevents women from speaking out and exposing the harasser, especially since clan law aligns with the rule of law in our society, and takes precedence and greater space in implementation, in addition to the stigma that women are subjected to and society’s inferior view of them.”

She adds, “There is also women’s lack of awareness and ignorance of their legitimate rights, which makes them submissive to tribal domination, along with their lack of financial and intellectual independence, as many women live isolated from the outside community and do not have any contact with a legal party, a governmental organization, or any other means of communication that would encourage and educate them to file claims or complaints and protect themselves from the harm of parents and the abuser.”

There are many stories and accounts of women who have been victims of harassment or rape by their own relatives, without finding anyone to protect them. They seek out the law and its promised safety, only to collide with deep-rooted tradition and clan thinking. So they choose silence, while the harasser parades around, or at least does not worry about what he’s doing, because he is protected, and because women conceal and cover up. This is starting to change in Iraq today, as there are those who are speaking out and raising their voice, in the hopes that it will reach more people, while the state remains captive to the clan, and the woman, apparently, an indefinite victim.

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