The Legal and Social Plight of ‘Gulnaz’, the now-freed Afghan rape survivor

Gulnaz. (Via CNN)

Two years a go, a then-19 year-old Afghan woman known only as ‘Gulnaz’ was charged with adultery and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after she reported that she had been raped by her cousin’s husband. Gulnaz became pregnant from the rape she endured. She gave birth in prison. Gulnaz and her child lived behind bars for two years until the international community heard about her plight. Her case became known when the European Union announced it had banned a documentary about Gulnaz and other victims of gender crimes, citing a fear for the women’s safety should their story become public (CNN).This rationale drew international criticism. Five thousand people signed a petition for Gulnaz’s release in late November.

In the face of international and political pressure, Gulnaz was consequently pardoned by Afghan President Karzai. Her release was also conditional on Gulnaz’s agreement to marry her attacker (CNN). International outcry about this conditional pardon continued. Recent reports say that Gulnaz may not have to marry after all, now that she is free, and given that her attacker is currently still in jail for the rape (AFP, Jezebel). Gulnaz and her child are currently living in a women’s shelter. She says she still fears for her safety and she longs to return home to live with her brothers.

Gulnaz continues to face the stigma of rape from her community, but also by public and media reports that question the validity of her story. Upon her release from jail, a thoughtful CNN reporter gracefully asks Gulnaz to confirm rumours that she wasn’t raped, even though she has spent two years in jail saying otherwise. Victim blaming, public doubt and shaming of rape survivors are part of the sexual harassment problems I’ve discussed in my previous post. Gulnaz was jailed for speaking out about rape. Media reports that question the truthfulness of victims’ stories make it even more difficult for other people to report their abuse to the law.

CNN has been otherwise at the forefront of Gulnaz’s case. Gulnaz granted them the first English media interview, risking her public identification in the process. Throwing doubt on her story is not good journalism. After all she has endured and after a system of law failed her and cost her two years of her freedom, this line of questioning only does Gulnaz and other rape victims all over the world further violence.

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