Widespread reports of abduction and rape of women in Iraq have been met with disinterest from Iraqi and US authorities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports in a study released today. Based on more than 70 interviews with officials, victims and their families, the report found 25 credible reports of abduction and sexual assault in Baghdad since the war ended. Along with continued reports of looting, extremism and other acts of violence, this climate of chaos is forcing women to stay in their homes in increasing numbers, HRW reports.
“Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work,” said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority.”
Iraqi police officers “did not appear to recognize, or purposefully downplayed, the seriousness of allegations of sexual violence or abductions,” according to the report. With no female police officers in Iraq, women have generally been made to believe by male officers that they provoked attacks, according to HRW. In addition, US military police have failed to follow up with sexual violence complaints. The inattention from authorities is compounded by cultural traditions in Iraq that dictate that families blame victims for sexual assault – sometimes leading to incidents of honor killings. “For a woman’s family, all this is worse than death,” Dr. Khulud Younis, a gynecologist at the Alwiyah Women’s Hospital told the Times. “They will face shame. If the woman has a sister, her future will be gone. These women don’t deserve to be treated like this.”
HRW urged Iraqi and US military authorities to implement urgently needed legal reforms, law enforcement training, and health and support services for women. “The US should deploy a special investigative unit to investigate sex-based and trafficking crimes against women and girls, until such time as the Iraqi police can take up responsibility for it,” HRW wrote in a press release.