Media Decides Domestic Worker is Guilty of Rape Before Trial

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Sep 23 2014

UPDATE: The domestic worker has been sentenced to one year in prison on October 20th, 2014. The court said that it based its ruling partly on the helper’s confession during the investigations and before the judges that she had an intimate relationship with the boy for a year, even after becoming pregnant. However, both parties in the case said they would appeal the court sentence.

In mid-September, a 32-year-old Indonesian domestic worker was arrested after giving birth at her sponsor’s house. She faces rape charges because the father is her sponsor’s son, a 13-year old boy. The worker and her child are currently detained in the domestic workers’ shelter “Dar al-Aman" until the trial ends. Two domestic workers with similar cases are also detained in the same shelter.

The family had placed the worker and their son in the same room “for lack of space."  The worker claims that the sponsor’s son stripped off her clothes and raped her, while the family holds the worker raped their child.

The validity of either accusation is impossible for observers to determine, but Gulf media has already designated the victim and the abuser.  One report’s headline reads sarcastically “youngest father in Bahrain is only 13 years old.” Others read “story of housemaid raping and getting pregnant by 13 year old Bahraini child” and “because of an Indonesian maid… youngest father in Bahrain is 13 year old.”

Another report uses a picture of an unidentified woman with the headline “Bahraini child has sex with Indonesian maid and has a baby.”  Several outlets covering this story used the same photo, implying that it is the domestic worker involved in the case. However, search results reveal the photo is from a year-old report about the abuse of an Indonesian domestic worker in Morocco.

The worker is also unlikely to be heard in court, as the legal system discriminates against migrants and especially domestic workers; access to translators and lawyers during the most pivotal periods is often obstructed and upon arrest, many are pressured through interrogation and intimidation to admit to crimes they have not committed. The Indonesian embassy in Bahrain has implored authorities to provide a fair trial for the worker.

But the disproportionate services available to the contending parties casts doubt on the likelihood of courts fulfilling this request.  While none of the media reports mention the woman’s lawyer or attempt to provide insight from doctors or medical experts about her experiences, the family has retained a well-spoken lawyer as well as support from the Child Protection Center. In a statement to a local newspaper, the boy’s lawyer held: “we had to make great effort to convince the public prosecutor that the boy is the victim here, not the alleged offender. We used reports from doctors and psychiatrists from the Child Protection Center that support our claim.” Al-Ayam newspaper states “charges were changed from adultery with a female against the boy, to seduction and sex with a minor against the woman.”

Most domestic workers are young and come to the Gulf alone – though they may have families back home – and consequently are heavily sexualized by media and society at large. This perception of workers as ‘temptresses’ or otherwise morally corrupt contributes to the frequent allegations of misconduct against the region's most vulnerable class of migrants.  Gulf media’s routine reproduction of narratives that posit citizens as victims of migrants further contribute to a precarious social and legal environment for accused domestic workers.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East