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Society & Culture

“The Smirk on the Judge’s Face was Worse than the Rape”

November 4, 2014
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
8 min read
“The Smirk on the Judge’s Face was Worse than the Rape”

Shirin, a 26-year-old conservation and natural resources student, contacted me after reading my interview with rape survivor Mina Khani. Shirin told me that she had also been raped. After finally deciding to report the crime to the authorities, she expected support and understanding. Instead, the judge presiding over the case was dismissive and insulting, suggesting that she was to blame for what happened to her.

When we met, I could not even imagine what horrifying memories lay behind those calm eyes. What did she have to endure in that courtroom? How did she deal with the humiliation and with so many people looking at her? How many times had she paced the hallways in search of a moment of understanding? I spoke with Shirin about her attack, the hearing and what happened when she refused to remain silent.


Can you tell me about what happened to you?  Where were you? Did you know your attacker?

My family was not much into socializing. I was a shy girl with low self-confidence who usually took refuge in self-imposed isolation. When I was preparing for college entrance exams I came to know a man who gave private lessons for the exams and looked respectable. A teacher at the institute I was attending for the exams recommended him. The first session of tutoring took place in one of the classrooms at the institute, but since they were short of space it was decided that for the next session I would go to the man’s home.

As soon as I arrrived everything felt wrong. I was alarmed. When he locked the door behind me I had no chance to respond. He moved towards me so fast. With a quick movement he snapped away my shawl and pushed me into a room. I did my best to resist. He started to remove my clothes by force. My whole body was shaking. I felt weak and my brain was paralyzed by the enormity of what was happening to me. When the physical struggle became more forceful, I recognized that he was stronger and I was no match for him.


What was your reaction afterwards?

I didn’t dare tell my family. How could I tell them that I was no longer a virgin? My father suffered from a heart condition. I was worried that he would have a heart attack after learning about this shame. I had not even had a boyfriend. I was chaste and modest. How could I tell my father that a man his age had violated me?


Did you think of consulting a gynecologist to verify that you had been raped?

At first my mind refused to accept the fact. I told myself that nothing had happened. But when I thought about the burning sensation of the moment and the pain in my groin, and when I reviewed the details of what had gone on, then I knew that it had really happened. At last I could not stand it anymore and went to a gynecologist. I had to stop denying the reality and accept it. I was not doing anything but blaming myself. It was during those days that I tried to take my own life, unsuccessfully.

Before it happened, I was seriously thinking about studying medicine, but afterwards my world was  turned upside down. For months, I cried in the privacy of my room instead of reviewing my lessons.


When did you decide to file a complaint?

For a few months I was silent because I was afraid of dishonor and of my family’s reaction. But I was able to gather enough courage and mental wherewithal to complain. I consulted a reliable person and that person encouraged me to go the judicial authorities. When I filed my complaint I was under the impression that the law would be very harsh in dealing with people who hurt women, especially when it comes to rape. I had this impression because I had seen photographs and stories about the execution of rapists on news sites and in magazines. But I was wrong.


Why were you disillusioned? Based on Article 82 of the Islamic Penal Code it is your inalienable right to be protected by the judiciary.

Immediately after I filed my complaint, I was treated as the guilty party. Instead of assistance and sympathy I was confronted with insults like “whore” and “addict”. The judge’s smirk and the painful process of investigating my case was many times more painful than the rape.


How did the judge behave?

He asked why I did not call for help. I told him that I wanted to shout, but I knew that nobody would hear me; that the rapist was strong and that, as hard as I tried, I could not push him away; that he had me on my back in no time and did what he wanted to do without paying attention to my pleas. I said that had I gone there by my own free will then why would I choose the indignity of making a complaint and visiting the court and going back and forth. I explained the details, the fact that I pleaded with the rapist and told him that I was a virgin but it was of no use. I told him that I tried to push my thighs together so he could not enter me and that, like a madman, he played and watched pornography on a tablet that he had laid out on the bed while he did this.


What about the forensic evidence?

The first day of the investigation was during the height of the summer heat. I had run around quite a bit and I was tired and weak. “Are you an addict? It seems that you are high,” the judge said when he saw me. Then they sent me to forensics. The three doctors who examined me behaved strangely. They did not seem to sympathize with me even a little bit. I was under stress and felt ashamed. One of the doctors asked me rapid-fire questions and was dismissive and sarcastic while he was examining me. With his palm, he lightly slapped my thigh and told me: “You have been having sex for at least five years. It is not a question of a couple of times.” When I was on the examination table, they treated me as though I was a prostitute. My lawyer later told me that this was a underhand trick they often use to hurt the plaintiff mentally, so that she will believe that she will not be able to prove her allegation in any way and so withdraw the complaint. They do this to lighten the court’s caseload: the court is receiving more and more complaints of this kind.


Were you threatened as well?

Yes. To further pursue the case, I was sent to Shapur Investigation Bureau [in central Tehran]. The moment I arrived, the very first sentence the investigator uttered was: “You had your fun and partying, but now that he has had you, you want to complain?” After that he kept threatening me implicitly, saying that by pursuing the complaint I was going to be the loser because I could not prove the rape took place. He said if I wanted to use this as an excuse to force the guy to marry me then I was way off course.

After leaving the bureau I started weeping in the street. On my way home I wanted to throw myself in front of a passing car. I was burning inside but silence and keeping it a secret was not going to cure the pain. Silence is a way of cooperating with the rapist. I became aware that the spirit of the law sides with men, even if the man is a rapist. From what I have read, I understand that in the past, even if rape was not proven, the victim could demand to be compensated for her virginity. But later a law was passed that said if rape is not proven, the victim is not entitled to receive compensation. Now imagine that, plus the mindset of the men who work in the judiciary, especially if you tell them you want compensation.


Did your family know what was going on?

Yes, but something terrible happened there as well. One of the worst things that the courts do is to deliver the formal complaint to the door of the plaintiff’s home, without an envelope. If the plaintiff is not home then the delivery agent gives it to a neighbor without paying attention to his or her identity. This can lead to dishonor and shame for the plaintiff. This is not simply a mistake, it’s a catastrophe. I believe if somebody has been raped, then she is better off going to a psychiatrist, instead of filing a useless complaint. That way she might receive treatment for her pain and come to terms with it so she can live the rest of her life.


What was the court’s verdict?

On the last day of court, an American reporter was allowed to be present to witness how rape cases are handled in Iran. It was a very rare piece of luck. During the proceedings the judge and the counsellors pressured the accused and asked him humiliating and sharp questions and they treated me very nicely. I had no lawyer but the judge practically defended me like a lawyer.

I was happy and ecstatic that I was finally going to get justice. But I was shocked when I received the verdict. The accused was acquitted of forcible rape because of lack of evidence — but he was sentenced to a hundred lashes for adultery. I was not sentenced to lashes because the judge took pity on me and the person who had encouraged me to complain was influential. But after so much effort and pain, what polluted my soul was a sense of humiliation and deep unhappiness.


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