It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.
It’s 2008. A Brisbane woman, in her mid twenties traveled to the United Arab Emirates to head up a spa and beauty salon at a four-and-a-half star resort on the coast. Her income is tax-free and her living expenses – including accommodation at the Meridien Al Aqah beach resort – are covered by her US employer, Starwood Hotels.
But only three months into her working holiday, things went seriously wrong.
On Channel 7’s Sunday Night program this weekend, 31-year-old Alicia Gali shared a story of how her “luxurious” working holiday landed her in jail for eight months.
It started late one night when her room flooded. After Alicia called maintenance services and then she went to the hotel bar to have a drink and use her laptop while the problem was fixed.
It was in that bar – which was reserved for staff at the resort – that Alicia says her drink was spiked.
“I remember drinking the drink – I don’t even remember finishing the drink,” Alicia told reporter Ross Coulthart.
“Next thing I know I wake up at 4:30 in the afternoon the next day. The door to my apartment was ajar, I was completely naked with just my bra handing off my shoulder. I woke up in pain; I had broken ribs and a lot of bruising to my body.”
Three hotel employees allegedly raped her. And the flood in her room was eventually determined to have been caused by a men’s shirt and a plastic bag being been stuffed into the drain.
Alicia told her managers what had happened and that she wanted to report it to police. She also wanted to go to the hospital for treatment. But what Alicia did not know was that the laws in the United Arab Emirates are very different to Australia – and that even admitting to drinking alcohol could land her in a lot of trouble.
The United Arab Emirates follows Sharia Law, which is the traditional Islamic law.
Under Sharia Law, people are prohibited from having sex outside of marriage and, unfortunately, rape falls under that law.
The law also prohibits people from drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
Under Sharia law, a rape allegation is not considered by the courts unless it was witnessed by at least four Muslim men who are each willing to testify and attest that the sex was non consensual.
Alicia claims she spoke to someone from the Australian Embassy in the UAE but was only told that she should “reconsider (her) need to be in the country”.
When Alicia’s injuries became too much to deal with alone, she went to the hospital. She followed the hospital staff’s advice following her visit and went to the police station. Alicia signed a statement at the police station, without realising that what she was actually signing was a confession to “sex without marriage, damaging honour, promoting sin and drinking alcohol.”
Alicia was sentenced to a year in jail – the men who raped her received sentences of a similar length. She was pardoned after eight months and allowed to come home to Australia. And today, Alicia says she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder because of the incident.
And she’s pursued legal action against her employer, Starwood Hotels.
This from The Australian:
Maurice Blackburn principal Michelle James said there were strong grounds for examining the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in dealing with Ms Gali’s case.
“Over the past few months further information has come to light about what embassy staff did and did not do,” she said. “The embassy’s deficient advice led to Ms Gali spending a hellish eight months in prison.”
Ms James told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday that the failure to provide consular advice directly led to Ms Gali being jailed when she reported her rape to police. “She should have been told, as a bare minimum, of the local laws that apply in the UAE,” she said.
But Alicia’s case isn’t unique.
A few years ago, a 23-year-old British woman of Pakistani descent was on holiday with her fiance when she was raped by a stranger after she passed out in a hotel bathroom. The woman and her partner were arrested – accused of having sex outside of marriage and of “illegal drinking”.
Charlotte Adams, also from the UK, spent 23 days in prison for kissing a male friend on the cheek.
It’s not just visitors to the country who are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. An 18-year-old Emitari woman was recently sentenced to a year in jail after she reported being gang raped by six men.
And it’s stories like this that have human rights groups saying the UAE does not do enough to stop sexual violence for local women or tourists.
And with more and more tourists travelling to the United Arab Emirates – and particularly Dubai – there’s a concern that these kinds of incidents could happen more and more.
This from The Independent:
Lulled into a false sense of security by the drinking culture encouraged in the five-star hotels that line the shores of the oil-rich Emirate, expatriates often find themselves on the wrong side of the country’s strict laws. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says British nationals are more likely to be arrested in the UAE than anywhere else in the world.
However, the legal system’s treatment of victims of sexual crimes has drawn particular condemnation. “In the UAE, there have been multiple cases over the past few years where the state has charged women with criminal offences after they have reported rape,” said Samer Muscati, a researcher in the women right’s division of Human Rights Watch.
You can read more about Alicia’s story and the statements from Starwood Hotels and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at Sunday Night’s website here.