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Friday, September 17, 2010

Another Night in Bangkok: Pictures of Brutal Gang Rape Become Facebook Entertainment

Facebook is a place to connect with friends, keep people updated on events going on in your life, and share photos of happy memories. However, for a group of young people in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Facebook became a tool to share pictures of a brutal attack on a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly drugged and gang raped at a recent house party. According to the police investigating this case, the young woman “suffered significant injuries” from “an aggressive series of assaults involving between five and seven males that lasted 20 minutes.”

So far, only one arrest has been made in this case – that of a male young offender who allegedly took photos of the attack and posted them on Facebook. He now faces charges related to the production and distribution of child pornography. According to the RCMP, the gang rape occurred early last Saturday morning in a field outside of a house hosting a rave titled “Another Night in Bangkok." Superintendent Dave Walsh said that this was a private house party “attended by a large number of youth” in Pitt Meadows, 40 km east of Vancouver. Another article on this story stated that hundreds of young people and adults were at this party. It was not until Sunday that the police learned of the attack when someone came to them and reported that photos of the victim being raped had been posted on Facebook.

There are so many issues to address in this horrible story. First, the fact that this gang rape happened at all is heart-breaking. The thought of this young girl drugged, raped by seven young men, all alone after being separated from her friends, and unable to fight back due to the effects of the drugs are almost too much to comprehend. Added to the rapes themselves are the additional humiliation of being photographed while being attacked and then the pictures posted on the Internet for anyone to see and download. Further, there were comments posted on Facebook along with the photos that suggested the young woman was a willing participant. According to police, this is completely false: all the physical and medical evidence indicate that this is a case of a large number of men sexually assaulting one woman.

Can you even imagine being raped and then having to face the fact that people were downloading pictures of your pain and then posting insensitive and false comments? It is no wonder that Ridge Meadows RCMP Sgt. Jennifer Hyland, who is leading the investigation into the rapes, said that the young woman is not doing too well, especially in light of the additional burden of the widespread circulation of the photos that are “spreading like wildfire” on the Internet. The fact that these pictures are available to anyone has made it especially difficult for police to assist this young woman begin to overcome the effects of these rapes.

Police officers are “angry and disgusted” at the large number of people who are downloading and sharing graphic pictures of this brutal attack and they have pleaded with the public to stop. Hyland underscored the horror of this attack and the subsequent events in this case when she said, “I’ve been involved in investigating sexual assaults for many years. In that time, I’ve never experienced anything like what is occurring in this investigation...The very public discussion about this victim and the taking and subsequent sharing of photos depicting this rape is disgusting, morally corrupt and criminal.”

After the attack, the young woman required medical attention. At the same time as she was receiving this medical care, the pictures of the gang rape were being posted on Facebook; they were removed on Sunday after police were notified. However, despite their removal, “copies have been downloaded and have since gone into circulation.” The fact that these pictures continue to be viewed and shared is reprehensible. Since I could not find the words to express my outrage, I have included the sentiments of Sgt. Hyland:

“I want to be clear about this: What happened after this incident and continues to happen is beyond disgusting. Those photos are child pornography. They have been viewed, shared, saved and re-posted numerous times. This is an offence and is so socially corrupt it is sickening...The posting and viewing of photos is continuing to victimize the young girl and her family and needs to stop.”

Further, in addition to the horrific and long-term this attack has had and will continue to have on the young woman who was gang raped, other young people have been traumatized after they were shown pictures of the attack. According to police, they have received complaints from several parents whose children have come home crying and quite upset after they saw the pictures.

As mentioned above, only the photographer has been arrested at the time of this post; however, the police have stated they have leads on some of the other alleged rapists. Further, according to Const. Aaron Lloyd, the photos taken of the attack will help police identify and arrest some of the other participants in the rapes.

At this point, it is early in the investigation and police are still in the process of talking to everyone who attended the rave. However, this process has been hindered by the lack of cooperation from some. In light of their need for as much information as possible, police are urging anyone with information regarding this gang rape to come forward.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact Ridge Meadows RCMP at 604-463-6241. Those who want to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.


Andrea Woo, “Rave Gang-Rape Photos Put on Web, Police Say,” Vancouver Sun (September 16, 2010), (accessed September 16, 2010).

Gerry Bellett, Andrea Woo, and Tiffany Crawford, “Photos of Teen's Gang Rape Go Viral on Internet,” Vancouver Sun (September 17, 2010) (accessed September 17, 2010).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Acid Burning: The Destruction of a Woman's Body and Soul


Much like other forms of violence against women, acid burning is an extremely personal attack against a woman’s body and soul. And while most forms of violence involve long-term psychological and/or physical consequences, most cuts and bruises fade with time, even though the memories rarely ever do. Acid burning, on the other hand, leaves a visible and tangible reminder of an attack spurred by rage and hate. And in countries where a woman’s chance for a good life depends on her being a wife and mother, the deformity caused by acid burning is especially cruel.

In countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, an alarming number of cases have been reported where men, often angry over a rejected marriage proposal or motivated by a desire to punish a woman for a real or supposed transgression, throw acid into her face, scarring her for life. While the immediate and long-term physical and mental agony of this crime is enough to create a public outcry, women who endure this form of violence are also almost always condemned to live life as an outcast, due to their disfigured appearance and subsequent lack of marriageability in a society that values women based on their position as wife and mother.

Bangladesh is one country where acid violence is common, usually due to disagreements over dowries, refusing a proposal of love or marriage, and disputes over land. Women who survive these attacks must spend the rest of their lives severely disfigured since acid melts skin and sometimes even dissolves bones. Further, since many men will not marry a woman who is disfigured in this way, perpetrators have discovered a sadistically successful way to dominate women and render their lives worthless. It is therefore important to stress at this point that it must become a priority of men and women all over the world to realize that a woman is worth so much more than what she looks like on the outside.

It is disturbing to note that acid attacks are on the rise in Bangladesh and that women burned with acid rarely receive justice. Beena is one such young woman. Eighteen months after 14-year-old Dano threw acid on her when she was 16, the perpetrator remained free. Beena’s family believes that the police were paid off to look the other way in this case. However, this brings up an important question: “Why does the government not act to stop the crime and why do the police seem reluctant to prosecute the alleged attackers?” One answer comes from a plastic surgeon at Bangladesh’s only Burn Unit:

There is a law in our country, but the law is not applied to the people who are throwing acid. Maybe the people who are throwing the acid are very influential in society so the police, the law officers, they cannot go to them and the poor victims, they are not getting any help from their administration, from the police, I think so. That's why the incidents are progressing more quickly in the absence of the law.”

Despite the fact that in 2002, Bangladesh introduced the death penalty for those convicted of the crime of throwing acid, there still remain many limitations to prosecution of perpetrators. Acid is cheap and easy to access, there is a lack of awareness of the existing laws among the general public, the judicial system is often corrupt, and there is weak enforcement of laws prohibiting this crime. Despite these shortcomings, many non-governmental organizations do assist survivors in accessing medical and mental treatment in their communities.

While this help from community organizations is invaluable, more must be done to prevent these acts from taking place in the first place. It is imperative that society’s views and attitudes towards women change immediately and dramatically. As long as men view women as objects or disposable property that can simply be destroyed and thrown away at the slightest provocation, acid burnings and other heinous forms of violence against women will continue. In addition, the strong and unbiased enforcement of laws, decisive prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and the sensitive handling of these cases in the media are all integral steps in reducing and ultimately eradicating this crime.


Due to the serious nature of acid burning attacks, many women do not survive, while the women who do survive their injuries live the rest of their lives in constant pain.

Women in several provinces in India have experienced acid burnings at the hands of former lovers who can not handle the end of the relationship. One of the most vicious attacks occurred in Delhi in 2006 when a mother of three children died after her former lover poured acid all over her body and then forced her to drink the liquid. It is clear from the nature of these attacks that they are carried out by men who hate their victim and desire revenge in the most extreme form. Further, most of these attacks are carried out in a well-planned manner after following their victim for a few days and they have full knowledge of the consequences of their actions.


In 2008, Nicholas Kristof wrote an article in The New York Times that examined the increasing prevalence of throwing acid on women in several Asian countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, as well as the accompanying lack of attention this crime receives due to women’s inferior status in many parts of this region. Kristof terms this type of attack that leaves women deformed for life as “terrorism that’s personal.” The majority of cases of acid attacks are motivated by a desire to terrorize or dominate their victims and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted because “women usually don’t matter in this part of the world.”

Kristof’s interviews with Naeema Azar and Shahnaz Bukhari in Pakistan illustrate the reality and agony of acid attacks for thousands of women in parts of Asia since the mid-1990s. Before being attacked with acid by her ex-husband, Azar was an attractive mother of three who worked as a real estate agent to support her family. After the attack, she wears a large black cloak over her head and face in order to conceal her missing ears, eyelids, and face with hardly any skin left, only bone. Even though Azar has received six grafts using skin from her leg, she is still unable to close her eyes or mouth, making eating in front of others impossible since it is too embarrassing to have others witness the food falling out of her mouth as she chews. Further, as Azar is now blind, her 12-year-old son must lead her around everywhere she goes.

In addition to the life-long after-effects, the attack itself is forever etched into Azar’s memory, along with that of her children who witnessed the attack. After the divorce (which her ex-husband had agreed to) was final, he came over to say good-bye to the children. Then, according to Azar and her son, he pulled out a bottle of acid and poured it all over his ex-wife’s face. Immediately, Azar began screaming as all the skin on her face began to fall off, revealing the bone underneath, and smoke from her burning skin spiraled around her body. Unable to see and in indescribable agony, Azar ran around wildly and crashed into walls. To add insult to injury, Azar’s ex-husband disappeared after the attack and has never been arrested or punished for his despicable actions.

Since there are many more women like Azar throughout Pakistan, activist Shahnaz Bukhari founded an organization called the Progressive Women’s Association to assist survivors of acid attacks. For Azar, the organization is raising money for a lawyer to strongly encourage police to prosecute her ex-husband and to pay for surgery that might possibly, in the hands of an extremely experienced surgeon, be able to restore sight to one of her eyes.

Bukhari has also documented 7,800 cases cases of women who have been deliberately “burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks” in the Islamabad area since 1994. One factor that may contribute to this high number of acid attacks is the ease with which most people can walk into a shop in much of Asia and buy sulfuring or hydrochloric acid – substances that will destroy a human face. Further, since most victims of these attacks are poor and female, they are virtually voiceless in their society. It is therefore imperative that people throughout the world realize what is happening and help survivors claim their voice.

Huma, 22, is one woman in Pakistan who did receive help and has begun to heal from a horrific 2004 acid attack. One night as she slept outside in the courtyard of her home, a man named Rizwan, 26, threw acid on her face as revenge for her family’s refusal of his marriage proposal. In an interview with IRIN, Huma, though still quite reluctant to discuss her ordeal, said “I just remember feeling something hot on my face, and then the searing pain that followed.” After hearing of her plight, a local philanthropist who has chosen to remain anonymous paid for her treatment and cosmetic surgery in Islamabad. Due to the numerous operations carried out over the course of several months, two years after her attack, Huma was able to look at her own reflection in the mirror and smile.

In order to assist the large number of women in Pakistan like Human who have been disfigured by acid attacks, a new chain of beauty salons have been established. Collaboration between Italian charity Smile Again (which already works with women in India and Bangladesh) and Depilex beauty salons have resulted in the provision of reconstructive plastic surgery for survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan. Under this program, doctors from Italy and France fly into Lahore or Islamabad to perform surgeries. The network of salons also assists burn victims to find a nearby Smile Again centre since many of the survivors do not have the money to travel to major cities or abroad to receive the necessary treatment. In addition to the treatment and rehabilitation offered at these salons, Depilex owner Musarrat Misbah hopes that the salons will also serve as a safe place and support groups for survivors. Further, Depilex also provides vocational training to acid attack survivors in the hope that they will then be able to leave the abusive conditions that lead to the attack in the first place.

Another initiative designed to minimize the effects of acid attacks is to raise public awareness about what to do immediately after being burned. For example, some women do not realize the important of washing the area right after being attacked in order to dilute the acid. The story of Zarina Ramzan perfectly illustrates the need for more education for women in this area:

It was like burning in hell…I didn't even know acid had been poured on me, let alone that washing it with water would have minimised the damage…The doctor there told me if I had washed the acid away immediately, it would not have penetrated so deep.”

It took Zarina six hours to reach the hospital in southern Punjab. Since then, she has had to endure 11 plastic surgery operations and doctors say she still needs several more.

According to Sameena Afzal, chief coordinator of the Depilex Smile Again organization, “It is very difficult to find definite statistics. But we know the number is high. I have 150 acid and stove burn victims registered with me at the moment for treatment.”

Though it must be stressed that acid attacks comprise only a small number of all cases of violence against women in Pakistan, the fact that these cases are increasing, widespread impunity exists for perpetrators, and the infliction of life-long debilitating effects for victims all necessitate an examination of this phenomenon separate from other forms of violence against women. However, it is also important to note that acid attacks must be understood within the context of the wider issue of violence against women throughout the world. The fact that women are viewed as subordinate and inferior in many countries in Asia where acid burnings occur is a factor that must not be overlooked. It is much easier to destroy “something” you do not consider to be human.

While it is difficult to determine the exact number of women who have been attacked with corrosive acid, hundreds of cases were recorded in the first part of this decade in Pakistan alone. However, numbers do not tell the whole story. Women who have been burned with acid often experience a lifetime of physical and psychological pain. To better understand the consequences of acid attacks, please go to This site features pictures the burned faces of women who have been attacked with acid. Please be advised that these photographs are very difficult to look at. However, I have included this link because I think it is extremely important that the world see the pain in the faces of women whose only crime was refusing a marriage proposal or romantic advance, requesting a divorce, or committing some other perceived slight against men who believe it is their right to destroy women.


“Bangladesh: Beena's Story,” Insight News TV (Produced by Ron McCullagh), (accessed July 23, 2010).

Bangladesh Burning: Growing Acid Violence Against Women.” (January 8, 2010). (accessed July 23, 2010).

Acid attacks are a form of revenge.” (November 20, 2006). (accessed July 23, 2010).

Kristof, Nicholas D. “Terrorism That’s Personal.” The New York Times (November 30, 2008). (accessed July 23, 2010).

Pakistan: Acid Burn Victims Smile Again.” IRIN (April 24, 2006). (accessed July 23, 2010).

Sahar Ali. “Help for Pakistan’s Acid Attack Victims.” BBC (accessed July 23, 2010).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stoning: Honour Killing by the State

Urgent: Possible Stoning This Week of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani 1

Future posts will discuss honour killings in more depth, but since there is a woman on death row in Iran facing possible execution tomorrow, I decided that I will focus on a barbaric and medieval form of honour killing sanctioned by the state of Iran: stoning.

There have been several recent newspaper articles involving a woman in Iran who was convicted of having an “illicit relationship” in 2006, convicted of adultery later that year, and then sentenced to be stoned for her “crime” of adultery. Though the sentence created an international uproar, one Iranian government official stressed that their decision would not be swayed by international pressure.

On August 12, 2010, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani appeared on state television in what some women's rights critics dismissed as government propaganda. During the interview, the Iranian mother of two expressed displeasure towards her lawyer for bringing her case to public attention as that had “brought shame on her family.” During the broadcast she said “Why did you publicize my case? Why did you harm my reputation and dignity? Not all of my relatives and family members knew that I am prison. Why did you do this to me?”

However, since Ashtiani had previously denied the charges of adultery, the International Committee Against Stoning, a human rights group dedicated to publicizing her case, called the TV show “toxic propaganda.” In other words, they felt that she had been pressured, coerced, or threatened into making the claims she made on television. Further, her lawyer and children claim that her conviction was based on false evidence.

According to her statements on television, Ashtiani began a relationship with her husband's cousin who subsequently killed her husband. The head of the judiciary of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province asserted that Ashtiani was the one who injected the anaesthetic into her husband before the cousin inserted wires into the victims' neck and killed him with electricity. However, it is interesting to note that it is unclear what punishment, if any, the cousin received. On the other hand, Ashtiani has already received 99 lashes after being convicted of having an “illicit relationship” and committing adultery with two men; a crime (along with murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking) that is punishable by death under Sharia law. It is also interesting to note that there is no mention of whether or not the two men that Ashtiani was convicted of having affairs with were ever arrested, convicted, or given lashes for their part in the “illicit relationship.” Further, Ashtiani was not sentenced to death by stoning for her alleged role in her husband's murder; that case was closed. Instead, she has been sentenced to a horrific form of death, along with a recent “mock” execution (which, in my opinion, is terrifying and amounts to psychological torture) for her alleged acts of adultery.

At one point, Mohammad Mostafaei, Ashtiani's lawyer, said that his client would probably avoid the punishment of stoning due to the international pressure and outrage over this sentence. However, a recent article in the Globe and Mail highlighted the fears of Ashtiani's lawyer and son who said that she may be stoned on Thursday or Friday, at the end of Ramadan (according to Islamic law, executions can resume at this point) since “The possibility of stoning still exists, any moment...Her stoning sentence was only delayed; it has not been lifted yet.”

Due to the injustice of this sentence and the fact that women in Iran still face death by stoning for committing adultery (regardless of how flimsy the evidence), Heather Reisman, the CEO of Indigo Books & Music, began a campaign to free Ashtiani through the circulation of an online petition and more recently, a letter “appealing directly to senior clerics in Iran” on the basis that there were “irregularities in her case, including the fact that she has been punished for her alleged crime.” This letter was written in consultation with experts in sharia law “in the hope of persuading clerics to pardon the woman within the Iranian legal system.” Approximately 300,000 people have signed the petition to free this wrongly imprisoned woman. If you would like to add your voice please go to

It is important to note, however, that there are issues surrounding this case that go far beyond the life of Ashtiani (though even if this was “only” about one life, it would still be of urgent importance) presently in prison waiting to be killed at the hands of men who will hurl stones at her. First, there has been a deafening silence from many in the international community surrounding stoning and other customs deemed cultural in Iran and elsewhere. This is unacceptable; custom, culture, religion, and tradition must all take a back seat to the just and humane treatment of women.

Further, according to a recent article by Margaret Wente, there are a number of people who are presently in Tabriz prison where Ashtiani continues to be held, including women, “children, adolescents and 18 people who've been sentenced to hang for homosexuality.” According to Maryam Namazie, an Iranian human rights campaigner who now lives in London, 200 death row cases are in Tabriz prison; 35 are women facing death by stoning. Examples include Maryam Baagherzaade and Azar Bagheri.

Baagherzaade is 25-years-old and has spent the last four years in prison. The only reason she is still alive is because she got pregnant while she was on a short leave from prison: “the regime usually waits to kill pregnant women until after they've had their babies.”

In the case of 19-year-old Bagheri, any illusion of justice disappeared when she was arrested, convicted of having sex outside of marriage, and sentenced to death when she was 15. This is an age when girls in Canada are not yet allowed to get their driver's licences. Further, this sentence was passed after she had been forced into marriage when she was only 14; soon after, her husband “pressed charges against her, claiming that she didn't love him and that she had had a relationship with another man.” Apparently the fact that a 14-year-old child might not love a man that she had been forced to marry and have sex with did not cross the minds of the judges in her case. Further, this young woman has been emotionally terrorized throughout her time in prison: “She has been subjected to mock stoning on two occasions – buried up to her chest and threatened with death unless she co-operated.” This sort of treatment is unacceptable, regardless of religion, country, law, tradition, or custom.

In the words of Namazie, “It is a crime to be a woman in Iran.”

Further, in April 2010, Iran was given a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, whose mission, ironically, is “gender equality and the advancement of women.” This appointment was after Iran failed to gain a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

Now, I am trying to stick to the facts and not deviate too much into the realm of sarcasm, however, this appointment confounds me. How is it possible that a country known throughout the world for its ill treatment and arrest of women based on subjective crimes of morality (while often ignoring the similar actions of men) and the stoning of women convicted of adultery could possibly earn a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women? Basically, instead of condemning Iran for its treatment of women, the United Nations has deemed it prudent to include this country on a commission whose objective is to improve the treatment of and increase the dignity and human rights of women around the world. In the words of Margaret Wente, “No one explained how stoning women to death advances gender equality. This is a moral inversion so twisted that it defies satire.” And in the words of Namazie, “It's like asking apartheid South Africa to sit on the commission for racial equality.”

Finally, while “stoning is hugely unpopular inside Iran, and Iranians do not like their country to be portrayed as medievally barbaric,” it is important to note that Iran “strenuously depicts Western protests as an assault on Iran and Islamic values.” Further, one Iranian official said, The execution of Islamic religious laws on [such things as] death by stoning, hijab and inheritance has always faced their audacious animosity and, basically, any issue which hints of religious law is always opposed by them.” In light of these sentiments, it is therefore important to ask the question, “How is stoning women an Islamic value?”

Now, before you leave this page to go read something a little bit lighter, please consider signing the petition above. If we turn away from this woman now, in her hour of greatest need, how are we any better than the officials who have condemned her? In the words of a woman who was imprisoned in the same jail as Ashtiani in 2008: “Sakineh is the symbol of all the women who are tortured and assaulted in prison in Iran. I hope international support, as well as obtaining Sakineh’s liberation, will open the way to a change in this situation.” For the sake of abused and tortured women and men everywhere, I pray this is the case.


Robin Pomeroy. “Iran Woman Facing Stoning Death Appears on State TV.” Reuters (August 12, 2010). (accessed August 12, 2010).

Margaret Wente.It’s a crime to be a woman in Iran.” The Globe and Mail (August 12, 2010). (accessed August 12, 2010).

Adrian Morrow, “Iranian Woman Could Be Executed This Week, Son Says,” The Globe and Mail (September 6, 2010), (accessed September 6, 2010).