ADELE BUTLER – Women of Spirit: Libyan Woman Fights to Tell Her Rape Story




Libyan Woman Fights to Tell Her Rape Story




For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light – Mark 4:22



I just read on Care2Make a Difference about a Libyan woman who was trying to tell the media about her horrific ordeal at the hands of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s militia. According to the New York Times, the woman who identified herself as Eman al-Obeidy burst into a Tripoli hotel where the foreign press was and attempted to tell the journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of Qaddafi’s militia.



 “They say that we are all Libyans and we are one people. But look at what the Qaddafi men did to me.”


She displayed a broad bruise on her face, a large scar on her upper thigh, several narrow and deep scratch marks lower on her leg, and marks from binding around her hands and feet. She said she had been raped by 15 men. “I was tied up, and they defecated and urinated on me,” she said. “They violated my honor.” She pleaded for friends she said were still in custody. “They are still there, they are still there,” she said. “As soon as I leave here, they are going to take me to jail”

For the members of the foreign news media here at the invitation of the government of Colonel Qaddafi — and largely confined to the Rixos Hotel except for official outings — the episode was a reminder of the brutality of the Libyan government and the presence of its security forces even among the hotel staff. People in hotel uniforms, who just hours before had been serving coffee and clearing plates, grabbed table knives and rushed to restrain the woman and to hold back the journalists.

Ms. Obeidy said she was a native of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi who had been stopped by Qaddafi militia on the outskirts of Tripoli. After being held for about two days, she said, she had managed to escape. Wearing a black robe, a veil and slippers, she ran into the Rixos Hotel here, asking specifically to speak to the news service Reuters and The New York Times. “There is no media coverage outside,” she yelled at one point.

“They swore at me and they filmed me. I was alone. There was whiskey. I was tied up,” she told Michael Georgy of Reuters, who was able to speak with her briefly. “I am not scared of anything. I will be locked up immediately after this.” She added: “Look at my face. Look at my back.” Her other comments were captured by television cameras.

A wild scuffle began as journalists tried to interview, photograph and protect her. Several journalists were punched, kicked and knocked down by the security forces, working in tandem with people who until then had appeared to be hotel staff members. Security officials destroyed a CNN video camera and seized a device that a Financial Times reporter had used to record her testimony. A plainclothes security officer pulled out a revolver (

I watched the video and was very disturbed by what I saw. CNN captured this on camera. Check out their footage I watched as this poor woman tried to tell her story. You could see that she was distraught and terrified. One man hovered over her and she cowered away from him at the same time fighting him off as a reporter came to her assistance. Other reporters tried to push the man away. In the scuffle, Eman leaves the hotel with a man, thronged by reporters. He tries to put his hand over her mouth but she pushes it away. Another man appeared and hustled her quickly to a white car. It sped off.



There was so much commotion as people tried to silence Eman and as the journalists tried to get her story. One woman was yelling at her. Perhaps she was the waitress who demanded, “Why are you doing this? You are a traitor!” At one point after she was removed from the table, she was swarmed by people. I was shocked to see one woman grab and hold on to her while another put a bag over her face. There was shoving and hitting. It was total mayhem. Yet, in the midst of it, Eman stuck to the reason why she was there—to tell her story.

It took Eman a lot of courage to do what she did. She spoke out against a regime that violated her and her rights. Despite the attempts to silence and humiliate her, she was determined to speak up for herself and her friends who were imprisoned. She risked her safety to tell the truth. Unfortunately, no one knows what has happened to her even though Khalid Kaim, the deputy foreign minister promised that she would be treated in accordance with the law.

Since then, extreme media attention has sparked the Libyan government to make an astounding number of excuses, both about the woman’s rape and their own role in silencing it. They say that four men have been arrested in what was a criminal, not political act, and that Obeidy is safe, free, and with her family. The LA Times points out, though, that they provided absolutely no backing for this statement. The spokesman for the Libyan government also described Obeidy as a single mother and prostitute. “This is her line of work,” said the spokesman. “She knows the boys for years. She goes out with them for business. She has a whole file of petty theft and prostitution.”

Obeidy’s relatives, however, have described her, variously, as a lawyer, law student, and travel agent with, according to the LAT, “blood ties to the opposition forces.” None of these claims have been verified, but they point to the extent to which the Libyan government wants to spin a particular story about this woman’s brave actions that makes them seem less brutal and culpable (

We could only hope that this brave woman is still alive and will soon join her family. It is a sad state of affairs when a government tries to discredit a rape victim by maligning her character. Eman was brutalized and the government is calling her a prostitute and claiming that she was friendly with the men who attacked her. It’s the usual “blame the victim” mentality. She was even called a thief. This is the government not taking responsibility for its actions. It’s time that this regime was toppled. We need more courageous women like Eman to speak out against its brutality. What those men did to her in secret, she brought to light so the whole world is aware of the atrocities that seem to be the norm for Qaddafi’s henchmen.


Adele Butler, A Celebration of Women 2011



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