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Rape's vast toll in Iraq war remains largely ignored

Many rape victims have escaped to Jordan but still don't have access to treatment and counseling.

Khalida: The mother of two, shown in silhouette, was raped during the war.

Anna Badkhen

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As though recoiling from her own memories, Khalida shrank deeper into her faded armchair with each sentence she told: of how gunmen apparently working for Iraq's Interior Ministry kidnapped her, beat and raped her; of how they discarded her on a Baghdad sidewalk.

But her suffering did not end when she fled Iraq and became a refugee in Jordan's capital, Amman. When Khalida's husband learned that she had been raped, he abandoned her and their two young sons.

Rumors spread fast in Amman; soon, everyone on her block knew that she was without a man in the house. Last month, her Jordanian neighbor barged into her apartment and attempted to rape her.

Khalida never reported the incident. Like tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, she does not have a permit to live or work here, and she is afraid that if she turns to authorities for help she will get deported. So instead of seeking punishment for her assailant, she latched the flimsy metal door of her apartment and stopped going outside.

Her story sheds light on a problem that is little researched, poorly understood, and largely ignored: Iraqi rape victims who now live in Jordan illegally and without protection. Sexual assault is heavily stigmatized in the Middle East, and victims are often afraid to talk about it to anyone, fearing that their families will abandon them. And their shaky status in Jordan leaves them afraid to seek help and vulnerable to new assaults and abuse. They fear persecution by Jordanian immigration authorities almost as much as they fear returning to Iraq.

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