Alicia Gali of Australia was excited about her new job in the “desert paradise” of Dubai. American-owned Starwood Hotels, one of the world’s largest hotel groups, even offered to pay for her plane ticket and accommodations as part of the contract that she become a manager.
The United Arab Emirates had been aggressively targeting Australia for tourists when she took the job in 2008, portraying itself as “really progressive and forward-thinking and the ‘new’ Middle East,” Gali said. But when she got there, she found another world entirely.
After being drugged and gang-raped by three of her colleagues, Gali says she found no help from her superiors at the hotel. After she took herself to the hospital, she was thrown in jail for eight months for sex outside of marriage.
Gali’s Australian attorney explained that, as far as she understands, the crime is only considered rape under the country’s strict Islamic laws if there are “four adult, male Muslim witnesses that can provide evidence that the sex was non-consensual.”
Years later, Gali has granted her first television interview to Yahoo 7 News’ Ross Coulthart, and the news organization traveled all over the world to get to the bottom of the story.
According to the report, it was discovered that the assault was planned well in advance, down to the criminals putting a shirt and a plastic bag in Gali’s drain so it would flood, leaving her no real place to go late that night but down to the hotel bar.
She brought her laptop, ordered one drink, and some of her colleagues came over to put some more ice in it.
“I don’t even remember finishing the drink. The next thing I know I woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon the next day,” she said. “The door to my apartment was ajar. I was completely naked with just my bra hanging off my shoulder. I woke up in pain. I had broken ribs and massive bruising on a lot of my body.”
There were reports of screams near her room that night, but Alicia doesn’t remember what happened. Security was dispatched and three naked men were seen in the room, but it is unclear exactly what action was taken.
When Gali asked a senior manager how she could get home — the hotel was hanging onto her passport, presumably for safekeeping — she was allegedly told that she had a “debt” to them since they had paid for her flight and accommodations, and had not yet fulfilled the contract that would allow them to recoup their costs.
The interviewer repeated incredulously: “You’ve been raped. You’re asking for your passport so you can get medical assistance. And they’re saying you owe them money?”
With no idea what to do, Gali called the Australian consulate.
“All [the representative] said to me is reconsider your need to be in the country at this time, and that if I had been drugged there could be issues with drug laws in the country and that I could face life imprisonment. I explained to her that the hotel was holding my passport and I couldn’t go anywhere,” but the representative did not offer to give her an emergency passport, Gali says.
According to Yahoo 7 News, ” the Australian government was actively trying to suppress [Gali’s] story” at the time, telling her family not to speak with the media.
Eventually the pain of what turned out to be four broken ribs became too much to bear, so Gali took herself to the hospital.
“[The hospital staff] said, ‘Do you want to tell the police so that the men can be arrested?'” Gali recalled. “And I said the hotel told me that I might have some issues with the fact that I had a drink, they said no don’t worry about it you’re Christian, you’re not Muslim, it’s fine. Report the rape.”
They didn’t tell her that if she couldn’t provide the four male, Muslim witnesses, reporting a rape is essentially an admission of sex outside marriage.
Gali was quickly sentenced to a year in jail — 11 months for sex outside of marriage and 1 month for drinking alcohol — and 2 of the accused rapists got the same sentence. The third got an extra month.
“I was petrified…I was absolutely terrified,” she recalled.
For eight months, Gali shared a “disgusting” cell with thirty other women where she says they sometimes didn’t turn the water on for days at a time during the middle of summer.
She was pardoned at eight months and allowed to go home. So were her rapists.
Since that time, Gali still struggles with what she has endured. She has been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and, according to various reports, is taking legal action against the Commonwealth of Australia for its role in the matter.
Both Starwood hotels and the Australian consulate in Dubai reject Gali’s accusations that they acted improperly, the former saying it provided “support and assistance” and that the safety of its employees is a “paramount priority,” the latter claiming she was provided with “extensive consular assistance” but adding that consular officers are not responsible for administering legal advice.
Watch Yahoo 7 News’ entire two-part report on Alicia Gali’s story, below: