An Australian woman who was forced off a plane at Doha airport and strip-searched after authorities found a premature baby dumped in a bin is certain the incident amounts to sexual assault.
The young nurse from Melbourne was one of 18 women, including 13 Australians, who were forced to undergo an invasive medical procedure in Qatar on October 2.
Going by the name Jane to protect her identity, she told 60 Minutes how the ordeal was both humiliating and dehumanising, and revealed she feared for her life when she was ordered off the plane.
‘It was incredibly invasive,’ she said through tears. ‘I was terrified and humiliated and worried about the men.’
Jane questioned whether she was being kidnapped and thought she mightn’t ever see her husband or family again.
‘It was just awful. It was really awful’.
The woman had already boarded her flight to Sydney when officials ushered off the plane and into an ambulance on the tarmac.
A number of medical professionals cradle the baby (pictured) which was found at the Hamad International Airport, prompting an invasive strip search
A male voice came over the speaker and instructed all women to exit the plane – with their passports – without offering any details about who he was.
Police then entered the plane holding guns and escorted women off, checking bathrooms to ensure there were no women left behind.
‘It was really scary. I just thought ”what will happen if I say no?”,’ she said.
The two men who escorted Jane did not speak English, and none of her questions were answered until she was finally taken into a waiting ambulance.
There, a female doctor instructed her that a baby had been abandoned and that all women remaining in the airport and on the tarmac needed to be ‘checked’.
Not entirely realising what was about to happen, Jane did not have any further questions.
Going by the name Jane to protect her identity, she told 60 Minutes how the ordeal was both humiliating and dehumanising, and revealed she feared for her life when she was ordered off the plane
She was asked to remove her pants and did so, but hesitated when she was then instructed to remove her underwear.
‘I held them up and I said I don’t feel comfortable,’ she said.
Eventually, she did as she was asked, all the while mindful of sheer curtains which seemingly offered a direct view into her examination room.
‘They had thin blinds. I could see out and I remember thinking ”can all of those men out there see in?”,’ she recalled.
‘I was in shock at that stage. I remember laying there thinking this isn’t right, this shouldn’t be happening.’
As Jane shared her story for the first time, reporter Sarah Abo was moved to tears.
She wiped her eyes as she told Jane that several experts had described what occurred as sexual assault.
As Jane shared her story for the first time, reporter Sarah Abo was moved to tears. She wiped her eyes as she told Jane that several experts had described what occurred as sexual assault
The baby was found alive in a bin at the Hamad International Airport before flights – including one to Sydney – were delayed as officials tried to find the mother. Pictured: A Qatar aircraft is seen at Doha’s Hamad International Airport
‘I feel like it was. Definitely,’ she agreed. ‘There was no chance we could stand up for ourselves.
Jane confirmed she did not give consent for the invasive search.
In spite of the ordeal, Jane said she holds no ill will toward the woman who did dump her baby in the bin at Doha Airport that day.
‘We’re scared for that mum,’ she admitted. ‘We can’t begin to imagine what she was feeling to think that she was in that situation, that that’s what she had to do with that young baby.’
‘I’m sure she felt she had no choice either. It’s sort of a recurring theme here.’
Research suggests it is not all that uncommon for babies to be abandoned in Qatar, given the rigid laws and shame associated with pregnancy out of wedlock.
In Qatar, it is illegal to have sex or fall pregnant before a woman is married.
But advocates say the law disproportionately impacts vulnerable women who feel they have no other alternative than to abandon the child.
“It’s rare but it does happen largely because of the criminalisation of sexual relations outside of wedlock, which disproportionately impacts migrant women,’ Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told ABC.
CCTV footage released by local media showed first responders crowded around the baby
Jane, along with 18 other women, were all eventually cleared to return to the plane.
The young woman took her seat again next to her husband and told him exactly what had happened to her.
‘I was shaking at that point. I just explained what had happened and we just sat there and we were just in shock. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe that’s actually just happened to me,” she said.
The ordeal felt like it lasted hours. In fact, she’d only been gone a few minutes.
I can’t believe that’s actually happened to me
Jane said since returning home to Sydney, after spending three years abroad in the UK, she has been overwhelmed by the support offered by Australian authorities.
She is seeking professional help and revealed she has suffered panic attacks since returning home.
Qatar was subject to mounting international outrage after news spread of the mass investigation, and has since apologised for any harm caused.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the incident as ‘appalling’ in an official statement immediately after news spread, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne described it as a ‘grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events’.
The young victim (pictured) was one of 18 women, including 13 Australians, forced to undergo an invasive medical exam in Qatar on October 2 after a baby was found
But Jane said Qatari authorities have not made contact with her.
‘We thought we were the lucky ones getting on the plane that day,’ Jane said, as she recalled her struggle to find a ticket out of the UK when Covid hit, closing international airports and grounding planes globally.
‘To have to go through that on a journey home is horrific.’
‘We’re seeking help from professionals because we’re obviously not okay. I thought I was but I’m not.’
The baby was found alive in a bin at the Hamad International Airport before flights – including one to Sydney – were delayed as officials tried to find the mother.
Airport authorities made the decision to test every woman who was in the airport or on the tarmac in an attempt to locate the baby’s mother.
She was never found, and would likely be imprisoned if she were.
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