Tunis - Tunisia must change its legislation to protect victims of gender-based violence, who are frequently punished and blamed when they report the crimes, Amnesty International said in a report published Wednesday.
"The leading Arab nation for gender equality is still failing to protect women who experience violence and people targeted for their gender identity, sexual orientation or sexual activity, due to flawed laws and entrenched discriminatory attitudes," said the London-based rights group.
Women and girls, as well as vulnerable groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and sex workers "face serious legal or societal obstacles when they report attacks against them," Amnesty said in its report based on interviews with dozens of victims.
The Tunisian penal code allows a rapist to escape prosecution by marrying his victim if she is younger than 20 years old, it added.
"Women who report marital rape or family violence are shamed into withdrawing their complaints," said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme.
Amnesty reported that "victims fear police almost as much as their attackers" as they "often dismiss or even blame those who do dare to come forward".
"LGBTI survivors of sexual and physical violence in Tunisia face a heightened risk of being turned away by police or facing prosecution because of widespread homophobia and transphobia and the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual relations in Tunisia," it said.
The country's penal code imposes jail terms of up to three years on homosexual acts between consenting adults.
The group said it had also spoken to transgender people who had been prosecuted for offending "public morals" due to their appearance.
Amnesty called on authorities to carry out "bold reforms" to "recognise marital rape, stop rapists and kidnappers from escaping prosecution by marrying their teenage victims".
Tunisia should also "stop criminalising sexual relations between unmarried consenting adults and same-sex sexual relations", it said.
The rights group also urged the country to adopt "a comprehensive law to tackle violence against women and girls".