Dubai -- with its world-famous luxury hotels and what will soon be the world's tallest building -- is the Arab world's most modern oasis. But beyond the sandy beaches and tourist attractions, the western dress and the bustling buildings, Dubai is struggling to modernize one aspect of its conservative Muslim culture: the taboos and treatment of sexual violence.
16-year-old French-Swiss Alexandre Robert and his mother Veronique were the perfect example of Dubai's cosmopolitan makeup. Alex was living in Dubai when he says he was gang raped at knifepoint, beginning an ordeal that has shed light on how Dubai's justice system treats victims of violent sex crimes.
Today, two men were sentenced in a Dubai court to 15 years each in prison in the case. Their names and the details of their convictions were not released by the court.
"Before, I felt like it was paradise, it was honestly paradise," Alex told ABC News last month. "Today I feel like they lied to me, they treated me like nothing, like a toy. And they played with my life and I don't know, they…they destroyed me."
What happened to Alex has thrown a worldwide spotlight on the dark side of a city where a victim can be treated as a criminal, where homosexuality is outlawed and where AIDS is buried under a layer of shame.
"Homosexuality is taboo, rape is taboo, and AIDS is taboo," said Veronique Robert.
Saturday July 14th of this year was just another summer day in paradise. Then 15-year-old Alex spent the day at the beach with his friend. When it was time to go home, a local teenager they barely knew offered to give them a lift when they couldn't find a cab. He called two older friends who had a car.
Alex and his friend accepted the ride and got in the car. Alex says the man behind the wheel drove past the turnoff to his house, beyond Dubai's landmark Mall of the Emirates, and into a desolate stretch of desert.
"So we keep driving and I see him taking an exit to go in the desert and I told him 'Where are you going?' And this is where I started to think and realize that something was wrong, you know, and they told me to shut up," Alex recalled.
First Alex says the driver secured the child locks on the doors, trapping the boys inside. Then they stopped along a desert road on the outskirts of the city.
"They asked my friend to get out of the car, he said no, so they pulled him out with violence and they started hitting, hitting him and they hit me. And after that -- I'm sorry…" Alex said, unable to continue.
"Alex started to scream," his friend told ABC News, adding that Alex tried to grab his hand. The friend spoke about the attack on the condition that his name be kept secret because he still lives in Dubai and fears retaliation.
"I was very afraid," said the friend. "I thought they wanted to kill me, me and Alex. So it was like the last minute of my life I was living."
Desperate for help, Alex says he tried to call 999 -- Dubai's version of 911 -- on his cell phone.
The local teen who brought them to the car overheard the police respond to the call, Alex says, and grabbed for the phone.
"I had the phone in my hands, I was screaming and shouting for help," said Alex. "He took my phone and he was hitting me. I started screaming and crying."
"He was saying, 'I'm gonna kill you, your mother, father. I know where you live. Don't do that any more,'" recalled his friend.