Sunday, December 20, 2009

Domestic abuse goes unreported due to "cultural sensitivity" (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)

Note that in Saudia Arabia, where fathers have institutionalized custody rights, it is widely acknowledged that a lot of violence and abuse is directed towards the children as "revenge" against their divorced mother. Note that "cultural sensitivity" is here defined as "the fear of scandal and the presence of a domineering male." I have highlighted some of the more interesting points.

Domestic abuse goes unreported due to sensitivity
Laura Bashraheel Arab News

JEDDAH: Cultural sensitivity in the Kingdom plays a vital role in ignoring crimes of a serious nature such as domestic abuse. The fear of scandal and the presence of a domineering male, offer little hope for victims. In recent years however, domestic abuse cases were given massive coverage by the media, encouraging the abused to contact police.

The official spokesman of police in Hail, Abdul Aziz Al-Zunaidi, said social and cultural barriers are not considered an impediment to police intervention in extreme cases of domestic violence.

Normally, police have to follow procedures when acting on a domestic abuse case. Their intervention usually ends after delivering the case to the Investigation and Prosecution Board or family protection organizations. Also, police cooperate with several committees within the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“There is cooperation between police and the branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Hail to study the papers referred to them by the Ministry of Education, the Department of Health Affairs, the Investigation and Prosecution Board and other government agencies,” said Al-Zunaidi.

However, women and children still find it difficult to report abuse to the authorities or accept there is a problem in the first place.

If a father was beating his son in public, usually no one but police can intervene. People in the Kingdom regard the situation as a matter of disciplining the child rather than abuse. But Al-Zunaidi confirmed that police do intervene when they witness such behavior.

“We talk to the parent and attempt reconciliation if it’s not an extreme matter of abuse, then we transfer the case to the concerned authorities,” he said. Lafi Al-Balawi, head of the Eecutive Committee for the Saudi Family Protection Organization in Jeddah, said that reports on a domestic abuse case usually come from the abused person, the police or social workers.

Al-Balawi said any person witnessing or suspecting abuse of a child or a woman should immediately contact police. “People have the right to live safely and any family protection organization should intervene and report to authorities so they can take action against the abuser,” said Al-Balawi.

In 2008 a Jeddah court handed a death sentence to the father of Areej, a nine-year-old girl who was tortured to death. Her stepmother, who was his accomplice, was jailed for five years. Officials from the Red Crescent Society discovered her body outside her home and, suspecting she had been tortured, informed police. In such cases, children have nowhere to go especially when the parents are divorced. In Areej’s case, she had no one to turn to.

In the past, cases of domestic abuse often went unreported by the media. But recently they have opened up to publicly address such issues. Many of their reports involve the abuse of children of divorced parents, where the father wins custody of the child from his ex-wife as an act of revenge and then the stepmother becomes involved in the abuse of the child. Take the case of Ghosun, who was tortured and burned to death by her father and stepmother in 2006. The father, Ahmed Haji, divorced his wife and took custody of the girl. Then he remarried a woman named Iman. Together the two were found guilty of brutally beating, torturing and eventually murdering Ghosun out of cold vengeance. Both were sentenced to death.

Al-Balawi believes that judges have a sense of integrity and justice when taking action against any abuser. “Judges have the Qur’an and Shariah as guidance when looking into cases,” he added.

The main problem remains: reporting the abuse. Arab News reported in June about a girl who chose to break her silence about 18 years of sexual abuse because she feared for the safety of her cousins. In 1992, Dania was only six years old when she woke up one night to find her uncle’s head under her bedsheets.

Dania’s father was then confronted with the ugly truth when he witnessed his brothers attempting to rape his daughter. He confronted them and his mother only to be kicked out of the house along with his family.

How can abused children and women report their cases when society accepts such behavior?