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New hope for sex-crime victims

Police say all suspected abuse cases in Abu Dhabi will be examined and treated at the clinic, which should result in more convictions.

ABU DHABI // Victims of rape and sexual assault who are afraid to report the crimes to police will be offered help and treatment at a dedicated forensic medical centre being established at Corniche Hospital.

Many women are reluctant to go to the police, fearing reprisal by their attackers or because they feel ashamed. The new centre, where victims will be given private, professional examinations by a team of forensic physicians, should help remove the stigma. Police say the facility will improve the gathering of evidence, resulting in more attackers being brought to justice.

The centre, which will open in the next few months, will deal with every case of suspected sexual assault in the capital, said First Lt Sabah Salim, the executive officer of training courses at the Abu Dhabi Police crime scene investigation (CSI) section.

Forensic doctors and police will examine victims and gather the necessary evidence samples immediately, ensuring that evidence is preserved.

"This will enhance police investigations, because they will be following up the case from when it left the crime scene until it reaches the hospital," Lt Salim said at a CSI workshop held in the capital yesterday.

Under confidentiality laws, doctors are not allowed to conduct examinations or take samples without a patient's consent and must call the police if they believe a patient is the victim of a crime.

Since 2007, 312 doctors and nurses in Abu Dhabi's hospitals have been trained on how best to detect and preserve evidence found on victims' bodies.

"We did a survey and discovered that many hospitals did not report forensic cases. So we communicated with them and did a series of workshops to explain what procedures should be taken," Lt Salim said.

Dr Maurice Kallas, a specialist in general surgery at Al Noor Hospital, was one of the doctors who took the CSI course. He said that when he suspects a crime is involved in a patient's injuries he immediately calls the police. He treats the victim only if urgent care is needed, such as cases of heavy bleeding or other trauma, he added.

"Once the police and forensics doctor arrive, we help them with conducting tests and taking samples," he said.

He said the new centre would benefit victims because they would be guaranteed more privacy and a more accurate examination.

A rehabilitation centre set up by CSI officers to provide post-treatment counselling and support will also open soon, Lt Salim said.

Examples of cases that investigation teams tackle were demonstrated yesterday during the workshop.

Graham Thompson, a forensic adviser at The Forensic Academy in the UK, recalled an incident in which an 18-month old baby died after his room filled with smoke.

"The mother left the baby in his room at 10pm, turned on the electric heater and closed the door. When she went back at 7am the next day she could barely hold the door handle because it was too hot and she could not enter the room because it was filled with smoke.

There were no traces of fire damage, but investigators tested the electric heater and found that there was a fault in the design that caused it to overheat.

Arson is another problem, police said.

Lt Husain al Hosani, manager of the arson branch at Abu Dhabi police's forensic evidence department, said the motive behind most arsons he investigated was fraud.

He recounted how the owner of a clothes shop who was in financial difficulties set his shop ablaze in an attempt to claim insurance money.

"He put a candle on a wooden surface next to the fuse box and went home, so that he would have an alibi; he said he was having lunch with his wife when the fire started."

hdajani@thenational.ae

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