In October, one of the UAE's top judges said the full force of the law would continue to be brought against offenders in domestic violence cases. The warning followed a Federal Supreme Court ruling that upheld a guilty verdict against a man who had beaten his wife and adult daughter - but in the same case, the Court ruled that it was theoretically permissible for a husband to beat his wife as long as he did not leave physical marks, or his child if he or she were under 18.
It was a mixed signal on domestic abuse that largely remains a taboo subject in society. On the one hand it openly confronted the issue - which had often been ignored in the past - but on the other it muddied the issue of domestic violence.
As The National reported yesterday, the largest study yet of violence against children is to be undertaken by the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children in partnership with the UN's International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. The nationwide survey will include more than 2,000 households across the seven emirates.
"It sends a very positive message that the Government is giving its backing for an area that has been behind the curtains and under-surveyed in the past," said Isphana al Khatib, the director of Al Noor Centre for children with special needs. "The initiative can shed a spotlight and see to what extent [domestic violence] is prevalent in the community."
Reports of domestic violence continue to rise. Complaints about abuse increased 45 per cent to 107 in 2010, from 70 in 2009. The study should consider whether the statistics indicate a growing trend of abuse, or simply that enforcement is bringing more cases to light. Regardless, we are sure that many more cases go unreported.
But there has been a response. In March, Dubai Police announced the launch of a special training programme for female officers who are meant to reach out to victims and encourage reporting.
Domestic and sexual abuse remain taboo subjects in most Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and it is heartening that the UAE is taking the lead. But hard work remains ahead. Many abused women and children live with violence because prevailing attitudes leave them no choice.
As this groundbreaking survey gets underway, it is worth remembering that it is honest information that will change attitudes and identify problems. We must be open to the results of the study without prejudging its conclusions. And, given information, then we must act.