x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Blackmail and bullies: the dark side of modern society

When something goes wrong during courtship or engagement, the result can be bullying or blackmail. Fortunately help is available.

This newspaper has previously reported on legal cases involving blackmail or attempted blackmail.

However, not all such incidents get to court. Some fall to the social services to resolve.

Last year, I served as an intern at the Social Support Centre in Abu Dhabi and saw a wide variety of such cases.

What really caught my attention were those incidents that involved either blackmail or intimidation in premarital relationships.

The most common type of blackmail in this context involved men who threatened to tell their girlfriend's family about their affair, or else intimidated their victims by suggesting they would leak private photos into the public domain, most often via social media.

What these cases have in common is the idea that the victim will be disgraced, her reputation damaged and her family or relatives scandalised, by the publication of information, photographs or videos that were originally intended to be private.

There are also other, less common but similar forms of abuse, such as emotional blackmail.

In all the examples above, some offenders were Emiratis, but many others were from elsewhere in the region.

What really amazed me was that there were even a few cases in which the blackmailer was female. For example, one incident involved a woman who threatened to inform a man's wife about the affair she had been conducting with him.

I was also surprised to find that the highest percentage of victims were female undergraduates and graduates, rather than naive teenagers.

These are not isolated cases, either.

A study by Hanan Al Raisi of the Social Support Centre suggests that reported cases of blackmail (and other threats in premarital relationships) have increased from one every six to eight months in 2011 to one every week so far this year.

There are many possible explanation for this noticeable spike in intimidation.

The main one is that victims may be involved in premarital relationships that fill emotional needs but are not deemed to be culturally acceptable. Such a situation leaves the victim vulnerable to abuse. So too do unhealthy or dysfunctional family relationships.

In such cases a blackmailer may seize the opportunity to extort money from a victim.

I also encountered a few cases in which blackmailers threatened to inform the victim's family about an affair if the victim refused to pay what amounted to "hush" money. And in other instances the blackmailer used the threat of embarrassment in an attempt to procure sexual favours from the victim.

As these cases become more common, young people need to know how to protect themselves.

One way is to never let anyone have material you would be reluctant to see made public on Facebook or on other types of social media.

But if you do encounter a problem of this kind, you should know that there are places and people to help you that specialise in dealing with such problems, especially the organisation at which I interned. Parents also have an important role in such situations: communication is key.

 

Ebtisam Mahmoud Thoban is a graduate of Abu Dhabi's Zayed University