x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

For a more just society, build trust

For no fault of their own, police presence may not be always reassuring to those who require their assistance because of their fear and lack of trust.

Fear of authority is drummed into many children at a young age. Disobey parents, teachers, or police and one must answer to them.

Discipline and a healthy respect for authority are desirable in an individual. But there is a difference between that and fear of authority, which can have negative consequences for society.

As we report today, many people in the UAE, and more so among those from the Middle East and Asia, do not report the fact if a crime is committed against them. They are often brought up to believe that personal affairs are not for public consumption. Some do not report relatively minor crimes, such as small burglaries, because of bureaucratic obstacles and the time they consume. More serious crimes are often kept secret for reasons that different cultural expectations help to explain. As Dr Ahmad Alomosh, a professor of applied sociology at Sharjah University says, "refraining from dealing with police is partly caused by the fact it is not acceptable to report many problems, such as violence against children or women".

Some of their concerns are justified. For many women, reporting sexual abuse is an ordeal many choose to avoid and not just for the stigma attached to it, but because of the real possibility they will be accused of adultery, which in turn can lead to imprisonment or deportation. In a study carried out by YouGov last year, despite 77 per cent of UAE residents saying they would notify the police of a rape, the majority of women said that they would not. When asked why, 55 per cent of female respondents claimed they were worried about their family's reputation or their own. Forty-nine per cent feared being judged harshly by society or accused of immoral behaviour.

Housemaids and labourers may also feel reluctant to report crimes, out of fear that their social status will prevent them from getting a fair hearing. The Government has already put in place strong measures to protect workers. The police continue to make efforts to reach out to these communities. Still, through no fault of their own, their police presence may not be reassuring to those who require their assistance. Creating a safe environment involves enforcing laws but also being accessible to those in need. As residents and police work to build trust between them, the society will become safer. Trust is an essential component of a just society.