x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Protect the victims of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse victims go without help when a sense of shame or concern for propriety brings impunity for brutes and molesters. A new hot-line in Dubai should change this.

Police forces, medical services, policymakers and indeed the whole apparatus of government is utterly powerless to do anything about unreported crimes. So it is good news that the UAE is making progress in exposing offences that have for too long hidden under a cloak of household privacy.

Domestic abuse - of spouses, older people, children, maids and other staff - can be very hard to prove. And even when there is proof, prosecution can be complicated by cultural factors and by the nexus of emotional relationships within a family.

Even the horrendous offence of sexual abuse of a child can go unreported when other adults decide that embarrassment of the family is a worse alternative than punishment of the abuser.

Now early results from a Dubai Police initiative are suggesting that enlightened official policy can help bring to light cases that may involve damaging crimes. This has the dual advantage of stopping what may be recurrent child sexual abuse and offering an opportunity to begin psychological services intended to minimise the damage to young victims.

Last June, the police in Dubai opened a 24-hour hotline that anyone can use to report suspicions of sexual abuse of children - with a guarantee of anonymity. Since then 10 cases have been investigated, and five of them have been referred to prosecutors.

This simple measure offers a useful template for police treatment of other types of abuse in domestic situations, as well.

To be sure, such hot-lines are very far from being a full solution to this intractable problem. By the nature and setting of domestic violence - including sexual violence - the identity of the complainant may be evident to everyone in the home. So a complaint can obviously carry potentially serious repercussions.

But the whole problem with this category of crime is that a misplaced sense of shame or concern for propriety can mean impunity for brutes and molesters. Protection of victims, via discreet but attentive police investigation, is the clear priority here, and reporting of suspected offences is the only place protection can begin.