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Portrait of a Nation: Female criminologist aims to fight child abuse in all its forms

Female criminologist Lama Abdulrahman Younis has launched her own advice centre aiming to deal with the causes and consequences of child abuse

Lama Younis, Saudi criminologist and founder of Hissah Enrichment Centre, in her Dubai Media City office. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Sarah Dea /The National
Lama Younis, Saudi criminologist and founder of Hissah Enrichment Centre, in her Dubai Media City office. Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Sarah Dea /The National

DUBAI // “I’m not a fashion designer, a blogger or a baker. I’m a criminologist, forensic psychologist and trauma therapist.”

This is what Lama Abdulrahman Younis tells people when they make assumptions about her profession because of her sex.

Ms Younis, 31, from Saudi Arabia, is thought to be the first female criminologist in the Middle East. She has recently opened her own business, the Hissah Enrichment Centre, which aims to prevent child abuse and help people who have suffered from it.

But it has taken years of study to gain the expertise to get where she is.

It began at Effat University in her home country in 2005, where she studied counselling psychology.

After this, she obtained a master’s degree in criminology and forensic psychology from Middlesex University in London.

In 2008 she attended a postgraduate course at Harvard University entitled Delinquents, Criminals, Psychopaths, and Terrorists, which proved crucial in broadening her development and understanding of the relationship between psychology and the law.

Now, after finishing her PhD in childhood studies in the UK, she aims to bring her knowledge to the Arabian Gulf region.

Last December, four months after she obtained her PhD, Ms Younis launched the Hissah Enrichment Centre in Dubai.

The family psychology centre is named after her mother Hissah, who Ms Younis says was her inspiration to better herself.

“I was raised by a single mother after my father died. She raised us all to be well educated. She was not educated but she educated herself at home.” Her mother now is an active member in many charitable societies in Saudi Arabia.

As for why she chose Dubai, since she has studied around the world, Ms Younis says she was drawn to the city by its international nature.

“The procedures are easier in Dubai, the laws are clear and the market is available. Psychiatry is known here although maybe some individuals are still not accepting of it. But in the Saudi community, it’s rarely accepted.”

Another reason came out of her experiences working in similar establishments in Dubai, where she studied cases of child abuse.

“It made me think about where we are standing in relation to child abuse and children’s rights.”

The centre provides a range of psychological services for mothers and their children.

“Mothers and youth are connected because both of them shape the future of the coming generation.

“So we teach mothers how to teach their children to protect themselves, from sexual and other kinds of abuse. We also teach the children themselves.

“I have seen many clients who realised they had been victims of abuse in their childhood only after they had grown up.”

She said a way to counter this was to teach mothers how to properly communicate with their children.

“But if the mother is not ready to work with us for the benefit of her child, there is nothing we can do.

“We have had cases when a mother sent me their children for treatment accompanied by their nannies.”

She said, unlike some other centres, the welfare of her clients was paramount.

“I left my job at other centres because I found, for them, it was only about the money.

“But here at Hissah, we care. We don’t just sit and listen, we build with our clients the things they need the most in their characters. It takes a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of sincerity.”

The most common issues she sees in families here are related to marital problems and children who feel disconnected from their families and society.

“But with most cases we see, I have discovered they result from one type or another of abuse.”