x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Millions of dirhams handed to blackmailers over photo threats

A senior Abu Dhabi policeman says rise of websites like Facebook and Flickr has spelled trouble for many girls in the UAE, citing one girl who gave up Dh2m to her blackmailers.

ABU DHABI // Girls have handed over millions of dirhams to blackmailers who threatened to make public revealing photographs of them taken from the internet, according to a senior policeman.

Col Mohamed Al Hosani, from the social services department at Abu Dhabi police, said the rise of websites like Facebook and Flickr has spelled trouble for many girls of all ages.

He cited a recent case of one girl who had given up to Dh2 million to men who were blackmailing her.

"We have no economic crisis here in the UAE," he joked to the conference audience. "How much would she give [as a dowry], we don't know."

However, the worst appears to be over, with the number of cases of girls being blackmailed having declined this year.

Col Al Hosani was speaking on the sidelines of a conference on violence against women, organised by the National Bureau of Statistics.

He said all cases were dealt with confidentially to ensure girls' safety and save them and their families from any embarrassment or damage to their honour or reputation.

Even cases that ended up in court could be kept quiet, he said. "All cases are dealt with in extreme confidentiality," he said. "The police service, Aman, can be reached by anyone."

He said the victims are dealt with in a "flexible" manner, while officers show a high level of "understanding to cases without judging [victims]".

"[Girls] should know, when behind the keyboard, whatever you put on the computer is not your property anymore," he said. "Even if it is in a private email."

Dr Jamila Khanji, director of society services division at the Family Development Foundation, suggested that blackmail should be listed as a form of violence in an upcoming UN survey on violence against women in the UAE.

The exact form of the survey is under discussion by the National Bureau of Statistics and is expected to be finalised within the next week.

osalem@thenational.ae