x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rape victims reluctant to go to the police

Traditional views may discourage reporting of attacks, experts say, while women say they did not rely on authorities to handle case sensitively.

ABU DHABI // A legal system being outpaced by social and physical development has made some women reluctant to report sensitive cases such as rape, experts say. Even Emirati women who said they would report the crime added that they did not fully rely on authorities to handle the issue sensitively.

Part of the problem, said Dr Rima Sabban, a sociologist at Zayed University, was the "traditional" nature of the legal system. "The view of women in the legal system here is still traditional," she said. "So if a woman was raped, they believe that she did a certain move to trigger the rape and look at her as someone who had sex out of wedlock and not as a victim." Dr Sabban said prosecutors "need to develop an understanding of the woman's role in the public". She said: "They keep encouraging women to appear in public and take public roles - you cannot tell women to exist publicly and blame them for the consequences."

In a case reported this week, an 18-year-old Emirati woman was charged with having sex out of wedlock after she told police that she had been raped by six men. The men have been charged with rape. Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, a consultant psychiatrist and director of the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi, said police were not trained to deal with such cases. He gave the example of a 17-year-old from a western country who was raped and immediately reported it. However, the police interrogated her, then questioned her and the suspect in the same room. The result was that the police experience was almost more traumatising than the crime, said Dr Allaban. "He denied it. The police let him go. Then she went to court and the outcome was nothing," he said.

A key issue, Dr Sabban said, was that society was growing and developing rapidly, yet the norms and traditions were not developing as fast. "We are moving really fast, and the evolving issues are too big and too fast for the society to deal with them," she said. "It is a tribal society, they are used to solving issues inside the family. Once the issue is out in public, they consider three main factors - name, shame and blame."

Another factor contributing to the mis-evaluation of women in such situations was the three to one ratio of men to women, Dr Sabban said. In western countries, the rape rate was higher but the crime was dealt with more openly, she said. Dr Sabban called for the same to happen here and said there was hope in the new generation of young women who were more "forceful and open". Houreya Amer, a 22-year-old student at Zayed University, said she would not report a case to the closest police station. "I would go for someone higher than the police," she said. "First, I would tell my parents, because they would know the right person to talk to who has the authority to actually do something and take the case seriously, because the goal behind reporting the rape is for the rapist to get his punishment."

Alyazia al Mutawa, a 25-year-old student at Al Hosn University, said police received too many false rape reports, so they stopped taking them seriously. "Many girls just claim they were raped because they want to get back at a guy, or because they willingly had sex with the guy, and when they felt they might get discovered, they decided to claim it was a rape," she said. Women who were raped were sometimes too shocked or afraid to report it, and by the time they recovered from the social trauma it would be too late for tests, she added.

"I know a girl my age who was raped when she was 13 by her friend's brother, who was also her boyfriend, and she was too young and shocked to know what to do," Ms al Mutawa said. She added her friend was engaged and she did not even tell her fiance. A survey published in The National in February reported that many people in the country would hesitate to call the police if they were victims of a crime. Four out of 10 people who had experienced a crime said they decided not to involve the police. That figure rose to more than half with Westerners; nearly one third of Emiratis felt the same way.

@Email:hdajani@thenational.ae