x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Shame of victims over sex attacks is letting child abuse thrive, say doctors

Shame prevents many families from reporting sexual abuse of children to the police, social workers and doctors in Oman say, urging the government to do something to eradicate the stigma in order to expose child molesters.

MUSCAT // Sharifa was sexually abused when she was nine years of age and her father, instead of reporting the incident to police, took the law in his hand by cutting off four fingers from the hand of his best friend - the man he held responsible.

Sharifa, now 27 and a mother of a seven-year-old daughter and a son who is just turning four, said that her father spent three years in jail but never told anyone outside his family why he used his farm's machete to slice off his friend's fingers.

"I blamed myself while he was in jail while my tormentor was out getting the sympathy of everybody in town," said Sharifa, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid her father discovering she had spoken out. "My father is still blamed for the 'crime' because he wouldn't tell the truth to protect my honour."

Sharifa avoided eye contact while she told her story, still concerned with shaming the family more than 18 years later.

Social workers say this shame prevents many from reporting to the police.

"If a young girl is sexually abused, then she would not find a suitor when she reaches marriageable age. An abused boy would face ridicules from the townsfolk for the rest of his life. Parents, too, don't like to admit one of their children had been abused," said Khadija Al Mauli, a social worker based in Muscat.

Salma Khalifa, a nurse, said sexual abuse most commonly involves children of both sexes between the age of six to 12 committed by close relatives or friends of the families.

"This age bracket can be intimidated from not talking about it. We receive them at the emergency wards with their private parts severely torn but very preciously few parents would report it to the police," said Ms Khalifa, who works at Sohar Hospital.

Last year, in Saham, about 200 kilometres from Muscat, a 19-year-old man was convicted of premeditated murder and executed after he used his car to run over his cousin for sexually abusing his seven-year-old brother.

Rashid, a close friend of the 19-year-old, said his friend grabbed the car keys and stormed out of the house when his brother named the rapist. "Some murders that appear to have no motives are inspired by sexual abuse when a father, an uncle or brother of a very young victim takes the law in their hands," Rashid said.

Rashid said his friend never admitted the reason why he killed his cousin.

Only about 20 known cases of sexual abuse are recorded a year, according to ministry of health statistics.

Doctors say the government must do something to eradicate the "shame" stigma to expose child molesters.

"The ministry of social development must do something about it. I suspect for every one case of known child sexual abuse, there are 50 more that we will never come to know. That means molesters get away scot-free or drag relatives of the victims into it when they seek revenge. Perhaps a nationwide campaign from the ministry will change all that," Dr Fareeda Moosa, a retired surgeon, said.

The ministry of social development refused to comment about child abuse in Oman or whether they keep statistics of abuses.

sshaibany@thenational.ae