A news article that caught my interest recently and was circulated by the Saudi local press but was quickly forgotten, focused on a prostitution network that consisted of female university students and was run by a foreign resident. The network’s leader would first make the girls become addicted to drugs and then make them work as prostitutes to subsidize their costly addiction.
Firstly, what drives a girl in this society to become addicted to drugs? What makes her believe that prostitution is better than facing her family candidly about her illness and need for treatment? Finally, to what extent are we forgiving concerning the mistakes of girls in comparison to men?
The real surprise, which is also a crisis, is that until now there are no units in Saudi hospitals to treat female drug addicts. The Amal (hope) hospital, which specializes in treating male drug addicts, is yet to establish a similar unit for treating female drug addicts. Instead, women are referred to psychiatric units for treatment.
Dr Mohamed Shaweesh, the director of the Jeddah branch of Amal hospital said, “Until recently, the phenomenon of female drug addicts was unrecognized and society shunned away from this issue. However, recently people have acknowledged it and therefore it can be addressed.” He added, “Transferring female addicts to psychiatric units is a social mechanism to avoid the shame of a female drug addict.” Society is unmerciful towards female addicts even if they have overcome drug addiction and have started a new life; the social stigma against female addicts is far worse than the social stigma against male addicts.
Dr Shaweesh noted that even private hospitals are not permitted to offer treatment to female addicts. He asserted that even if some addicts were willing to submit themselves to treatment, their cases would be treated with maximum secrecy.
Reem, a Saudi teenager, went through a painful three-year experience with drug addiction. She spoke about her suffering, saying, “It was very difficult to be frank with my parents because of the socio-cultural stigmatization of female drug addicts. I was searching hard for a way out.” She further discussed the reasons that would drive a girl into prostitution to pay for drugs rather than being open about the crisis with her family, saying, “after a girl becomes addicted, her value system collapses and rationality disappears. Her only concern is directed at obtaining money for drugs, at any cost, thus she could easily become involved in prostitution.”
Reem’s traumatic experience ended in a better way than that of many others. Her family forgave her and supported her financially in receiving the appropriate treatment and care in a private hospital (secretly, of course.) Today, Reem is completing her university studies as an undergraduate and is preparing for her wedding in two months time.
I do not know how the double standards became so well entrenched in our society. The male drug addict is given all the chances to start afresh from admittance to specialized medical units to the support of the family. Eventually, he will live his life again, find a job or continue his studies, and even get married. The society and family are usually willing to overlook and forget his past if he proves himself to be serious in his efforts of reintegrating into society. It is time we give this same chance to women who have gone down this terrible road. Give them a chance to return to the right path.