Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Eastern Province branch of the Saudi Human Rights Commission revealed the results of a survey that looked at cases of verbal and physical harassment. The survey revealed that 17.4 of participants had been subjected to harassment by Mahrams [family members who Muslim women cannot marry because of close blood relationship] or other relatives whereas 14 percent stated that they had been subjected to harassment by strangers. The statistics were issued during a meeting held last Wednesday at the Women’s Bureau affiliated to Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd’s Youth Development Programme in Dammam that was attended by mothers and female teachers.
Amal al Dowkhi, a social expert who works with the Eastern Province branch of the Human Rights Commission stated that the survey included a random sample of educated individuals over 20 years of age. The survey showed that 32 percent of participants stated that they had been subjected to harassment whereas 68 percent had never experienced any kind of harassment. Al Dowkhi said, “There has been a noticeable proportion of harassment in our society carried out by family members, and harassment carried out by Mahrams is far more destructive than harassment carried out by strangers because it lowers human value as the person from whom the child expects protection and security is the one who harassed him/her.”
Huda al Senari, a lawyer who works for the Human Rights Commission, explained that the problem lies in “proving that harassment actually took place. Some cases reach the courts but there is no concrete evidence that the suspect actually harassed somebody.”
Al Senari stressed that judges only acknowledge forensic evidence. She added, “After referring the case to the Commission for Investigation and Prosecution, forensic science is the only thing that can intervene in a case.” Al Senari explained the legal proceedings that take place if harassment by a Mahram is proven. She said, “According to the penal code, the perpetrator must be punished. The fact that he is a Mahram should be taken into account as he would be sentenced by the law and given another harsher sentence if the victim is a child or unmarriageable kin.” Al Senari further maintained that “rulings in our country are left to the discretion of the judge but in most cases sentences are harsher because Mahrams are supposed to protect.”
Al Dowkhi reviewed a number of cases the Human Rights Commission in Dammam had come across and stated that many victims refuse to admit that they have been subjected to harassment and refuse to reveal the perpetrator’s identity out of fear of being accused of lying and fabricating stories. Al Dowkhi ascribed this fear to the general social tendency not to believe such stories. She said, “Our society tends to hide such issues and does not want to highlight them.” Al Dowkhi praised the role assumed by a program that was launched recently for psychological welfare and community service in the Eastern Province for treating such cases. There is the Ibn Rashid healthcare centre in Dammam, the Al Bayoniya healthcare centre in Al Khobar and the Al Qudaih healthcare centre in al Qatif.
A group of women attending the meeting emphasized the importance of educating children about such matters at the early stages of a child’s education. Meanwhile, others called for qualifying male and female teachers to deal with children who show signs of physical or verbal harassment inside or outside of school.
The meeting that lasted for around two hours included a demonstration of how to detect children who have been subjected to harassment, how to treat them and precautionary measures that should be taken to avoid becoming a victim of harassment. Moreover, the meeting highlighted the role of the media and schools in confronting this phenomenon. It highlighted the importance of increasing awareness, monitoring children’s relations with workers [in the home] and chauffeurs and providing them with educational books in that respect.
In cases of social protection, the strategy includes the following: firstly, reform which focuses on settling problems amicably between the concerned parties; secondly, social rehabilitation that focuses on therapy and guidance sessions for victims of harassment; thirdly, psychological rehabilitation that focuses on providing psychological treatment; and finally, accommodating victims if necessary.