A safe shelter from domestic abuse to be created in Abu Dhabi

Many people do not seek help to avoid involvement with the authorities, but new project will be an independent organisation.

ABU DHABI // Officials are drawing on the skills of experts from Jordan to create a protection centre for victims of domestic abuse. They hope the establishment of the Comprehensive Protection Family Centre will encourage more victims to seek help.

Because the justice system currently handles such cases, many victims were reluctant to go to the authorities, said officials of the Family Development Foundation, which is behind the project. They hope that people will be more likely to approach the centre because it is an independent social organisation. "So far, we've only had military centres [police and justice] to deal with these cases, so this will be the first civilian centre," said Khawla al Kaabi, the head of social services at the centre.

"When we receive calls through our hotline, many cases say they want a solution only, and that they don't want any of it to reach the police." The centre aims to work with other organisations to spread word that it is a safe and confidential haven. "We expect to receive cases through awareness campaigns in schools and universities, hospitals, emergency units, social workers, social counsellors in schools, relatives and neighbours of victims," said Dr Hussein al Sarhan, the director of the centre.

"We also expect a big number to come directly to the centre for support, especially after word spreads about the centre through our awareness campaigns and the media." Dr al Sarhan said a year after the centre opened, it would be evaluated and a similar one would open in Al Ain, with another in Al Gharbia opening the following year. Planning for the centre began six months ago, after a decision by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the widow of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation.

"Through the cases we deal with at the Family Development Foundation, we noticed that there are a lot of domestic abuse cases, which is also increasing around the world," Dr al Sarhan said. Concerned parties in the UAE, and legal, police and forensic medicine experts from Jordan, where similar centres have been set up, attended workshops as part of the planning. Dr Israa Tawalbeh, a forensic pathologist from Jordan's ministry of health, said many people were reluctant to go to the police because they were afraid of the social stigma if their story were publicised. Some were afraid that their family members would be prosecuted, she said.

Dr Tawalbeh recalled a case three years ago in which a father had been having sex with his young daughter for three years. "The mother called me and said, 'If anybody finds out about this, I will deny everything'," said Dr Tawalbeh. "She did not want the police or anyone to get involved. She said 'I love my husband and I still want him, but I want to solve the problem'." The mother believed that if her husband was prosecuted, the family would be destroyed, both socially and financially.

"I was at risk of facing legal consequences if anybody found out that I did not report the case but, for me, the family's benefit was the priority," Dr Tawalbeh said. She said that the father appeared decent. Nobody noticed what was going on until the girl decided to tell her mother. As a solution, Dr Tawalbeh asked a social organisation to call the father and speak to him. He confessed, and both he and his daughter were offered therapy.

Those were the types of situations and solutions that the UAE centre hoped to offer, officials said. In cases in which evidence of abuse had to be collected, the centre would be able to help, too, said Dr Tawalbeh. She showed pictures of children who had been abused and pointed out how an observer could tell the difference between accidental and intentional attacks. "When you see several scars, some are older than others, then you know that there has been a series of attacks," said Dr Tawalbeh.