Emirati student feels broken and humiliated by sexual harassment

A 24-year-old victim of sexual harassment says it destroyed her trust in people and she should have sought professional help.

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ABU DHABI // Sexual harassment came close to destroying Amal’s life.

The 24-year-old Emirati student has been a victim of inappropriate behaviour by men in restaurants, schools and malls, and when she was out with her sisters or friends.

Men have tried to grab her hand and touch her body, and have made unwanted sexual advances.

In one case, a man placed his hand on hers, tried to touch her and then walked away while she was paying for her food at a coffee shop.

It left her “shocked, shaking and unable to think” for days.

“Many of them act like it was an accident but we know it wasn’t,” she says.

The incidents began when she was at school. Because of them, it got to a point where she never left the house alone.

“I used to think it was OK, it happens to my friends and I’m no different,” said Amal, not her real name.

She said she viewed sexual harassment as "the norm in conservative societies".

“Women and men have been segregated and maybe that creates tension,” she said. “Having gone through all that, it made me fragile. At some point, I thought everyone just wanted to hurt me.

“When I told my brothers that men looked at me, they laughed and said that was normal, but was it really?

“I used eating as a comforting technique, and then my health suffered, mentally and physically.

“I lost trust in all people, especially after my family’s comments. It took them a long time to realise I was actually unwell.”

Amal said she was still affected and regretted not seeking professional help.

“I blamed myself, blamed the way I look and how I spoke. I became hateful towards myself and suffered in silence,” she said.

Dr Deema Sihweil, a clinical psychologist in Dubai, said seeking help was crucial in such cases. Women need to be educated on preventing sexual harrassment and how to report such cases.

“Victims of abuse or harassment believe that if they appear undesirable, they will not be harmed again,” said Dr Silweil.

“It’s important to restore a sense of beauty, confidence and health for a happier, healthier and more liberating future.

“Victims should seek psychological help instead of constantly living in response to the sexual harassment.”