New hotline to tackle sexual abuse

DUBAI // Dubai Police have set up a 24-hour hotline where residents can anonymously report suspected cases of sexual abuse.

The hotline number is 04 266 1228. It will be connected to officers in the Criminal Investigation Department.

Some officers handling the initiative will specialise in child abuse cases. The hotline "will take all reports on abuse by victims confidentially and privately, it will also handle child abuse cases by a hand-picked team of experienced officers", said Brig Gen Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansoori, the director of the Dubai Police criminal investigations department.

The hotline will be similar to Al Ameen the service that Dubai Police introduced in 2006 as a confidential hotline for the public to report crime in general.

The new hotline was created for the specific purpose of curbing sexual abuse, with a special emphasis on cases involving children, said Brig Gen Al Mansoori.

He used the launch of the service to encourage parents to educate and protect their children. Children should not be allowed out late into the evening, he said, or be left alone with domestic staff.

A survey conducted by The National and YouGov Siraj in January 2010 found that most women in the UAE had misgivings about reporting sexual abuse to the authorities.

The survey questioned 980 UAE residents and found that 55 per cent of the female respondents would not report a sexual assault for fear of tarnishing their family's reputation. Another 49 per cent said that they would not do so because society would judge them harshly.

As those who worked in the field reacted to the hotline yesterday, some wondered if it could be compromised by malicious or false complaints - and how well-equipped police would be in such cases.

"This procedure places a big possibility for abuse, what is needed is more information how these reports are investigated and handled," said Dr Ali Al Jarman, a managing partner at Prestige Advocates in Dubai.

"The first move when a sexual assault is filed is a forensic test, this needs to be made within 24 hours of the assault.

"I can see this working if a civil-dressed investigation team is sent immediately to the scene and the victim is quietly taken and tested to prove the claim."

Due to the UAE's society and customs, Dr Al Jarman said assaults often go unreported.

"A lot of my clients have used the Al Ameen service and have not been satisfied. That service should be developed further and this hotline should be connected to it due to the variety of crimes that are linked with sexual assault, such as abuse, human trafficking, illegal confinement and so on," he said

Alcohol and drug abuse combined with the prevalence of single workers living in bachelor accommodations, contribute to the frequency of incidents, said Brig Gen Al Mansoori.

"Broken homes also represent a source of victims of such crimes, especially during the summer school break," he said.

Further, he said the free time children have gives opportunity to labourers, drivers or household help to commit assaults.

He also warned of the proximity of some labour compounds to family homes, which may leave women and children vulnerable.

Brig Gen Al Mansoori said the CID was committed to finding and prosecuting sex offenders and educating the public so they know what to look for.

"We are also raising awareness among families by conducting meetings with parents, teachers associations and going around schools to educate parents and children on what to look out for, how these crimes are committed and why," he said.

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