UAE sex crime victims need place to report attacks without fear

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ABU DHABI // A federal body independent of the police should be set up to encourage women to report sex assaults.

That is the view of women's advocates who were yesterday attending a conference in the capital on violence against women.

They agreed that a new national centre would help to increase the reporting of violent crimes against women.

"We need to change the way of complaining about violence," Noor Gabran, a researcher at the Family Development Foundation, told the conference.

Fatima Jassim Al Hayas, from the Ewaa Shelter for Women and Children in Ras Al Khaimah, said all cases should be dealt with first by an independent entity, which could then refer them on to other bodies if appropriate.

She said this would encourage more women to report attacks.

On Tuesday, the conference heard that nine in 10 sex crimes against women go unreported.

Dr Zubaida Jasim Mohamed, a human rights officer at the Ministry of Interior, said the problem was particularly acute among Emirati women. "Most violence recorded is for expatriates because women in the UAE have a certain culture that if they are victims of violence they would not file a case because they do not see it as violence," Ms Mohamed said. "The women sees it as something they must accept, and life must go on."

She said the best way to deal with this was to educate people early on in school. "Violence should be studied in school, it should be part of the school curriculum," she said. "If you see the current curriculum, there is no mention of violence there, nothing to tell children that they have rights. It is not there."

Dr Souad Al Oraimi, a sociology professor at UAE University, said women needed to learn early that they were equal as people and not men's property.

Dr Mohamed also said there was a tendency among social workers to try to keep cases out of police records, to avoid the embarrassment of a trial. That, though, made the problem of under-reporting more acute.

There are several women's centres, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, Ewaa shelters, and the Dubai Family Foundation, but no central framework.

"There are efforts at the Ministry of Interior to care for women victims, especially at the social centre, which works mainly on family problems, and violence against women and children," she said.

"They try to deal with these cases outside of court, and if not dealt with, they are then referred to court. But if dealt outside the court, they are then not recorded."

Ms Gabran said there was also a need for women in the society to understand what falls in the category of violence against them to know what they can and could not report them.