Why domestic abuse victims in KSA are turning to Twitter

Many Saudi women are unaware of a law in the Kingdom against domestic abuse. (Shutterstock photo)
Updated 22 July 2018

Why domestic abuse victims in KSA are turning to Twitter

  • Numerous Saudi women have taken to the social media site, with domestic violence incidents stirring up the nation several times
  • Saudi Arabia has a law against domestic abuse, but most people are not familiar with the regulations, lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif tells Arab News

JEDDAH: Twitter has become a platform for victims of domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia to speak out about their suffering, seek help and urge authorities to take action to change their fate.

Numerous Saudi women have taken to the social media site, with domestic violence incidents stirring up the nation several times.

A recent hashtag trending in the Kingdom about a viral video of a woman torturing her two 6-month-old daughters helped the protection unit save the children from their abusive mother.

Another hashtag spread after a video was filmed and shared by a neighbor of an abusive husband, while a third video was self-generated by a daughter, pleading to be rescued from the clutches of her abusive father.

The three incidents received the attention of a Ministry of Labor and Social Development spokesman, who updated his followers when social protection intervened, investigated and/or apprehended the culprit.

Saudi therapist, pilot and social activist Nawal Al-Hawsawi told Arab News: “International movements like the most recent #MeToo in Hollywood have a global impact; they encourage victims to speak up and stop feeling ashamed and should instead shame their abusers.” 

Al-Hawsawi believes that victims are utilizing social media as a result of international campaigns and grass-roots movements that focus on awareness — by educating victims and reminding them that what happened to them is not their fault. “Saudi Arabia is marching on toward globalization, and our culture is global. Victims of domestic violence are starting to speak up and feel empowered.”

During one of her campaigns, Al-Hawsawi challenged a common belief between Saudi women. “Domestic violence should not be swept under the rug and dismissed as a ‘family secret.’ It is a crime that needs to be reported,” she said. “Incidents like the girl from Hafr Al-Batin who tweeted photos of her body as evidence of domestic abuse give a voice to the voiceless.”

Al-Hawsawi urges victims of domestic violence to speak up. “In my private practice I see a lot of victims who still struggle with the trauma of growing up in homes where domestic violence took place. Women from the US, UK and Saudi Arabia, from their late 40s to late 60s, burst into tears from the vivid trauma — it is universal and needs to stop.”

Al-Hawsawi also shed light on a previous case that went viral, in which the victim’s brother, or legal guardian, abused the victim not only physically but also economically by blackmail. He would force her to give him her salary as a teacher or he would get her sacked.

“The way the system here in Saudi Arabia is set up, the victim has to go through so much to report domestic violence, and even after doing so, she has to face the consequences.

“If you’re complaining against your legal guardian, the guardian could isolate the victim, stir problems at her workplace. The only option left for these women is the protection home, which is basically prison,” Al-Hawsawi said.

The therapist believes more effective measures are needed to deal with offenders and victims of domestic abuse. “I reported a domestic violence case in Toronto, and within minutes police had apprehended the culprit who was immediately told he couldn’t come within a 100 meters of his wife and daughter. The victim received counseling and home visits by family organizations. Most importantly, she was allowed to stay in her home, with the perpetrator facing the consequences for his crimes.”

Seeking help is difficult for victims because abuse changes the way they think. “Giving up on a victim because she refuses help shows how ignorant we are about the psyche of the victim.”

Frequent abuse alters the victim’s personality, character, cognition and response to the perpetrator, as opposed to a normal person’s reaction to abuse, Al-Hawsawi said.

The victim can lose her sense of self-worth and the belief that she can survive without her abuser. In such situations, victims cannot think logically, and blame themselves for the situation they are in. 

Al-Hawsawi said that she is seeing more male patients in her practice. Abuse is not gender-based, but is an issue that the entire human race faces and struggles with daily, she said.

However, the emergence of cases of domestic abuse on social media indicates victims’ distrust of established reporting mechanisms such as the hotline 1919.

“It is an unfortunate turn of events that Twitter has become the de facto platform for many people to get justice,” said Muna Abu Sulayman, a Saudi media personality and activist who was appointed as a goodwill ambassador by the UN Development Program in 2007.

“They believe that no real action will be taken if there is no pressure from the public. It means that people don’t believe the normal avenues open to them work,” said Abu Sulayman.


A psychological viewpoint

Manal Kayal, an assistant professor in the psychology department at King Abdul Aziz University and a counselor and psychotherapist at the International Medical Center in Jeddah, supplied Arab News with a proper definition of domestic violence: “It is a pattern of coercive behaviors that may include: Physical, psychological, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, perpetrated by one person against another, with the goal of establishing and maintaining power and control over the victim. Many victims are not subjected to physical or sexual assault but they are controlled and terrorized by verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, as well as coercion, threats, isolation and intimidation.”

Domestic violence could result in physical effects that mark the victim, said Kayal. There are clear physical signs that a person is a victim of domestic abuse such as bruises, red or purple marks around the neck area, sprained or broken wrists. Longer-lasting effects include shortness of breath, muscle tension, involuntary shaking and fertility issues in women.

Most victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder, revealed Kayal. “PTSD can result in flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, leading to uncontrollable thoughts,” she said.

“Victims of abuse are also prone to develop depression, experiencing hopelessness, helplessness, chronic fatigue, insomnia and suicidal thoughts or attempts. Additionally, victims could resort to alcohol or drug abuse.”

Kayal said that it is difficult for victims to seek help because abuse is not about inflicting harm but establishing power. By gaining control over the relationship through inducing fear, threatening, manipulating and physically harming the victim, they are creating a situation in which the victim feels helpless and incapable of changing the situation.

“I believe that each domestic violence case spread on social media needs to be individually looked at and investigated. It is difficult to generalize because each case has its motives, reasons and circumstances,” she said. 


Law on domestic abuse

Speaking to Arab News, lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif said that the Law of Protection from Abuse is “taking care of this issue.” 

“The legislator has criminalized all kinds of abuse, including domestic abuse,” she said.

The law was approved on Aug. 23, 2013, but most people are not familiar with the regulations. “The Ministry of Labor and Social Development must increase its efforts to spread the culture of reporting and awareness in this regard.” 

Lawyer Abdulrahman Al-Lahem commented on the case of a woman in Abha who was reportedly physically abused by her husband, saying that the person who reported the incident “did what every decent person, who respects the law and principles of humanity, should do.”

According to Article 3 of the Protection from Abuse Law, anyone who becomes aware of a case of abuse must report it immediately.

“The law protects the reporter’s identity,” said Al-Lahem, adding that the authorities were ignorant of this procedure in the case of a woman whose identity was disclosed after reporting a domestic abuse case in Abha. 

Article 5 of the Protection from Abuse Law stipulates that “the identity of a person reporting a case of abuse may not be disclosed except with his consent, or in cases provided for in the Implementing Regulations. Ministry employees and those who become aware of such cases of abuse, by virtue of their employment, shall maintain the confidentiality of such information.”

In a TV interview, Al-Lahem said that all forms of abuse concern society and should be stopped.

“The issue can not be resolved individually (each case separately); the solution must be through legislation of strict procedures applied institutionally, without having the victim begging on social media. Period,” he tweeted in a trending hashtag about another victim of domestic abuse — the Arabic hashtag reads #SaveTheAbusedEmmaAlzahrani.

Al-Lahem said that the abuse/violence file has become a phenomenon that requires an immediate response, “not only legally, but executive as well.”

“When the abused victim calls the protection line, there are many bureaucratic procedures to go through,” he said. He said that the bureaucratic Reconciliation Commission is the problem in these cases. “The victim comes with her body torn from a severe beating and then the protection body suggests that the victim reconciles with her abuser. What should be done instead is kicking the abuser out of the house and making him sign a pledge not to come near the house until the case is closed in accordance with legal procedures.”

Two types of people react to such incidents on social media: Sympathizers who try to spread abuse hashtags and get them trending on Twitter in order to notify the authorities, and those who attempt to falsify or bury the case and distract public opinion from the cause, instead shedding light on other issues, such as defamation.

“Defamation is a breach of privacy in which a person’s identity is revealed and this is how defamation is linked to fame. Photographing or filming a person to show a feature or character that appears to only apply to him/her,” he said, explaining that none of this happened in the video shared by a woman who reported an abuse case. “If there was a defamation case here, I wish the abuser complains so we can catch him,” Al-Lahem said to people who accused the reporter of defaming the abusive husband of Abha wife claiming that the husband’s reputation has been distorted because of the viral video, which only shows distress screams of a helpless wife. One of the drawbacks of social media reports, however, is inaccuracy. Some of the reported cases circulating such means of communication do not have solid grounds and may either be an unintentional misrepresentation of the actual incident or a mean to create a scene out of nothing on ground. 

The law protects those who report abuse cases if they appeared to be well-intentioned, according to Article 6 of the Protection from Abuse Law, which stipulates that “a bona fide individual reporting a case of abuse shall be exempted from liability if it is established that such case is not a case of abuse, in accordance with the provisions of this Law.”

Early in 2017, Saudi women, once again, found a way to break their silence and expose stories of domestic violence, harassment and rape they face often on a daily basis through the viral hashtag #Break_Your_Silence_Speak_Up in which Saudi women started sharing their bitter stories that usually go untold.

All eyes on Mina as Hajj begins today

A Hajj security man takes care of a child. Security forces have been deployed around the clock to deal with all emergency cases. (SPA)
Updated 19 August 2018

All eyes on Mina as Hajj begins today

JEDDAH: Around 2 million pilgrims arrived in the Holy Land from outside and inside the Kingdom in preparation to set out from Makkah for Mina.
They will retrace the noble tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and spend the Tarwiyah Day on Sunday in Mina. Here they will make final preparations for the Standing (Wuquf) at Arafat, which marks the climax of the annual pilgrimage, on Monday.
To be able to serve the pilgrims and enable them to perform Hajj rituals with ease and comfort, the government and private sectors concerned with Hajj and pilgrim affairs intensify their preparations, under the direct supervision of Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, adviser to King Salman, the governor of Makkah region and chairman of the Central Hajj Committee, and followed up by his deputy, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar.
The Ministry of Health will provide intensive and continuous health services supported by skillful human cadres and state-of-the-art medical technologies, in order to provide the best health services for pilgrims. The Ministry of Health has employed a total of 29,495 physicians, pharmacists, nurses and technicians to provide extensive health care to the pilgrims.
According to the ministry, its manpower during the Hajj consists of 780 consultants in various medical specializations, 1,248 specialists; 2,718 general practitioners; 1,428 pharmacists; 3,553 nurses; 1,173 technicians and lab specialists; 198 specialists in nutrition; 5,587 administrators; 165 engineers; and 1,491 ambulance drivers.
The General Presidency of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque will operate and maintain all technical devices and systems of lighting, air-conditioning and ventilation, sound and control systems, cameras, communication devices and electrical stairs, buildings and libraries in the Two Holy Mosques.
Air-conditioning has been installed in the basement and ground floor and many other areas. Thousands of fans have been installed in the Two Holy Mosques and their yards.
The area around the Two Holy Mosques has been equipped with more than 8,441 toilets, as well as more than 6,000 ablution units. All power supply lines have been prepared to make sure there is power 24/7.
More than 10,000 male and female employees will be available to follow up on work and monitor it during Ramadan, in addition to a large number of cleaners.
Among the services also provided by the Presidency are translation of Friday sermons into 10 languages, organization of various scientific programs, and competitions.
A total of 210 doors in the Grand Mosque and 100 doors in the Prophet’s Mosque have been prepared, as well as 28 escalators in the Grand Mosque and four escalators in the Prophet’s Mosque. There are 38 doors for people with special needs and seven for women.
The Saudi Red Crescent deployed 127 emergency centers, 361 ambulances, 20 motorbikes, and more than 1,861 people to work in the ranges of Makkah and Madinah.
There will be 22 operational hospitals in Madinah and the holy sites, 15 temporary emergency centers, supported with more than 87 ambulances and 653 paramedics.
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs mobilized its human and mechanical capabilities to enable pilgrims to perform their duties in a safe and healthy environment by employing more than 26,000 individuals and 717 mechanisms to implement the hygiene plan in Makkah and the holy sites, as well as specialized field teams to control 33,069 food facilities in Makkah.
Civil defense teams will be deployed around the clock to deal with all emergency cases, where the injuries will be transferred using stretchers and wheelchairs to several medical evacuation sites inside and outside the mosque.
These teams will also be carrying out extraction and rescue operations inside the Holy Mosque and the surrounding area, in addition to providing urgent first aid, and transferring critical cases to the nearest hospitals and health centers, in coordination with the Red Crescent teams around the Holy Mosque. The Hajj security forces leaderships announced their readiness to maintain the security and safety of pilgrims during the pilgrimage season.
The General Command of the Air General Security is supported by all the security services and various government sectors.
In preparation for the Hajj season, the Saudi General Security Aviation Command announced that it has started implementing the first phase of its security plan to ensure the safety of pilgrims in the Kingdom. The aviation command will commence security operations over the holy sites, where special helicopters will monitor the activities surrounding the Hajj season this year. The planes are stationed in the designated locations in Makkah and Madinah from various bases to carry out the tasks assigned to them, namely traffic and security, logistical support for other security bodies, humanitarian services and the monitoring of pilgrims not following the rules.