ABHA, 29 October 2007 — Sex abuse is not something new, especially when it concerns children. However, in Saudi Arabia child sex abuse has only recently started to be discussed in public with most victims preferring to suffer in silence, Samira Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi psychologist, told Arab News.
Al-Ghamdi said that children could also be at risk at home if one of the parents or a close relative is a sex abuser. She added that there is an upsurge in families seeking advice from different governmental bodies linked to the Ministry of Social Affairs in how to help their abused children live normal lives.
“There are several forms of sex abuse. It could be verbal, physical or emotional. Emotional sex abuse would involve something like allowing or forcing a child to watch porn movies or by letting him look at erotic underwear to raise his passion,” said Al-Ghamdi.
According to the Saudi health professional there are several ways to ascertain whether a child has suffered sexual abuse without directly asking the concerned child. “Parents tend to bring to doctors children who suffer from anxiety, or who continuously cry and urinate,” she said. “Sometimes, such children refuse to go to school or meet certain people. These are all signs indicating that the child may be being sexually abused,” she said.
“We send such children to clinics to ensure he or she has not been physically or sexually abused. If we see physical signs proving our assumptions then we investigate the case,” she said, adding that if it transpires that the parents were involved then they would lose custody of the child.
“The child would be sent to social institutions that take care of abused children and the courts would take action against the parents,” she said.
“However,” Al-Ghamdi said, “People do not openly talk about this issue because they consider it a taboo. This does not mean that sex abuse has not been occurring in the past. Rather this is something that has existed in our society for a long time. It is only that people are now willing to talk about it because there are government bodies that support victims and take action against abusers.”
Children that are handsome, beautiful, have straight hair, soft and fair skin, and a healthy body are more like to be sexually abused, said the psychologist. She added that children, in general, are more likely to be victims of sex abuse because they are weak and cannot fight back or protect themselves.
“A lack of awareness and an unrestricted opening up to the world has increased the occurrence of sex abuse in the Kingdom,” said Al-Ghamdi, adding that many people believe that parents cannot abuse their own children.
“However, I have seen many cases that show otherwise. I know of one case in which a father raped four of his own daughters,” said Al-Ghamdi, adding that the father was caught, prosecuted and sent to jail. His daughters were then taken into the care of a charity organization.
Al-Ghamdi said health professionals are not authorized to inform the authorities about cases of sex abuses if parents are not willing to take the matter further. However, in cases where the parents are the abusers, then health professionals directly inform the authorities.
Haila Al-Qahtani, a sociologist, said that sex abuse is widespread and that domestic disputes and a high rate of divorce in the Kingdom is among the causes of different types of abuse. “The Saudi community used to be a closed one. However, with globalization things have changed. Parents are busy and have no time to educate their children about sex,” said Al-Qahtani, adding that, for children’s safety, parents need to be more open and talk to their young children about the issue.
Al-Qahtani added that children that are abused in their early years develop behavioral problems. “Mothers feel shy when talking to their children about sex. However, they fail to understand that such children end up getting the wrong information from different sources, including friends and the Internet,” she said.
Al-Qahtani added that, according to statistics, people who are sexually abused as children become sexual predators later in life. “Children as young as eight and nine are known to harass women. These children may have been abused themselves or affected by sexually explicit movies,” she said.
The psychologist added that she herself has dealt with several abuse cases, including that of an 11-year-old girl, who was molested but not raped by a Bengali worker in a public toilet. “The family of the girl lodged a complaint against the worker, who was given 150 lashes and sent back to his country,” said Al-Qahtani.
Al-Qahtani said that among the worst cases she has seen is that of a four-year-old boy, who was sexually abused by an uncle and a family driver. “The mother, who used to go to university every day, was concerned that her son would often fall unconscious and would continuously cry. She took him to a doctor and was told that her son was being abused. She later figured out that her own brother and driver were the abusers,” said Al-Qahtani.
Parents are also known to abuse their own children. “A five-year-old boy was forced by his father to watch porn videos, which the father claimed would help him become a real man,” said Al-Qahtani, adding that according to a survey in 1414 AH, 947 children at various charity organizations in the Kingdom had come there having been sexually abused.
More families are now aware of the seriousness of the issue and there are more mothers that are now willing to warn their children against potential sexual abuse that they may face.
Um Abdullah, an educational supervisor at the Ministry of Education, said she was transferred from Jeddah to Abha a few years ago but returned to Jeddah after her children were sexually harassed. “One day three of my children went to a shop. They came running home and told me that the shopkeeper was urging them to come inside into a back room and that they were scared of the way he looked at them,” said Um Abdulllah, adding that the family driver molested her son. In the end she moved back to Jeddah.
Asma, an 11-year-old schoolgirl, was also sexually abused by the family driver. Her mother told Arab News, “She was shy and could not tell me about. She didn’t know what was happening. She only later told me when her nine-year-old sister was abused in a public park.”
The mother, who asked her name not be published, said her elder daughter only realized what had happened to her when her sister was abused and the authorities became involved. “Our driver had been abusing her for some time,” said the mother.