Monday’s Arab News puts “the spotlight once again on the increasing number of incidents involving abused women.” Perhaps it is true that the number of such incidents is increasing, but I am more inclined to think that the abuse has always existed and is only now coming out of the proverbial closet. Kudos and thanks go to Rania Al-Baz, a former announcer at a Saudi television station, who suffered a brutal attack at the hands of her husband – an attack and beating so horrendous Miss Al-Baz was unrecognizable. Raina Al-Baz’s story was followed by Arab News, in a heretofore unprecedented public milieu, from the beginning to the end.
Purportedly over the weekend a woman escaped from a Riyadh hospital and made her way to a shelter in Jeddah. According to the article, had she not made it to the shelter she was afraid the police would return her to her abusive family, which is not an uncommon dilemma for abused women. The article says, “Even after they have escaped, the usual “option” presented to them [abused women] is to return to their abusers.” [If this is the “usual” option, it really rather negates the point of escaping.]
“Thinking that their ordeal will be over once they are in the shelter, these women are subjected to further insults and neglect.” [This is ONE of the options? Not the “usual” option, outlined above.] “Their problems are not solved and they are more often pressured to return to the place they escaped from,” a social worker pointed out. [The “usual” option, above.]
“The shelter should be able to provide women with psychological treatment, social support and empowerment programs…” The supervising charitable organization consulted an expert who suggested help in this regard but the government entity chose instead to implement “its own plans that are bureaucratic, unsympathetic and not supportive of women.” Due to the “unyielding and inflexible procedures, many women who came to the shelter were eventually returned to the very places where they had been abused.” Amazingly, a case is cited where a “woman who had been sexually assaulted by her brother and then escaped . . . was then returned to the care of her brother for lack of evidence.”
According to the director of the women’s department at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Nora Al-Asheikh, “if there are no obvious signs of physical or psychological abuse, the woman is returned to her family because some of these women are falsely accusing their family of abuse to escape strict rules.” Fortunately, despite the many shortcomings these shelters have, “If there is evidence of abuse, the woman is cared for.”