Battered women and invasion of privacy

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THE curious case of the ‘battered woman of Abha’ had all the twists that a veritable mystery novel would take, keeping the reader engaged till the end. The case, that went viral in social media, too had its share of twists and turns, but in the end it was the underlying message that assault and battery are the basest form of acts or threats against another human being that needs to be taken from this incident. It is also a cowardly act that needs to be condemned and against which corrective or punitive actions need to be instituted.

Coming back to the incident on hand, for the past few days social media has been super active with a throbbing interest in the case of the battered woman in Abha after it was posted online by a concerned party. The video clip was just around ten seconds long, but its effect was major and it set the social media on fire, and the issue is burning till now while raising the issue of assault and battery and sparking a discussion on violence against women. As the debate raged, the case became known as the ‘battered woman of Abha’.

The clip was shot from a neighboring building and it showed only the building near it with only the sound effects. The clip’s sound had caught a woman in the next build screaming in pain, while her pleas were accompanied with the sound of the swish of the whip and hard thwacks of leather making contact with flesh. The woman was shouting and pleading for the beating to stop. I have to say that I was extremely angry after viewing and hearing the ten-second clip and I could not imagine to what level a so-called husband would stoop to, to inflict such pain and humiliation on his partner in life.

The Holy Qur’an clearly states, “retained with honor (and love) or allowed to leave with (kindness and) grace)”, with regard to the observance of the marriage contract, especially the conduct of the two parties in marriage. Where was this husband observing this tenet?

The case suddenly took a turn, with the social media swinging every which way the wind blew. Following reports that came out against the video clip, stating that the film was fabricated, the backers of the husband were on the ascendancy in the social media war. The reports stated that the sound was added to the clip in an effort to defame the person. It seemed that the table was turned and the person, who took and posted the clip, found himself/herself in trouble with the law for defaming and violating the privacy of an individual.

While the heat was off the husband after this revelation and seemingly the case was dying down when it took another turn again, when people accused the battering husband of being very well connected with officials in key positions in Abha, and they were trying to get him off the hook. It even went to this unbelievable length when in a TV program the presenter clashed with the official spokesman of the region, where the incident took place, and indirectly accused him of a cover-up. The case, at this juncture, stands in limbo with the rival camps sticking to their points of view.

Regardless of the fact whether the case was true or not, there are many questions that need to be answered here. One could ask, why would people resort to Twitter and other social media applications to raise an issue? Are the government departments not doing enough to solve the problem? In this case, did the person who took the clip know that officials would not interfere or do much and therefore saw the need to make it a public case? Was the battered wife ignorant about the help available for abused women and ways to stop this abusive relationship? Or is it just an easy way out to use public as their shield to escape from this abuse? We have seen many people resort to social media to raise an issue, when there are official ways to do it by reaching out to the authorities.

Another question that is evident here is, where is the line between documenting an actual violence case and invading one’s privacy. How will the case above, if it was authenticated, be viewed? Will it be a violation of privacy? If I, as a person, document a violation in a public place and put it in social media, why should I be in trouble? A clear regulation in this regard is needed, and also the area where the violation occurs needs to be cleared of people, because everyone has a mobile phone and they are always documenting incidents. Will all of them then be considered violators of the law?

I remember an incident where a person was documenting, while driving, people violating traffic law through a special Interior Ministry mobile application. He did not break the law for his wife was documenting the whole thing on the move when he received a phone call from a police officer, who thanked him first for documenting the violations, and then said that he, the driver, would also be penalized for using his mobile phone while driving.

The driver managed to prove that he was not the one taking the clips of the violations later, but the swift initiative taken by the officer to fine the man, who was helping authorities bust violators through an application the Interior Ministry launched, put a question mark on my role if I were to document a violation while driving, for the fear of being penalized. Would I be in the dock? If this were the case I would not participate in documenting any violation just to avoid trouble in the future.

Until the merits of the case of the ‘battered women in Abha’ are finalized and legal action taken, the law on abuse and violation of privacy needs to be clarified to people. This thin line needs to be identified because in the West the dos and don’ts in such situations are clear, while here, we are still stuck with what is socially acceptable and what is not. There are many women in our society who are suffering in silence at the hands of abusive husbands.

These women are afraid to come forward because they fear for their own safety thinking that they would not be protected if they revealed the abuse and the abuser or because they fear the stigma the society would attach to them for voicing the abuse, while castigating them in the role of a home breaker.

In my opinion, violence against wives is not a private matter and the husband should be taken to task for his actions, held responsible and severely punished. Women, who are mothers, wives, daughters and sisters, should not suffer in silence any more. We have to remember that, “Only an honorable man treats women with honor and integrity, and only a vile and dishonorable man humiliates and degrades women.”

— The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng


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