ALTHOUGH Saudi society is largely conservative and attaches great importance to religious values, acts of harassment against women are on the rise. Women get harassed physically, verbally and online although they don the all-covering abaya and even face veils in public places. Okaz/Saudi Gazette talked to several members of the public to shed light on this negative behavior, which exists in most public places.
Does unemployment have anything to do with this habit of Saudis or is it because there are conservative Saudis who believe women have no role outside their homes?
In 2013, a religious activist allegedly encouraged young men to harass women cashiers in retail outlets so that they get fed up and quit their work.
Women also get harassed by drivers who offer their services online. Some drivers annoy women by ogling at them. Samar Ameen, a college student, said she had once been harassed by the driver who drops her off at the university.
“All of a sudden, the driver started talking with me and took a different street I was not familiar with. I threatened him saying I would open the door and jump off. He got scared himself and went back onto the highway. I never rode with him after that incident,” she said.
Lubna Omar, another college student, had a similar experience with her driver. He flirted openly with her one day while he was driving her to the college. She told her father who immediately fired the driver and threatened him that he would call the police if the driver ever calls his daughter’s cell phone number again.
Bayan Zahran, a female lawyer, has taken up many harassment cases where the victims were all women.
“If a woman wants to file a harassment complaint, all she has to do is go to the police station in the neighborhood where she has been harassed and file a report. She should have enough information to identify the harasser such as his name or license plate number. A police officer will ask the harasser to show up at the police station and refer him to the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution. If there is enough evidence against him, he will be produced in court for a final judgment,” she explained.
If the crime is proved, the judge will hand out a punishment commensurate with the type of harassment, she added.
Talal Al-Hindi, a legal counselor, said the committee of social affairs at the Shoura Council has drafted an anti-harassment law that stipulates a prison sentence not exceeding five years and a fine of SR500,000 or both for the culprit. The members of the council have not voted on the law yet.
The demand for an anti-harassment law by the public has increased in light of the rising number of cases. The problem is some women get scared and never report incidents of harassment for fear of staining the family’s reputation in society.
Abdullah Salamah, manager of a shopping center in Madinah, urged women who go shopping to report harassment cases to the security guard at the mall.
“In this mall, we have over 70 surveillance cameras installed at different places to ensure safety of all shoppers. We are planning to install 300 more cameras over the next few months. There are 105 security guards in the mall,” he said.
Dr. Omar Al-Juhani, a legal counselor, said there are three types of harassment: harassment by a non-relative, harassment by a relative and electronic harassment. The third constitutes cybercrime.
“In fact, 30 percent of women do not report incidents of harassment online while 20 percent of them report such cases to the police. Harassment includes the use of obscene words, swearing, improper material or photos,” he explained.