It's time to warn our children about sexual harassment
Dubai - Dubai Police insist on educating students on stranger danger and sex education from a very early age.
Stranger danger and sexual abuse is a topic that makes school children and parents uncomfortable. "It is not easy to speak to your child about sex in general," said Anita Menon**, a parent of two teenage boys living in Sharjah.
She said: "Growing up, our parents never spoke to us about sex as I think it was embarrassing for them. But times have changed now. If I don't speak to my kids about sex, abuse and stranger danger, they will learn about it from the Internet. And that is not how they should learn."
She was speaking in light of a recent event, where American national William Ball, a music teacher at the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai (SISD), allegedly travelled to the United States to solicit sex with a seven-year-old child. According to US media, Ball paid $5,000 (approx. Dh18,000) to fly from Dubai to Florida to commit the crime.
The report shocked the school community, and SISD immediately fired Ball. Soon after, school authorities led by the head of school Beat Sommer established psychological counselling for students. Though the UAE has a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual abuse, especially towards children, cases of abuse occasionally slip through the cracks.
Furthermore, all private school teachers need to have provisional licences in Dubai, which include a signed contract from the school, a security clearance from the Dubai Police or law enforcement agencies in their home country, and qualifications.
In response to this line of questioning from Khaleej Times, leading psychologists and Dubai Police officials have insisted that educating students on stranger danger and sex education from a very early age is the way to go.
Banish the 'taboo'
Dr Mohammad Murad, director of the decision-making support centre at the Dubai Police, stated that sexual harassment and abuse is not a phenomenon in the UAE, but it is a serious offence against children as it affects the community as a whole.
Parents need to educate their children on ways to realise and react to harassment if they are faced with it. "More importantly, these matters should be reported and the culture of taboo should be eliminated," said Dr Murad.
The police provide annual outreach programmes to students in the form of lectures and simulation-like situations. The security programme titled 'Schools Security' campaign is carried out in 453 private and government schools and reaches out to 308,068 pupils in Dubai. Officers also aim at educating students that they must not fear the police and report sexual harassment.
First response to trauma
Aisling Prendergast, an addiction specialist and counselling psychologist at the Light House Arabia Centre for Wellbeing, said: "The first response to counsel students who have faced a traumatic episode is to sit down with the child and give them the space to express themselves. The child in that state is most definitely confused, scared and embarrassed."
Prendergast stated that SISD's approach to providing immediate counselling to their students was correct. "Students will have the tendency to hyper recall and hyper think the situation and that is ok. They must be given the space to do it, and the space to get over it. Once the children have expressed themselves, the next step is to assure them that it is ok to take psychological counsel," she said. Experts also stated that reprimanding the child and placing blame in the event of a traumatic incident is not a solution.
Another expert in childcare, Sara Diyab, stated that children are most vulnerable to harassment from strangers. She also recommended that children be taught some form of self-defence. "Special care must be taken for children who are under the age of six. Parents must teach the child to be careful about their privacy and to give the kid information about parts of his or her body that strangers are not allowed to touch."
Mothers should teach the child some form of self-defence. "The simplest of these methods is that they should shout if someone asks them to do something wrong. The next step is to quickly withdraw from the place to get out of the situation. Parents can also invest in karate classes or some form of self-defence to children," added Diyab.
** name withheld at request