August 9, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10746

Saudi Journalist: Sexual Abuse Within The Family Is More Common Than People Realize; We Must Break The Code Of Silence On The Topic

August 9, 2023
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 10746

The Saudi MBC channel recently aired the Kuwaiti drama series "Melh wa-Samra," which was very successful throughout the Arab world, partly because it deals with sensitive social issues that are rarely discussed there. One of these issues is sexual abuse within the family and its psychological impact on the victim. The series' main character, played by Kuwaiti actress Huda Hussein, is Hind, a hospital nurse in her fifties who was abused as a child by her uncle and has suffered the effects of this throughout her life.[1]      

Referring to this series in an article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Saudi journalist Maha Abdallah called it "a courageous work of art" for spotlighting this taboo issue.[2]  She discussed the issue of sexual abuse in the family, stating that it is commoner than people think and noting that there is a code of silence surrounding it. Arabs refrain from talking about it for fear of tarnishing the family name and out of a mistaken belief that keeping silent about it is less harmful than exposing it, she said. People also think that the victim will "eventually forget" the abuse, and do not realize that the psychological damage can be lifelong. Abdallah decried the fact that Arab countries lack effective mechanisms for protecting children and preventing this phenomenon, and stated that even the school counselors do not perform their duty in this regard.  She therefore called for legislation to enable victims to sue the victimizers as adults, and also urged to let the victims tell their stories, so as to create a healthier and safer environment for children.

Abdallah also praised the Kuwaiti series in a tweet, writing that it "challenges the the best psychologists in terms of dealing with the despicable realities we suppress: sexual abuse, childhood trauma, unjust laws and crimes within the family…"[3]   

Maha Abdallah (Source:

The following are translated excerpts from her article:[4]

"Nobody dares to talk about sexual abuse within the family. The media does not discuss the specifics, but suffices with discussing the crime [itself], without mentioning the perpetrators' identities. But the [general] crime of sexual harassment is very different from the crime of domestic sexual abuse, in which the victim is abused by a relative, a member of the family, sometimes [even] the immediate family.  

"Everyone keeps silent and tries to bury this issue, because of its severe repercussions. Exposing it to the world can ruin the reputation of the family and of society, and can cause strong ties to be severed and hearts to be broken… Therefore, most people tend to believe that silencing it is less harmful [than exposing it], and that the victim will 'forget' over time, as if nothing ever happened! [But the victims] do not forget… as Nurse Hind, the character played by the talented actress Huda Hussein, says in the series "Melh wa-Samra"… This excellent work of art deals with several issues, but the greatest and most important of them is abuse by maharim [close family members], abuse [whose victims] are silenced. It deals with a girl who was abused by her uncle and grows up amid silence that causes her psychological pain and irrational fears… which rob her of tranquility and peace.  Everyone kept silent, fearing the repercussions of [exposing] the crime, and let the victim be the only one who paid the price of the perpetrator's crime. This is a courageous work of art, one which proves that the description of art as a mission is true and is not just a common media cliche.

"Living with this burden, what sort of life can the victim expect? Her mental suffering can be dealt with by [just] accepting it, or by [letting her] speak about it. Since human principles state that abuse, humiliation and rape must not be accepted, the victim has no choice but to [publicly] express her position.

But does the law allow her to do this? Who will believe her, if the public collaborates in burying the crime and the evidence and in preventing the victim from talking about it in real time? Will there be a law that restores the rights of every person who was wronged by their family as a child and who cannot obtain any evidence with which to convict the perpetrator of the crime?

"In the absence of complaints about cases of domestic violence, and since the psychological impact [on the victim] does not carry much weight as evidence of the crime, the victim will continue to vacillate between trying to avenge her honor and trying to settle scores with all those who perform similar crimes. She will launch a mental war by destroying her [close] ties… and suffer other irrational fears as a result of the psychological damage inflicted on her in childhood. All this, because she never made herself heard and exercised her right to send the rapist and abuser to jail, to see justice done and win back her dignity.

"Does the Arab homeland have an effective social mechanism to safeguard children's rights and protect them? I am not talking about the written laws [themselves], for ink can be even cheaper than some of the people who use it. I mean: Do we seriously and clearly implement these laws in our Arab societies? 

"And what about the role of school counselors? What is their job? Who appoints them? Are they really qualified, academically and as human beings? Why do they not notice when children who were raped become withdrawn and their schoolwork suffers? Why do they not protect children from their own ignorance and from the injustice of their families? Why do they not perform the role of the homeland, which promised to protect its children and placed [the social workers] there for this purpose?

"Have the school counselors betrayed their role? Ask any schoolchild in your family about the counselor at their school. They will respond with a series of embarrassing or funny stories about the counselor. All children agree that the counselors have one distinguishing feature: they are 'invisible' and easily manipulated, they are mere school functionaries, an education [ministry] puppet with minimal impact on immoral students.  They have no clue what is happening in the school, let alone what is happening outside it, in the lives of the students under their care.

"Actually, in civil lawsuits our laws do not even consider the psychological damage [suffered by the victim] and do not award compensation for it! There is need for laws that will restore the rights of adults who were abused, raped or oppressed as children by their family members, and evidence [of the crimes] was buried. Perhaps I hope for something that is beyond our current level [of development].

"Finally, if you have never been exposed to the phenomenon I discussed, do not question that it happens and do not play down its severity just because you think it's rare. If you only knew the number and the names of the silent [victims]! Their number is much larger than you think. You may have sat beside them or worked with them, and perhaps [they are children] you read to [every night]. I beg you, let the victims speak, in order to create a much healthier and safer environment for you and for your children in the future."


[1], June 8, 2023;, June 11, 2023.

[2] Abdallah writes periodically about women's issues and comes out against the contemptuous and hostile attitude they often face in the Arab world. See e.g., MEMRI reports: Special Dispatch No. 9810 - Saudi Journalist: The Opinions Of Men Who Reject Women's Rights Must Not Be AcceptedMarch 7, 2022; Special Dispatch No. 9612 - Saudi Journalist: Divorce Is Not A Sin; Traditional Marriage Customs Needs To Be Revised – October 27, 2021.  

[3], May 14, 2023.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), June 21, 2023.

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