Social media's dark side strikes again -- proving that when in the wrong hands it can be used as a tool of destruction. This time, ANSAMed reports that female Facebook members in the United Arab Emirates are allegedly being blackmailed for money and coerced into giving sexual favors after posting "dishonorable" pictures of themselves online. Often, the "immodest" photos in question are of the women clad in a bathing suit, or off-the-shoulder dress. By Western standards such outfits wouldn't even raise an eyebrow, however in the Arab world -- even in the more "modern" UAE -- it could cost a woman her life.
Some might wonder why, given their geographic location, the women would even consider posting such "incriminating" photos at all. Perhaps they just wish to be like countless other people their age all over the world who innocently use Facebook for "fun." The problem is, once blackmailed or raped the women reportedly cannot even report the crime to the authorities as they would in effect be turning themselves in for breaking sharia law.
The blackmailers are looking for money, forced sexual relations or emotional and psychological control, according to operators from the dedicated department set up by the Ministry of the Interior to tackle this growing phenomenon which has women in the Emirates stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they turn to the police to report cases of abuse they could be arrested. In cases where there were consensual sexual relations, despite being forced through blackmail, the victim can be arrested and locked up for having consented to a sexual act outside of marriage. This is an illegal and punishable act in the UAE.
The ministry's social department is victims' only safe harbour at the moment. "We offer victims total privacy", states a staff member at the office, who requested that he remain anonymous, "but acting as a police department we carry out inquiries and when necessary, such as in cases where there are other victims forced to perform criminal acts, we cannot merely protect, we must also report."
With one foot in a land of archaic tribalism and the other trying to straddle modern civilization, women in the The Emirates face a dilemma: curb their desire to live like they would in a completely free society, or succumb to it and face the dire consequences.