Dubai: Her heart beats faster the minute her husband steps into the house. She rushes to her bedroom and pretends to be asleep to avoid any sort of communication with him. She knows that any word she utters could trigger violence from him. Her life is nothing like she had imagined before marrying him. She believes she’s destined to suffer and accepts her destiny because there’s nowhere else she can go.

Every day, hundreds of women all over the world suffer in similar silence and terror, deeply hurt in the shadow of spousal abuse and violence. Their daily struggle and pain are often kept behind closed doors because of the fear of stigma and social shame. It is here that the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC), a not-for-profit organisation, is doing sterling service and steadily breaking such barriers by guaranteeing full support to victims, including rehabilitation, safety and privacy.

The foundation’s helpline 800111, operating 24 hours everyday, has managed to break most women’s silence. Victims of all nationalities under threat or at risk of being stranded on the road are being offered emergency shelter for the time it takes to solve their problem, including the required support to live a decent life.

But it is not just victims of domestic violence who find refuge at DFWAC. Trafficked women and abused children are also being provided with support.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Amna Ebrahim Al Mutawa, one of many counsellors at DFWAC, explains how the foundation operates.

Whether victims have reached out to the foundation through the helpline, or have been referred by authorities, such as CID, Dubai Courts or Dubai Police, the foundation takes full responsibility to assist people of all nationalities.

Amna said that cases of domestic violence have been the most frequent at the foundation. In 2015 alone, DFWAC received 411 cases of domestic violence, significantly up from the 231 cases in the year before.

“Most of our clients are victims of domestic violence. This form of violence happens in every country, religion, social and economic level. We have held many awareness programmes around the city and more women have broken their silence and have come to understand when they are being abused,” she said.

A majority of women who have had to seek the foundation’s support did not have a family or a support system, she explained, which gives their spouses room to abuse them freely.

The foundation is client-centred, Amna explains. An approach is followed that meets the client’s needs in order for them to make the right decisions, which also includes a treatment and support plan that is discussed with the client.

“We receive our clients (mainly victims of domestic violence) through two channels — the helpline where women report their problems and they can also choose to come to us personally or through an official referral. Women seeking help because they do not have a shelter and a safe place to stay and have been kicked out because their spouses are not allowing them into the house, are being accepted into the foundation as internal clients. In certain cases, clients are sometimes in a situation where they are threatened to be killed and have no safe place to go and no family support system or support system in community, they are also being accepted.”

Emergency sheltering: Women are given emergency sheltering (temporary) for at least three days, until their case is resolved and they can depart safely, but the stay can be extended depending on the client’s issues.

Trained help: Call agents have been trained to analyse the caller’s situation by doing a safety assessment, she said. “Call agents ask victims certain simple questions that can determine whether they are at risk and are in need of immediate sheltering. Agents can request victims to head to the nearest police station and report their problem, the police would then immediately refer them to us.”

Case timelines: Following an appointment with DFWAC, the time it takes to accept women into the foundation as an internal client can take from one day to three days, she said. “It depends on the assessment by case managers. The client’s social history and health history are studied. We also assess her risk. If her case requires immediate sheltering, she can be admitted the same day.”

Cases that need to be further studied and are not as urgent, require some time, she added.

Safety plan: In some cases, a safety plan is arranged in coordination with the client before she can be sheltered. “Here, victims are in touch with us for a few days and are asked to keep it under cover by hiding their phones, until her stay is arranged.”

Case-by-case assessment: Each client’s case is assessed differently, as their problems differ, Amna said. “The least period to stay is three days. During her stay with us, which can be extended up to three months, we follow up with her situation closely to determine if she will be moving back to a normal and safe environment, if she is willing to stay with someone she knows and can support herself. We look at all possibilities and options, if nothing is guaranteed, we extend their stay.”

Divorce proceedings: With cases that require divorce procedures to be sorted out in court, sheltering can be extended for more than a year. Also the case can be complicated like mothers who have no support system or qualifications and have children to take care of.

“We allow mothers to come with their children and stay with them in one room. We give them full privacy to take care of them and discipline them. They are in charge of their hygiene and all needs.”

Trafficked women: They are always referred to the foundation by CID or committees battling trafficking. Their stay (up to eight months) depends on the investigation, which determines if they were real victims or not.

Sheltered women are all under the care and observation of the housing department 24 hours everyday.


Fact file

The DFWAC helpline is 800111