Social codes have allowed for the normalization of domestic violence to seep into the minds of women around the world. The stigma that prevents victims from reporting their abusers has made things even worse. The case is no different in Saudi Arabia, but that doesn't mean women haven't been trying.
It takes a lot for victims to break the barrier of silence in the kingdom but women have been filing reports more frequently in hopes of finding protection and ultimately justice. Unfortunately, this isn't proving to be the case for the majority of women who report domestic violence to local authorities.
As if it isn't enough that women in the country still need permission from a male guardian - who's almost always their abuser - to report the violations they endure, women also have to worry about police doing nothing to help them out.
We spoke to a few brave Saudi women who reported their abusers to authorities and asked them what happened next. Here's what they told us:
"After I reported my brother to police, I was sent right back home"
Saudi Arabia criminalized domestic violence back in 2013 but the implementation of legislation governing the pressing social issue is highly questionable. This is something that Samar, a 26-year-old Saudi woman, told StepFeed while relaying her horrifying experience with domestic violence. The young woman endured years of abuse and violent beatings at the hands of her older brother before reporting him to authorities with the blessing of her father, who's also her male guardian.
But even after going through with her report, she said authorities did nothing to protect or help her. Despite all that, she considers herself "lucky" because her guardian allowed her to go through with the case.
"My father is an old man and he finally had enough with the injustice I was being subjected to right before his eyes. He supported me when I wanted to report my brother because he spoke to him so many times and it just didn't work," she explained.
"After I reported my brother to police, I was sent right back home. He was called in to speak with officers but denied everything. I had medical reports proving his abuse but it still didn't matter. He knew people at the local office where I reported him so I couldn't do anything else," Samar added.
The young woman said the fact that authorities didn't budge left her feeling "helpless, anxious and depressed." She now believes her only way out of the situation is marrying someone and moving out of her family home.
"Most authorities still think domestic abuse is a familial matter to be solved at home"
Filing four separate reports against her husband wasn't enough to end Amina's suffering. The 32-year-old Saudi woman said that though authorities promised her action would be taken against the abusive man, nothing was ever done. The mother-of-two told us her husband was physically abusive towards her for years. On one occasion he broke her arm, on another he left her with a permanent injury in her right eye.
"The neighbors heard my screams, my own family knew he was beating me up, my friends saw my bruised face and I reported him so many times but nothing was ever done. He would be taken in for a few hours then asked to sign a paper and walk out, just like that," she said.
After years of living in fear for her own life, Amina is finally in the process of getting a divorce but doesn't feel safe or protected. "What if he takes my kids away? What if he murders me? I live with these questions every day," she added.
When asked why she thinks authorities were so stagnant in their response to her reports (despite her injuries and her husband's life-threatening violent behavior), she said:
"Most Saudi authorities and even some NGO's still think domestic abuse is a familial matter to be solved at home. They don't think it's their business so they try to refer you to family elders or to push you into trying to solve the matter on your own."
"I told them my father beat me. One of the officers asked what I did to deserve it"
One of the most harrowing stories is that of Nouf, a 29-year-old woman who reported her father for "non-stop verbal and physical abuse." It's extremely difficult for women to report their fathers in the kingdom due to the fact that in most instances they are a woman's male guardian. But for Nouf, years of abuse coupled with her father banning her from working outside the home led her to take action.
"I was so desperate, I went to a police station to try my luck but they couldn't do anything for me. I told them my father beat me. One of the officers asked what I did to deserve it. I went back home in tears and I can't explain this feeling of frustration and helplessness that took over," she said.
Nouf didn't stop there. She said that though some local authorities don't know how to act to protect victims of domestic violence, some try their best to help.
"A police officer at the station was kind and told me to seek help from a lawyer to try and transfer my guardianship to someone other than my father so that I can then be able to protect myself," she added.
The young woman said she is now going ahead with legal action set to free her from the situation she's in. While waiting for her case to be heard, she has been placed in a center for women protection. She hopes that other girls who report abuse get the advice she got but acknowledges that hope isn't enough in these cases.
"Police must be trained on how to properly implement anti-domestic violence laws. They have to know what to do when a woman comes to them for help," Nouf exclaimed.
"Most victims, including myself, will answer your question with one word: Nothing"
We asked Lamees what happened after she reported her abusive ex-husband to police and the first thing she said was:
"Most victims, including myself, will answer your question with one word: Nothing."
The 40-year-old woman suffered four years of horrific abuse before going to court to divorce her husband. In those years, she reported him twice but no action was taken against him.
"What message does this send to abusers like him? You'll get away with beating women. You'll get away with harassing them. You'll find a way out. My husband told police I was a disobedient wife and that got him off the hook, imagine," she said.
To her and thousands of other women, walking away from abuse isn't enough if action isn't taken against the men who caused them so much hurt and suffering.
"If your husband or brother or father beats you, leave. But also make sure to report him. Tell the police about him, go to court. Speak up about your rights. Maybe that's the only way authorities will understand that domestic violence must be taken seriously," she added.
"I was sent to a juvenile prison after I reported my abusive father"
Two years ago, 19-year-old Sarah reported her abusive father to authorities only to be referred to a female juvenile center because he told authorities she escaped her familial home for four days.
In Saudi Arabia, it's illegal for women to live on their own or to sleep outside their familial homes without permission. At the time, the victim of abuse was only a teen and didn't know that her experience at the center would be just as bad as home.
"I was sent to a juvenile prison after I reported my abusive father. I went to report how he'd beaten me up but was told I had violated the laws by escaping home," she said.
What made things worse is that Sarah couldn't leave the center without permission from her abusive father.
"I escaped him but I needed his signature to get out of there. I still don't understand this and never will," she added.
After going back home, Sarah sought the help of a lawyer and a women's rights activist to file a lawsuit requesting that her guardianship is transferred to a judge. Her case is still pending.
"From my experience, not all authorities are the same"
Reema asked us to refer to her as a survivor of domestic abuse. The woman was abused by her brother - who was also her male guardian - for years.
"My parents are deceased so I turned to my uncles but they couldn't do anything to help out. The only way out was to get documented police reports on him so that I could later take him to court," she explained.
The woman reported her brother to police three times in order to use the reports as evidence in court. She said that while some police departments didn't take her claims seriously, others did.
"From my experience, not all authorities are the same. It's wrong to generalize. Some of them do not act adequately in domestic abuse cases but others try to help out and I've witnessed that," she explained.
That said, Reema stressed that it isn't enough for only a few local police stations to stand by victims, adding that legislation governing the lives of women must all be reformed in order to ensure protection under the law.