#DontTouchMe: Saudi Arabia child abuse

Man with boy and message about child abuse in English and Arabic Image copyright LLBF.COM
Image caption Educational anti-abuse images are being shared on social media in Saudi Arabia

A disturbing viral video that appears to show a child being molested in Saudi Arabia has prompted online soul-searching in the conservative kingdom.

Reporting or discussing child abuse is a sensitive subject no matter where in the world you live. But in socially conservative Saudi Arabia, the past 48 hours have seen social media users break the taboo around discussing child abuse in unprecedented numbers. The reason? A highly disturbing YouTube video.

The video, details of which cannot be verified, apparently shows surveillance footage of a man molesting a small child in a school uniform. The man approaches the child, who is standing alone in front of a lift, and touches her inappropriately. Local media reported that the incident happened in Dammam in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Colonel Ziad Alriqaiti of the Eastern Region Police told reporters that authorities are searching for the culprit.

The video has prompted an intense debate on social media. Saudi users have created a new hashtag, #GuySexuallyHarassingALittleGirl, to condemn the act and discuss the level of punishment needed. Others used the hashtag to encourage young people to speak out against abuse by sharing educational photos and videos on how to spot and report abuse when it happens.

One of the most shared videos was a cartoon showing scenarios of how parents can educate their kids and how children should deal with harassment. Within 48 hours the hashtag had been tweeted more than 100,000 times and the video had reached more than 175,000 views. It has since been removed from YouTube but there are duplications on the video sharing platform.

Over time, the conversation has evolved and new hashtags have been created. Users have shared images from an anti-abuse children's book titled Don't Touch Me, using the hashtag of the same name. The book, written by Dr Hind Khalifa is a guide for children on what to do in situations of harassment. "It's not the first time sexual harassment of children has been spoken of in Saudi Arabia but I have never seen this level of reaction to the subject online," says Nader Ibrahim of BBC Arabic's social media team. "It reflects Saudi Arabia's growing use of social media to deal with and shed light on the topic."

Reporting by Anne-Marie Tomchak

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