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Saudi investigates blackmail against women

Blackmail on the rise in the digital age

The Saudi Ministry of Interior has formed a committee to look into blackmail cases, particularly involving women, following a study that revealed the scope of the problem, local press reported Sunday.

The study conducted by the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice indicated that the victims age ranges between 16 and 39, although minors as young as eight have been subject to blackmail, the Saudi newspaper Okaz said Sunday.

Photos seized in several cases showed humiliating and violent scenes including, sexual abuse and women being beaten.

Blackmail in Saudi Arabia can occur in many forms, but often involves threatening to harm a woman’s reputation. This can include telling a woman's family or husband scandalous information about an alleged indiscretion or threatening her with compromising pictures, videos, or voice recordings, said the head of the Commission's research center, Abdul-Mohsen al-Qufazi.

Women, and men, have been lured into sending pictures – often digital -- of themselves to potential suitors upon promises of a marriage proposal or to so-called employment agencies or job ads that turn out to be phony.

In a conservative society where most women are veiled and social norms prohibit mixing between unmarried men and women, such pictures can prove a powerful weapon in the hands of a blackmailer.

A woman who had sent pictures of herself to a man was blackmailed for 14 years by a blackmailer seeking more than 800,000 riyals (about $213,000), according to a report in the Arab News in June.

Cases of extortion typically occur in situations where men and women co-mingle, like the workplace, added Qufazi. Some extortion schemes have been committed against Saudi women by non-Saudi men seeking huge sums of money.

The committee will address at the problem of blackmail through 3 stages, added Qufazi, the preventive stage, that prevent the crime, the crime stage, which focuses on catching the offenders in the act, and the post-crime stage focusing on rehabilitation institutions.