In 2008, just 47 cases of domestic violence were reported to Dubai Police, accounting for a mere 1.5 per cent of the total number of family disputes referred to Dubai Courts. It would be nice to think this is because domestic violence is near non-existent here, but unfortunately, it’s more likely that most incidents go unreported.
Domestic violence remains a taboo throughout the Middle East and is not considered the kind of family issue that should be aired in public. But encouragingly for Dubai’s victims, the city’s Vilafortuny clinic – which specialises in dentistry and plastic and aesthetic surgery – has started offering to correct the damage wreaked by domestic violence free of charge. The ‘Give Back a Smile’ initiative – an extension of the campaign started by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry –is a significant show of support in a climate where many don’t feel they can ask for help.
How exactly do you give back a smile?
We restore the teeth in the smile zone, whatever it takes: be it dentures for broken teeth, veneers, crowns or bridges. We can also involve our plastic surgeons, who perform procedures to improve the smile – removing scars, dealing with anything really visible.
Why did the clinic decide to get involved with the programme?
The clinic focuses on aesthetic procedures, and we all have a passion for giving smile makeovers. We’ve been saying for years that we’d like to give something back to the community. I really love what I do, and I’d like to do it for people that can’t afford it, too. So it seemed only natural to start the programme here.
What difference do you think fixing a smile makes to an individual?
It’s life-changing. You’re taking a victim of domestic violence and trying to get their self-esteem back. It’s important to have an attractive smile – it shows if you’re happy or not. So it can enhance their confidence tenfold. That’s my reward when I do cosmetic procedures on normal patients. It gives me satisfaction to see the change in personality. It means a lot, it really does.
Who can come in for treatment?
The applicant will have received injuries to the mouth from an abusive intimate partner or spouse. Abuse not related to domestic violence will be excluded. The candidate should also have been out of the relationship for at least a year. It doesn’t only apply to women – it can also apply to men, although I assume 99.9 per cent will be female candidates.
Considering domestic violence is a difficult topic here, how will you encourage victims to come forward and ask for your help?
I think that’s difficult. If you look at the number of reported cases in Dubai, it’s going to be really tricky. Also, we had a press release in a local newspaper recently and straight away we had people calling, asking, ‘When can I make an appointment to get free dental treatment?’ The real victims first need to gather a lot of courage just to come forward and expose the problem. I think it’s going to take a little while before we see the real candidates approaching us. It is a very sensitive topic here. I hope our getting involved with Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) will help.
How are you working with DFWAC?
DFWAC is going to act like a funnel for us to determine cases that could be suitable for our programme. Then we will conduct the initial consultation and examination and decide whether the candidate is eligible. Candidates can call or write directly to us or call the DFWAC hotline on 800 111.
Prospective candidates should tell their story to Vilafortuny, either by phone or by email, and send a picture of the damaged teeth. All cases will be kept anonymous. Call 04 394 3618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.