Sexual Abuse Specialist Dr. Mushira Aboo Dia, Senior Obstetrician/Gynecologist in the delivery room at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and Chair of Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, helps diminish the psychological damage of sexual assault as she counsels victims at the Hadassah Medical Center’s Bat Ami Center for Victims of Sexual Abuse.
Bat Ami (which means “daughter of my people”) is open 24 hours a day, and has a specialized team of physicians, nurses, social workers, and lawyers who have been trained to deal with the trauma of abuse in both adults and children. “The primary goal of treatment at the Bat Ami Center,” Dr. Aboo Dia explains, “is to return control to the victim.” The person who has been assaulted decides whether to be examined by a gynecologist, to allow the collection of forensic evidence, and/or to press charges.
Before the Center was established in 2009, Dr. Aboo Dia relates, victims had to go to the general emergency room, where they were often forced to wait much too long. Now they are immediately seen by specialists of the Bat Ami team, free of charge. Clinical studies have shown that the victim’s recovery is highly influenced by how soon after the assault she is seen by those who can help her.
At Bat Ami, as a precaution, the victim is offered the “morning after” pill, antibiotics to fight sexually transmitted diseases, and medication to ward off HIV/AIDS. Dr. Aboo Dia, whose family has lived in Ramla for many generations and is a graduate of the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Medicine, explains that all incidents of sexual abuse are reported to the police, but it is up to the victim to decide if she wants to press charges. In both the Arab and ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, the shame of a sexual assault reflects on both the victim and her family. If knowledge of the attack leaks out, it may mean that not only will the victim loose the chance to ever marry, but her siblings’ opportunity to marry will diminish. Consequently, many incidents of sexual abuse are kept hidden in both communities.
As an Arab physician, Dr. Aboo Dia was appointed as the Administrative Director of Women’s Health for the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem by Leumit Health Services in 2014. She also works in the high-risk pregnancy clinic in the Women’s Health Center of Clalit Health Services in Beit Shemesh, where there is a large orthodox Jewish population.
Dr. Aboo Dia did her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Hadassah Ein Kerem and received specialized clinical training in the United States at the Child Abuse Research Education and Service (CARES) Institute of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She also participated in special training programs in Israel to identify, evaluate, and treat child abuse and neglect. Recently, she returned from a year at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, after completing a Master’s in Public Administration.
On Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath), Dr. Aboo Dia, as one of a team of mixed Arab and Jewish physicians, goes into the smaller villages in the Palestinian Authority to provide services such as ultrasound, as well as a pharmacy to empower the women to take care of their own health. In Gaza, the team goes in with a mobile clinic, where they perform operations and various procedures and train local health professionals, in both physical and mental health care.
“Medicine is a way to bridge the gaps among peoples in the Middle East,” Dr. Aboo Dia says.