Sexual abuse is a matter of social justice
Survivors of sexual abuse of any kind are often made to deal with a barrage of social stigmas. They are often told that they are broken, socially unclean and are sometimes ostracized from society, as if the attire or the colours of our lipstick are invitations for such debasing acts. What is broken is the culture that misappropriated women’s social standing in a supposedly equal society.
There are so many circumstances that lead to sexual abuse but the one thing they all have in common is the utter disrespect for women.
Sexual abuse is a problem that affects everyone and signals the dysfunction that stems from the so-called power men claim over women. Society is conditioned to think that sexual abuse only happens to ‘bad’ individuals when in reality, victims are normal people just like you and me.
With Covid-19 related lockdowns and school closures still presently in place at varying levels across the globe, there has been a nauseating increase in gender-based violence. Over the past year, reports of domestic abuse, incest and rape involving minors have increased, but what about the cases that were never reported. For example, according to the Ministry of Women, Family & Community Development there were roughly 1,929 cases that were reported from March to October last year, but data obtained by the police indicated a decline. The same ministry ‘reported a decline in number of child abuse cases reported in the first nine months of last year (3,875) while police in some states reported an almost 100% increase in incest cases during the movement control orders (MCO)’. In addition, it was reported that ‘rape cases involving minors and school-going students as young as 13 years old,’ is also increasing in state’s like Kelantan where according to police data, 51 rape cases were reported from January to July this year, an increase of 12 cases from last year’s report.
The uncertainty of information that is presented to us suggests a deficiency of how data is collected and the scarcity of neutral reporting highlights the dire need of cohesive responses from authorities as well as governing federal legislation. The entire system needs an overhaul of mindset as well; if the government is serious about tackling sexual abuse then protection for women and children who come forward must be guaranteed.
Malaysian women are getting a raw end of the deal – when a minister of great importance like Rina Harun, downplays the importance of federal government’s role in protecting sexual abuse survivors by simply suggesting that lodging police reports are sufficient enough, it does very little to encourage reporting of sexual abuse. This type of delusion is extremely dangerous because it reaffirms the patriarchal system and continuous misogyny Malaysian women and young girls are subjected to – which makes socio-political reforms challenging. Regrettably, what Rina Harun fails to understand is that when federal legislation is in place, this sends out a strong message that the government will not tolerate abuse of any form, which provides a sense of security that survivors need to come forward.
Recently, a local gynaecologist with decades of experience serving in the government sector, testified that ‘only 3 out of the 120 cases were brought to court’. According to him, the number of cases brought to court were significantly low because survivors withdrew their complaints due to family pressure as well as feelings of embarrassment brought upon by social stigmas. Although the numbers have seemingly decreased in the past decade on paper, the reality of the situation is that not many are willing to lodge reports. This apparent institutional failure simply makes it very difficult for survivors to access justice.
We need political will and we need ministers like Rina Harun, who have been entrusted to helm a very important ministerial portfolio to do her part and to offer tangible reforms that can ensure the safety of every woman and young girls in this country. There must not be any further delays in tabling the Sexual Harassment Bill because after all, sexual abuse is a form of oppression at the highest, most vulgar form and it is indeed a matter of upholding social justice that necessitates values where all Malaysians, irrespective of gender, ought to be treated as equals.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID
ADUN SERI DELIMA
DAP WANITA NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER
DAP PENANG ASSISTANT PUBLICITY SECRETARY