The Asian Voice

Malaysia needs multi-faceted approach to tackling incest: The Star columnist

KUALA LUMPUR - Over the past couple of week, there have been numerous news reports of children in Malaysia being sexually assaulted by father, grandfathers, brothers, cousins and stepfathers.

Perusing all the news articles and reports was indeed stomach cringing and made me feel nauseated.

The most glaring case was the father who sexually assaulted his 14-year-old daughter 600 times and the reading of the charges in court took a total of 2 days.

Another case that I found absolutely shocking was in Sarawak. A 19-year-old girl claimed that her own grandfather, father and two uncles have been raping her since she was 13.

On Aug 15, 2017, a mechanic who had an incestuous relationship with his stepdaughter which resulted in her getting pregnant at the age of 14, was jailed for 26 years and sentenced to six strokes of the rotan.

In the past two weeks alone, I read some 10 stories of children being sexually assaulted by their family members.

There is clearly something wrong and we must be brave enough to admit that something has to be done.

It is most harrowing for girls who look up to their fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles for protection, love and care end up being assaulted by them.

Most of the time, family members are complicit in concealing such incidents for fear on embarrassment and due to economic factors.

Despite the numerous reports that have been made in the past couple of months, I am certain there are many cases that continue to go unreported.

Besides the physical trauma that is caused to a young child, the mental trauma is also equally or possibly more painful. The psychological effects of being assaulted by someone one looks up to as a protector will causing lasting damage.

Victims of sexual crimes tend to suffer from low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and sometimes even see themselves as being in the wrong and all of this is compounded by the fact that the perpetrator is a family member.

I staunchly believe that there can be no justification for such heinous and immoral acts. Men with insatiable sexual desires that knows no boundaries to the extent of sexually preying on their own children or anyone else's that matter must face the full wrath of the law.

Activist Syed Azmi, in a Facebook posting commented that in a certain chat group there were people who actually defended the father who sexually assaulted his daughter.

He had this to say: "There is one chat room that defend (sic) the father by saying it is the daughter's fault and she likes it. That is why she took two years to report (sic) because she is jealous that the father now chooses her younger siblings. This is typical and nothing new. And it's not even funny making comments like that. She is already blaming herself, endure the abuse, and hoping people will trust her.

So it now begs the question, as Malaysians what can we do?

I believe we need a multi-faceted approach to tackle this menace.

First of all, we need more rigorous religious and spiritual guidance. Religious leaders play a pivotal role in our country and the focus should be on combating social ills.

Second, we need a better framework for helping victims and engendering a more conducive environment that will encourage victims of such crimes to report such abuses. We must not blame the victims but the perpetrators. We need to provide victims with psychological help they need to overcome the trauma.

Third, family members must stand up for the victims and encourage them to report these crimes. Family members must not protect the perpetrators. Family members must name and shame those who commit such crimes and not worry about feeling embarrassed because the only person in the wrong is the person committing the crime but if there is a cover up then the family members doing so should be blamed as well.

Fourth, the government recently implemented a more complete legal architecture to deal with such sexual crimes against children. With a dedicated police unit as well to deal with such crimes, victims now must be encouraged to report such crimes because the law is in the right place.

Fifth, the education ministry must conduct awareness drives in schools so students who are victims will be able to share their ordeals with school counsellors. School counsellors play an important role in bringing such incidents to light. Teachers should also be trained to identify behavioural attitudes of students who could potentially be victims.

Sixth, we need to empower non-governmental organisations who provide relief and shelter to victims of sexual crimes so they can do more to help and assist victims including dealing with the psychological trauma that victims of sexual crimes especially cases of incest have to endure.

Seven, there is a need for Malaysians to lend their voice and condemn such acts unabashedly. The Facebook posting by Syed Azmi that I elaborated about earlier shows that there are those who actually defend such acts. Malaysians must call them out, name them and shame them.

Rabindranath Tagore said we see God through the eyes of children. It is heart breaking to see family members sexually assault their children and abuse their children and forever destroy their lives. It is time to combat the evil called incest. I hope by seven point action plan will further the debate on how do we combat this issue.

* The writer is currently Gerakan Selangor Youth Vice-Chairman and Secretary of the Gerakan Political Bureau.