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The shame that we try to hide

 | January 18, 2017

Richard Huckle took advantage of the Malaysian taboo against talking about child sex abuse.

COMMENT

Richard-Huckle

To many people in the poor parts of Kuala Lumpur, Richard Huckle was a friend, a benefactor, a teacher, a keen photographer and a devout Christian.

He wormed his way into the families he came into contact with by integrating himself into their communities. He won their trust and abused it.

Some Malaysians think all westerners are rich and Huckle probably worked his way into their hearts by handing out a RM10 note here and there to present himself as a philanthropist. He had no airs and mixed well with the locals.

This week, a Reuters article, quoting police officials, said families that Huckle associated with were in denial about his abuse of their children. Many victims and their families have refused the counselling and therapy offered to them. Very few victims have lodged police reports about Huckle.

Huckle was smart. He manipulated people and took advantage of the Malaysian taboo against talking about child sexual abuse. This allowed him to continue his depraved activities for nine years before he was discovered.

These families probably told themselves, “Child sexual abuse happens to other families, not ours” or “There’s nothing we can do about it. It is God’s will.”

The denial syndrome has many facets, but first and foremost, especially among Malaysians, it is associated with personal shame. The victims and their families will have to bear the humiliation of sexual abuse. Malaysians live in close knit communities. Many fear that neighbours and friends would cease contact with them if they find out something shameful has happened.

In the poor communities in which Huckle roamed freely, he probably paid for his victims’ silence or used the name of God to threaten them.

Huckle was good at networking in the world of paedophiles. He probably learnt the techniques from other paedophiles. He sold the images of children to those who had told him how to find and groom his victims.

The victims’ denial is also a reflection of the failure of our system to deal with child sexual abuse. Some people refuse to make police reports because they are not confident that their allegations will be treated in confidence. We do not need strangers looking at the victims and their families with pity.

Are we well versed in treating child victims of sexual abuse? Child victims must be handled differently from adult victims.

How adequate are our laws against sexual offenders? How many reported paedophiles are taken to court? Many NGOs and doctors who deal with child rapes are frustrated by the length of time it takes to prosecute the rapists and are angry that the judges give lenient sentences.

The victims and their families are not the only ones in denial. Many of us show that we are not interested in matters involving child sexual abuse. “It does not concern me” is a typical reaction. “It does not happen in my community” is another response. We bury our heads in the sand and, because of this, people like Huckle continue to abuse us.

Education and information sharing are important in highlighting paedophilia. Or will you, like the uncaring general public, look away in disgust, shame or disinterest?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist

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