Meet the ‘mother’ of the cops’ women and child investigation division

Ong Chin Lan hopes more women will speak up for their rights.

KUALA LUMPUR: Like many other victims of abuse, Karen (not her real name) was raped by her own father. Although the authorities had built a case against him, her testimony was key in putting him away.

She was only four years old.

In the past, victims like her would have to go to court multiple times to give their testimony, sometimes seeing their abusers there as well.

Now, though, children who have been physically or sexually abused can testify at the police’s Child Interview Centre (CIC), which means they no longer have to go to court.

Retired police officer Ong Chin Lan, who was instrumental in establishing the CIC, said many cases before failed as the victims were intimidated by the suspects.

The CIC, on the the other hand, provides a homey environment for the children. Based in an old bungalow behind Tugu Negara, it is decorated in bright colours, with play areas and comfortable furniture which make it far less intimidating than a court house.

“When Karen came, we had a victim care officer (VCO) receive her and talk to her to make her more comfortable.

“Later on, we interviewed her and, using anatomical dolls, she described how she was abused,” said Ong, who was formerly head of the police’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division (D11).

The Child Interview Centre.

At the CIC, victims are only interviewed once. Recordings and transcripts are given to parties within the criminal justice system.

Establishing the centre in 2002 was a labour of love for Ong. It was the first such centre in the country as well as in Southeast Asia.

“To me, as a police officer, our core duty goes beyond criminal investigation,” she said.

“We deal with victims, and if they do not feel like they are cared for, they cannot provide good evidence.”

This was the case in Karen’s testimony, which ultimately saw the prosecution of her abuser, who received 24 lashes and a 40-year jail sentence.

But the CIC is not the only legacy of Ong, who spent 40 years in the force. She was also instrumental in setting up D11 for which she wrote the proposal. Before that, its duties were handled by the Special Investigation Division.

Even before D11, though, Melaka-born Ong was already playing key roles in other divisions.

She joined the force in 1977, when she was just 19.

In 1987, while serving in the Special Branch, Ong was involved in Ops Talong which saw the capture of 86 communist terrorists and the disruption of the 6th Communist Assault Unit operating in Pahang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.

The interview room at the CIC.

Her intelligence gathering skills were also vital to a drug bust in Melaka in the early 1990s, where cops seized 19kg of marijuana – the largest drug haul in the state at the time.

“I was actually pregnant then,” she laughed.

“I remember knocking on the door of the suspects’ house. We could hear them trying to escape, so we chased them. Sometimes, in the line of work, you forget you are pregnant.”

Ong, who has a Masters in Psychology and Criminology from Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, also helped develop the National Urgent Response Alert (NUR Alert) to help find missing children.

Through the NUR Alert system, notices of missing children are broadcast through government agencies and private entities including RHB Bank, PLUS Highway, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd and, most recently, Grab.

Ong also helped set up the Victim Care Centre for adult victims of domestic abuse where civilian psychological officers are on hand to lend them support.

“Now, we have at least one or two such officers in each state to provide psychological support and assistance to victims,” she said.

One of her last projects before retiring last year was the Malaysia Internet Crimes Against Children Investigation Unit.

“In 2014, when Richard Huckle’s case came to light, it drove me to find out more about cybercrime.

“I got in touch with foreign counterparts to train and empower our police officers, deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) and judges on cyber crimes.”

These counterparts include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigation, Australia Federal Police, International Centre of Missing and Exploited Children and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

These days, the mother of four no longer puts on the blue uniform but her passion for justice and desire to protect the most vulnerable in society remain unchanged.

“I hope that we can further refine the law to make clearer as to how emotional and psychological abuse is defined because now, it is not easy to prove.

“If it can be better defined, then it can act as a guide for investigating officers, DPPs and judges.”

She suggested that counsellors with psychological training be given the authority to verify whether a person is a victim of psychological abuse.

Ong, who speaks at universities and events, also supports the move proposed by several NGOs to make stalking an offence.

Considered by many as the “mother of D11”, she hopes that women, too, will be more willing to speak up for their rights.

“Women in Malaysia must look beyond cultural restraints. Sometimes they care too much about what people will say about them or their family, and keep silent at the expense of their rights.”