I am a mother of a 19-year-old daughter. She has a vibrant personality and is outgoing. Realising this, I always remind her to be mindful of her surroundings and put her safety above all else.
“Do not stay out after 10pm.”
“Refrain from taking taxis, Grab or Uber after dark.”
“Do not socialise with strangers unnecessarily.”
“Always have trusted company when on a night out.”
Knowing that my daughter is capable of taking good care of herself however, has never left me totally confident of her safety. This is because I know anything can happen, anytime.
A couple of days ago, like many Malaysians, I was shocked to read that a Member of Parliament, a former shariah court judge, found nothing wrong with suggesting that a rape victim marry her rapist. He claimed the marriage would make the victim feel safer and live in peace.
My first thought was: “What would I do if my daughter (God forbid) got raped?”
Instantly, the thought of chopping the culprit into a million tiny pieces came to mind.
Although punishing the rapist may not necessarily make my daughter feel safer or live in peace – as a mother who is angered, frustrated and heartbroken, I honestly could not think of any other thing I’d rather do than make sure he was hurt far worse than the hurt he inflicted on my baby.
I asked my own mother what she would do if the same happened to her daughter.
“Ma, if I was much younger and I came home one day and told you that I was (God forbid) raped – what would you do?”
My mom first brushed off my hypothetical question claiming it would never happen if I took good care of myself. But after explaining to her what the MP had suggested, I asked if she would ever consent to me marrying my rapist.
“So what would you do instead?” I asked.
She took a long time to ponder before saying something I never expected to hear in a billion years.
“Your wellbeing is my utmost priority. So I would definitely help you recover from the trauma however I can.”
“Would you make a police report and take me to the hospital to be properly examined so the police could have the rapist arrested?”
She hesitated before saying, “If you were old enough and brave enough to go through the proper channels, I would definitely support you even if you wished to file a police report about the rape.”
“And what if I was much younger, say 12?” I asked, feeling worried about what I was about to hear.
“Your future might be ruined if it was made public. The rapist would still have the chance to resume his life after he serves his punishment but you will end up being the girl-who-was-raped for the rest of your life. I don’t want you to go through that. I cannot bear to see you shoulder that burden forever. So no, I will not advise you to make a police report. We’d probably try to put the incident behind us and move on.”
I took a deep breath. What if the rapist continues to violate others, I asked her. Would she feel remorseful of her decision realising that she could have prevented the man from hurting others if only she had handled it differently?
Slowly, mom said, “You are my priority. I know it is not right but I am just being honest.”
I tried digesting my mom’s answer but gave up. It appeared to me that while my mom rationalised that keeping her daughter away from the police was a way of protecting her (me), similarly there could be mothers out there who felt marrying off their daughters to their rapists could protect them from being ostracised by society.
I decided to give my daughter a call. I needed her perspective.
“Bina, what would you do if you were (God forbid) raped?” I asked.
My daughter laughed.
“Is this about that MP’s stupid statement, Ma? I would definitely make a police report and NOT marry my rapist!” she said confidently.
“What if you were much younger, say 12? What would you expect me to do?”
“The same thing I expected you to do when Mrs Chia pinched me at school for something I did not do. The same thing I expected you to do when some boys at school tripped me and made me fall. I expect you to calm me down, make me feel safe and do what is right,” Bina said.
“What is the right thing to do? Care to clarify?”
“Every time something unjust takes place at school, I know I can rely on you because you always make it a point to meet the headmaster and get the culprit punished. Even when I plead with you not to, you always tell me that if I keep quiet, I will be responsible for the pain other students will endure because of the same culprit.”
She continued, “If I was 12 and I was (God forbid) raped, I would expect you to take me to the police and the hospital, and make sure the person who violated me was punished accordingly. Horrible people deserve to be punished, Ma – not married off to their victims.”
“What if our relatives, your friends and society looked down on you? You may be scarred for life,” I said.
“What makes you think I won’t be scarred if we decide to sweep the entire episode under the carpet?”
As I thanked her for an honest answer before ending the call, my daughter had one last thing to say.
“Ma, you know I trust and respect you. But if I was (God forbid) raped at a younger age and confided in you, and if you for whatever reason, decided to not to pursue the case for my own sake – I may still follow whatever you say, but honestly Ma, my love, trust and respect for you would have diminished tremendously. If you do not fight for me when I am incapable of fighting for myself, you are no different than the rapist who violated me.”
Such powerful words from my daughter made me tear-up.
Honestly, I was very disturbed at the notion that my mother would advise me to keep mum over a rape for the sake of my own future happiness. However, I realise that her choice did not necessarily mean that she did not care – in her own mind, she does genuinely, honestly and truly believe that it is the best solution.
I suppose different mothers protect their children in different ways. Some will fight for their children’s rights while others will ensure they do not face a bleak future.
While it is crystal clear that my mother and I have vastly different opinions about this issue, I wonder which school of thought that MP subscribes to.
After all, unlike my mom and I, he was not addressing parliament as a parent when he made the statement about marrying one’s rapist – or was he?
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.
With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third party content provider.