It’s hard to get justice for child rape victims

rape-court-jailBy Mariam Mokhtar

When the MP for Tasek Gelugor, Shabudin Yahya, gave what he said was his personal opinion about child rape and marriage, he probably did not expect to unleash a firestorm.

One doctor has related the stories of two underage girls who were raped. Her story is about the Malaysian law system, which she claims has not improved.

In the first case, the DPP failed to call as witness the psychiatrist who assessed the victim’s ability to endure cross-examination because the evidence had been lost. Without the evidence, the magistrate was unable to weigh the seriousness of the offence.

The doctor lamented that this was a common problem with the Malaysian police and prosecutor’s office. Victims have to depend on incompetent DPPs while the rapists can afford to hire the best lawyers. Only one in ten rapes are reported because victims believe the whole process to be a waste of time.

Another challenge faced by rape victims is the long waiting time for cases to be heard. The usual waiting period is three to five years, during which time the child’s memory will probably fade. Indeed, in the case that the doctor spoke of, the child wanted to erase the rape from her memory though she was reminded of the crime each time she was questioned about it.

Normally, cases take a long time to be heard because of postponements. These delays are caused by the DPP or the judge going on leave, the lawyer being unavailable, a witness being unable to attend, too many cases to be heard on a particular day or various combinations of such factors. Sometimes, cases are postponed for no real reason.

In the second case, the victim, her family and the counsellor had to attend court ten times during the five-year wait. Before the trial, the victim received counselling from the psychiatrist and lawyer to prepare her for cross-examination.

After five years, everyone who needed to be at the trial was present, but the rapist pleaded guilty. The court gave a light sentence. He was deemed to have regretted his action simply because he changed his plea.

The doctor added that when the rapist pleaded guilty, the feeling of sympathy was shifted to the offender, and the victim was totally ignored.

The mother of the victim had been so exhausted and frustrated by the delays that she abandoned her quest for the so-called justice. She was reluctant to let her lawyers to appeal against the light sentencing because she did not think it would have made any difference. She felt that her daughter had already suffered enough and was reluctant to subject her daughter to further trauma.

Perhaps, Shabudin would like to chat with doctors who treat the child victims of rape. Perhaps then he’ll see how abhorrent his remarks about marrying rapists to their victims are.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist

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