Why, oh why is it the victim’s fault in rape but not in murder?

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By Yeo Bee Yin

Just a week ago, Shabudin Yahaya, who is Umno MP for Tasek Gelugor, caused outrage when he was reported to have said there was nothing wrong with rape victims marrying their rapists, as they would not have to face a “bleak future”. He had also said that girls as young as 9 or 12, as long as they had reached puberty, with bodies resembling 18-year-old girls, were ready to be married. Deep down, at the core of Shabudin’s “marrying the rapist” and “9 year-old can wed” notions, is not only his personal atypical stand but also the manifestation of the deep-rooted patriarchy in Malaysian society.

In this day and age, women are still seen by some as objects, possessions or somewhat inferior to men in Malaysia. While a 9-year-old boy will be thought of as being of school-going age and playing on the field, a 9-year-old girl is seen by some as being “ready to marry”.

When rape happens, we often hear questions such as: “What was she wearing?”, “Where was she?”, “Did she go out late?”, “Was she drunk?” and “Did she say no?” as if she deserved to be raped if the answers to these questions fit the stereotypical conditions of “inviting rape”. The toxic belief that victims are partly or fully responsible for their own violations continues to permeate our society.

When murder happens, it’s always the murderer’s fault; when robbery happens, it’s always the robbers’ fault; when drug trafficking happens, it’s always the traffickers’ fault; but why is it that when rape happens, it is the victim’s fault? No woman or girl deserves to be raped, no one.

This patriarchal victim-blaming culture explains why very few victims have the courage to report to the authority, not to mention seeking rape survival support, because they are afraid of being blamed, looked-down upon and deserted.

Only two out of every 10 rape cases in Malaysia are reported. On average, there are about 3,000 reported rape cases every year, if we include the unreported cases, we’ll come out with an astonishing fact – one girl or woman is being raped somewhere in Malaysia every 35 minutes. Worse still, about two out of three rape victims are minors – girls below 16 years old.

According to a parliamentary reply from the home ministry, from 2005 to July 2014, a total of 28,471 rape cases were reported, of which only 16% (4,514 cases) were brought to court, and only 2.7% (765 cases) had a guilty verdict. Such a saddening low rate of conviction.

There seems to be no justice for rape victims in Malaysia. They are questioned, doubted, looked down upon and even asked to marry the very person that violated them! Even when they are brave enough to follow through the legal system, less than three out of 100 will see justice being served.

The fact that the federal government and Umno have been trivialising Shabudin’s abhorrent remarks about rape for the past one week shows how little commitment they have to combat the rape culture in Malaysia.

I am particularly disappointed with Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim, who’s supposed to be the very person that leads the country to safeguard the interests of women and girls. She gave Shahbudin no words of rebuke or correction. All of these actions send wrong signals to society that such a patriarchal mindset is tolerable when it is not, as it will continue to fuel the rape culture in Malaysia.

Rohani should immediately right the wrong. Most importantly, her ministry should look into ways to spread the correct information about rape. Without a mindset shift from a patriarchal culture that fuels the rape culture, the perpetuating rape problems in Malaysia will not be solved.

As part of our effort to counter the victim-blaming culture and to raise awareness about rape, my office has sponsored an anti-rape video entitled “Rogol, Salah Siapa?”. It was launched on my Facebook page on April 8 : Facebook Link. We built a website www.antirogol.com last year that publishes important information to help rape victims and their families as well as activists.

Yeo Bee Yin is State Assemblyperson for Damansara Utama.

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