How ironic that the story about sexual predators should break out simultaneously both in the west and in Malaysia.
The scandal about the 56-year old MIC branch leader, who pestered a mother to urge her teenage daughter to have sex with him, could be the tip of the iceberg. The sexual predator promised the teenager work if she agreed to have sex with him.
How many victims are there? How long has he been targeting vulnerable young women? Will those whom he preyed on come forward to name and shame him? Will he ever face the consequences of his actions?
The MIC man is also a Tamil school teacher, making the case even more shocking. His boast, to the girl’s mother, that her daughter should not “waste this wonderful opportunity” and to warn that she should not take too long to decide, because “other girls are waiting”, is outrageous.
Teachers are supposed to protect their charges, but this man abused the trust placed in him, in the same way he abused the power he had as an MIC branch leader.
On October 5, The New York Times published an article alleging the decades of sexual harassment by Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. The article appears to have empowered many to speak out. Across the world, scores of actresses have joined the chorus, and denounced Weinstein.
The allegations are not limited to those in the film world, or to America. British actresses have also come forward to relate their experiences with Weinstein. More importantly, other people have come forward to talk of sexual harassment in their professions.
What started off as a drip, is now a raging torrent, with little chance of it going away, just yet.
Weinstein had promised the women, whom he auditioned, that he could make them famous, but only if they agreed to “sleep” with him.
In England, senior politicians and MPs have allegedly pressured their political aides, especially students and inexperienced temporary political staff, for sexual favours.
In Malaysia, will the MIC scandal encourage others to speak out?
A few years ago, a friend from Perak alleged that the child of one of her friends, had scored top marks in an examination. Despite this, she was unable to obtain a government scholarship but was persuaded to speak to a senior politician to see if he could help source other funding, or alternatively, use his influence, to apply for a scholarship on her behalf.
When the party official met the teenager, he allegedly asked her what she was “prepared to give him”, in exchange for his “help”. The teenager declined his offer, and managed to secure other means of funding, but not in her chosen field of medicine, as the cost was too prohibitive.
In other cases, various people have also alleged that one middle-aged Datuk tycoon in Kuala Lumpur, promises the young women who work for him, study scholarships in exchange for sex. The women are mainly from poor backgrounds and are left with little choice if they want to further their education.
Allegations also exist against teachers and heads of orphanages in Malaysia, who use sex as a bargaining tool against the boys and girls under their care. These teenagers feel powerless to act against these individuals.
In our Asian culture, sexual abuse and harassment is too embarrassing to disclose. Moreover, people close ranks and protect the abuser because they do not want their profession or organisations to be tarnished.
In the end, our society fails to protect the victim of sexual abuse but instead does its best to cover-up the scandals. Many of the sexual victims in our society are further abused because they cannot get justice or the protection they need. Several fall into a spiral of depression. A few attempt suicide.
Will we be able to change our mindset, to protect the victims, and seek justice for them? When we do nothing, we are condoning the act and empowering the perpetrator.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.