Taekwondo classes and travel escorts might not always be enough

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s response to the violent attack on a 48-year-old woman who was robbed in a lift shows that she is out of touch with reality.

Take up self-defence classes? Avoid walking around during the wee hours? Travel accompanied by others?

The attack took place at 6.45am. This is not actually in the “wee hours” as Wan Azizah has suggested. Many working people are already up and about at that time.

My niece, who does not own a car, takes public transport to work. She begins her travel at dawn in order to make it to work by 8am. She also works part-time on weekends and comes back late at night, sometimes at 10pm, also using public transport. It’s doubtful that she’d be lucky enough to find someone to accompany her home.

Maybe if the deputy prime minister proposed in Parliament that we become like Saudi Arabia and insist that women be accompanied by a male member of the family, more men would volunteer to chaperone women.

Although Wan Azizah was correct to suggest that we are also responsible for our actions, her overall focus was misdirected. Her priority should have been public safety and security. If she had said that she would work towards better protection for women commuters, or get all parties concerned to increase security and engage with the police and other relevant agencies to make Malaysia a snatch theft-free society, we would have been reassured. But she did not.

She should have demanded that the management of MRT stations improve their security and monitor known hotspots. What is the point of using public transport to ease congestion on the roads when one’s personal safety is threatened? What is the point of CCTV cameras which do not have a live feed to security staff?

Wan Azizah, in her capacity as deputy prime minister, should have the power to summon the head of police and demand that he improve public safety and security. More police on the beat, more police patrols – in other words, an increased police presence.

She could have urged fellow MPs to back a proposal that penalties for assault and sentences for theft are made more severe to act as deterrents.

She could have said that in 21st-century Malaysia, where many women are joint breadwinners, she would strive to make it safe for them to go out and work.

Instead, she shifted the responsibility and heaped blame on the victim. Can she imagine the victim picking up a newspaper and reading her comments? Surely as a woman, the deputy prime minister should not resort to blaming the victim.

“These are things you have to take into account,” she was reported as saying by the New Straits Times. “We have to be careful and take care of ourselves.

“Don’t travel alone as much as you can (especially) during the wee hours when there are not many people. There is always a risk.

“Self-defence may not be so easy but you need to learn a bit for yourselves.”

Malaysians will remember the tragic case of Canny Ong who was abducted, raped, stabbed and burnt in 2003. She was kidnapped from Bangsar Shopping Complex, which is in an upmarket part of town, in a carpark fitted out with CCTVs. She was also said to hold a black belt in taekwondo.

If only the staff and police had been more vigilant and pursued her kidnapper when he rammed the carpark barriers, her life might have been saved.

Of course we must be vigilant, but there is also an urgent need to address public safety throughout Malaysia.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.