Has UM sexual assault case been swept under the rug?

Violence and sexual assaults against women are crimes and we should protect the rights of vulnerable women. However, the experience of one university student shows that the rights of women in Malaysia are often ignored and there is a reluctance to punish certain members of society who have committed a crime.

So, why don’t we punish sexual offenders and why do we refuse to name them, especially sexual perpetrators who hold positions of authority?

We skirt around the issue, and treat the perpetrators with kid gloves, despite the victims coming forward to expose the alleged assault. Making a public statement about an alleged sexual assault cannot be easy for the victim.

Last July, a Universiti Malaya (UM) student who called herself “Ching” alleged that an associate professor had sexually assaulted her in his office on June 3, 2019.

When the university failed to act against the lecturer and refused to share the findings of an internal investigation with her, she lodged a police report thinking that the police probe would be conducted swiftly and be transparent.

What transpired was unacceptable.

On Thursday, the police told Ching that they had completed their investigations into the alleged assault by the UM associate professor. They said that no further action would be taken against him. They said that he had already faced the university’s disciplinary committee, and had been demoted. They informed her that he had retired in June.

Did it take the police three months to tell her, “Case closed, no further action”?

Most people would contend that the disciplinary committee should not be allowed to handle a serious sexual allegation of this nature.

The police said their investigation had been conducted under Section 354 of the Penal Code which involves the use of criminal force on a person with the intent to outrage the victim’s modesty. If the man had been found guilty, upon conviction, he would have faced a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, with whipping, or any combination of two of the punishments.

So, why was Ching denied justice? Why has the perpetrator been protected? Was his name kept secret to save his family’s reputation?

How about other women? Won’t they be at risk? It appears that every effort is being made to protect the reputation of UM. Why did the student bodies not protest more strongly?

The results of the police probe have not been revealed and Ching must feel that she has been violated three times. First, by her lecturer, second, by her university, and third, by the authorities.

If the lecturer had not done anything wrong, the university would not have demoted him or conducted the hearing under a cloak of secrecy, would it? Why was the victim not allowed to counter his evidence? How many are in the disciplinary committee? Were any women on it?

So many questions remain unanswered and denying a public hearing has only further tarnished the university’s reputation.

The university should not be afraid to publish its investigations. They should show an interest and find out if other students had been assaulted. Perhaps, his colleagues are aware. Did they keep quiet or were they warned not to expose him, in which case, students were put at risk.

A proper hearing would have revealed more, including whether there are other victims or if members of the university staff were subjected to similar assaults. A public hearing would have encouraged others to come forward, but now it looks as if this serious allegation has been swept under the rug.

Perhaps Ching should name her former lecturer, start a private prosecution and seek compensation.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah is aware of the matter, but more importantly, we would like to know the reaction of the following people: the minister for women, family and community development; the minister for youth; the minister for higher education; and the law minister. Why are they silent?

Sexual assault is a serious crime, but if our ministers and educational establishments adopt a tidak apa attitude, then our society has failed our womenfolk.

 

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