From Azalina Othman Said
I had a chat with my young adult daughter about the experience of sexual abuse reported by a 15-year-old girl on a YouTube channel. I asked her a simple question, “If you were in her shoes, what would you expect to happen?”.
This is what she said:
- An immediate investigation on the accused regardless of a police report being made.
- When a child reports something like that, believe her.
- Parents assume that children know nothing, but we know a lot more than you think.
- Children should be encouraged to speak up, not shut down.
- If she can’t speak to a family member about it, someone else should. And lastly…,
- She’s a child. She may think she knows what she’s doing but she wouldn’t truly understand the consequences.
So, my take on this is, when a child speaks, who listens? When a child makes an accusation, who believes? A child doesn’t lie about sexual abuse. It is the court’s responsibility to determine otherwise.
Therefore, when the perpetrator of sexual abuse is a family member, the repercussions of reporting are multi-fold. Without any external intervention, the child is trapped under the same roof as the perpetrator and his or her vulnerability heightens.
We have a problem and let’s not sweep it under the carpet. Sexual crimes against children are abhorrent.
I, therefore, support the Joint Action Group (JAG) for Gender Equality’s statement on Sept 9, when it raised similar concerns regarding the act of silencing victims of sexual crimes.
What now of our newly-passed Anti-Sexual Harassment Act or the Child Act or the Sexual Offences Against Children Act? What kind of messaging and precedent are we setting? Using religion specially to create fear, shame, and obligation to protect the reputation of sexual predators is against every rule of protective laws for children in this country.
No amount of reputation laundering can erase the trauma experienced by any victim especially a child victim of sexual violence or harassment, nor the consequence of being called a liar when it matters most.
If patriarchy persists at the highest level, compounded with toxic masculine values, what hope do we have for victims of sexual crimes, especially vulnerable children? The system is failing them.
Seek justice on the victim’s terms
Just as there are many ways a perpetrator can commit their crimes, there are many ways for victims to seek justice too. The criminal justice system isn’t the only way out, and our system certainly is not one that is perfect.
When it comes to children, it is a different playing field. There is no point in having laws without proper enforcement and support systems in place. We have the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) teams, One-Stop Crises Centres (OSCC), D11 (sexual, children and women investigation) division, Child Interview Centres (CIC), and special courts for sexual crimes against children in the country, but the resources invested in these platforms remain inadequate.
In July 2022, the parliamentary select committee (PSC) on women, children and social development tabled a roadmap in Parliament. One of our key recommendations was to allow children to have better access to support and assistance throughout the criminal justice process (strategy 3).
The strategy includes a new model for the management and delivery of comprehensive Witness Support Services (WSS) for children, which is to upgrade the existing OSCC to a full-fledge WSS centre that provides medical, psycho-social, legal support, as well as space to collect video recording for oral evidence from the witnesses of sexual crime.
This is based on the “Barnahaus” model which is globally recognised as an evidence-based approach to a child-friendly, multi-disciplinary and integrated service model for children who are victims of sexual violence.
We have yet to receive feedback from the executive on our proposed roadmap. Perhaps, the best gift for our children on World Children’s Day this Nov 20 would be the government’s commitment to adopt this suggested roadmap.
Last but not least, after 65 years of Merdeka, the citizens of this nation should not be debating on “maruah keluarga” (family honour) in any instance of child abuse.
Azalina Othman Said is the chairman of the parliamentary select committee on women, children and social development and the MP for Pengerang.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.