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Published: Thursday September 11, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday September 11, 2014 MYT 8:29:16 AM

A mockery of statutory rape law

When legislation is clear on crimes yet law enforcers ignore them, the public loses its sense of what is lawful and what is not. 

THERE were two stories I read recently which were published side by side. One was about a 71-year-old man caught in a khalwat situation with a 14-year-old girl. Next to it was a story from India in which a 16-year-old boy was desperate to stop his parents from marrying off his 14-year-old sister but sadly was too late.

I was struck by one thing: neither of these stories included the words “statutory rape”.

Section 376 of the Malaysian Penal Code defines statutory rape as sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 16 whether or not she has given consent.

Discounting the second case because it is outside Malaysia, why didn’t the police go after the 71-year-old man for statutory rape? And why did the reporter not bring it up?

At a time when politicians and law enforcers keep harping about the citizenry always obeying the law, how did they get to ignore it? Two cases have made a mockery of our statutory rape law that carries a mandatory jail term of 20 years and mandatory whipping for each count upon conviction.

One was when the court refused to jail Nor Afizal Azizan for raping a 13-year-old girl as “taking into account that he is a national champion, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is not in the public interest as Noor Afizal has a promising future”.

Good thing the South African court trying Oscar Pistorius isn’t thinking that way because he certainly has a brighter future than Noor Afizal.

Then in the same month, the Penang Sessions Court released Chuah Guan Jiu who had been convicted on two counts of raping his 12-year-old girlfriend because “the sexual act was consensual and that he is a school dropout”.

The judge also took into account that this was Chuah’s first offence, and that he was considering his future.

Hopefully his future doesn’t include continually raping his girlfriend for another four years until she reaches the age of consent.

When the law is clear on these crimes yet judges ignore them, then what is the public to make of it?

The public loses its sense of what is lawful and what is not.

Three years ago, a movie was made, the premise of which was that a young woman was sold into prostitution by her uncle, then bought by a rich man who repeatedly raped her.

Then in order that she would not feel any more shame, she begged the man to marry her, which he eventually did. Women sighed, men cried and the movie became a box office hit.

A few years later, a 40-year-old man raped a 13-year-old girl and then paid her parents to marry her. Might he have seen the same movie and thought that was the way to handle things?

Another movie had the female protagonist raped at the end, and the perpetrator going scot-free.

When I asked the Censor Board, in a separate meeting why they let that go, their reply was “because she was a gossip”.

There was total silence when I reminded them that in our country, rape is a crime.

When people who are supposed to uphold the law ignore it, they have no right to lecture the public about not adhering to it.

Recently an ex-senator, someone who for a time helped to make our laws, told a woman that even if she gave him “unlimited freedom”, he wouldn’t rape her.

Outrage exploded on Twitter but not in the mainstream media. How can a former lawmaker talk like that?

Does he think that women would be grateful if he raped them? And therefore by refusing to, he was insulting her?

Obviously he thought his lower appendage was more powerful than his brain.

The fact that the word “rape” floats so easily out of someone’s mouth, especially a former lawmaker’s, and that movie scriptwriters think nothing of making rape an unpunished part of the plot, points to something very disturbing: that there are a lot of people who think nothing about rape, and that they confuse it with sex.

Sex is a consensual act of love. Rape on the other hand does not involve mutual consent, and is often a violent act.

Statutory rape assumes that a young girl, still legally defined as a child, just doesn’t know what she is doing, even if she seemingly consented to it.

I wonder how these judges, politicians and movie directors would feel if it were their daughters or sisters who were in the same dilemma? Would they be so forgiving because the rapist had a supposedly brighter future than the victim?

What if it was the victim who had the bright but now extinguished future?

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

Tags / Keywords: Marina Mahathir

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