Emergency measures needed to help victims of violence be safe


The government must ensure victims of violence have clear pathways to safety. - The Jakarta Post/ANN

An encrypted message has been making its way on social media as a way for victims of domestic violence to get help or alert friends and family that they are in trouble during the movement control order (MCO) period.

The message reads: “If you are stuck at home with a toxic or abusive partner, message me about my HOMEMADE CAKES (or candles, cookies, crafts, lipsticks, etc) and I will know to continuously check in on you. If you ask me about BUYING my cakes (I don’t sell any), I will know to contact the police. There has been an increase in domestic violence cases since the MCO. Please don’t be afraid to reach out.”

Social media users are encouraged to copy the message and post it on their social media accounts, changing the “services or products they offer” so that abusers can’t identify it as a victim’s cry for help.

The idea is to offer a way for victims to reach out without raising the suspicion of their abusers. For survivors of domestic violence who are used to having their every move tracked by an abuser, leaving behind a trail of who they’re communicating with can give their abusers yet another way to stalk them, or may enrage an abusive partner.

Seed Malaysia’s executive director Mitch Yusof was the first to post it on his Facebook page about a week ago.

“I got the idea from a friend in New Zealand and I thought it was such a good idea. It is important, not only during MCO, but at all times to tell those who are abused that they have people who care and are looking out for them. At the end of the day, #kitajagakita kan?” says Mitch.

Domestic violence cases have escalated during the movement control order period, according to Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) who report that calls to their hotline have increased in March by 44% from February.

In April, so far, the NGO received 63% more WhatsApp enquiries for help than they did in March. The Talian Kasih line has also experienced a 57% increase in calls although the Women and Family Development Ministry says that not all calls are related to domestic violence.

Calls to helplines have spiked during the MCO period. Photo: Visualhunt.comCalls to helplines have spiked during the MCO period. Photo: Visualhunt.com

“WAO has seen an increase in calls to our helpline and have alerted the police on a case where the victim was successfully rescued from her abusive partner. In Sarawak, we had a bystander rescue a child from abuse. The bystander called WAO for help on how to act and successfully saved the child.

“With domestic violence survivors now trapped in the house all day with their abuser, it is much harder for them to get help. As such, neighbours and community members need to be on the lookout for domestic violence.

“If you hear your neighbours fighting and suspect that someone is being abused, ring the bell and pretend that you need to borrow supplies. This sends the signal that people are watching. You should make sure you’re safe before approaching the situation, and you can also get someone to go with you. If it’s an emergency, call 999.

“Your reaching out can mean the world to someone – and may even save lives, ” says Tan Heang-Lee, WAO’s head of campaigns. Emergency SOPs needed

In a statement released earlier this week, WAO urged the government to outline emergency SOPs on its response to domestic violence cases to ensure that “survivors don’t fall through the cracks”.

The NGO welcomed Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement last Sunday that the Women and Family Development Ministry and the Royal Malaysian Police were working together to respond to domestic violence reports during the MCO, but it has urged the government to step up its response in this critical period.

“The government must ensure that survivors can obtain court-issued Interim Protection Orders (IPOs) during the MCO. IPOs are critical to protecting survivors, as these orders send a warning to perpetrators that they must stop their abuse, or else risk being arrested.

“With reduced court operations, however, it is unclear how survivors are to obtain IPOs. Hence, the courts should include the application for IPOs, as well as action against their breach, in the court’s list of essential services, ” it said in the statement.

The NGO also urged the government to improve the availability of temporary shelters and make them an essential service during the MCO.

“Shelters are a lifeline to survivors, yet they are sorely lacking in Malaysia. International best practices recommend a minimum of one family place in a women’s shelter per 10,000 people, but Malaysia only has an estimated one family place per 72,538 people.

More public service announcements must be made to inform survivors about where they can get help. Photo: 123rf.comMore public service announcements must be made to inform survivors about where they can get help. Photo: 123rf.com

“WAO runs the largest domestic violence shelter in Malaysia but our shelter is currently at maximum capacity. Survivors have contacted us for shelter. But we have been unable to place them anywhere and, as a result, some survivors have resorted to sleeping in their cars to escape their abusers.

“The government must set up temporary shelters in places such as hotels and hostels to accommodate the rising need for shelter. The government can also collaborate with the private sector in providing shelter, ” WAO said.

More PSAs please To inform survivors about how to get help but also send the message that there is no excuse for abuse, the government must also increase public service announcements on domestic violence.

However, activists caution that such PSAs must address the real nature of abuse and not place blame on victims of abuse.

Last week, deputy women and family development minister Datuk Zailah Mohd Yusof came under fire from the public and women’s organisations for a video she uploaded on her Instagram and Facebook accounts where she espoused patience and accepting spouses’ flaws. She asked the public to appreciate their spouse’s good qualities instead of focusing on their negative traits.

Although Zailah acknowledged that the MCO was a challenging time, particularly for women who are vulnerable to abuse at home, her advice was criticised for it sidestepped their risks and vulberabilities.

“You don’t seem to understand the nature of domestic violence. The tips you offer are only applicable for harmonious households, not those that experience abuse. Do you think a child who has been sexually abused by her father should focus on the good qualities of her father? Or that an abusive addict can take a moment to calm down? The ministry’s helpline has been active for years but what extra measure is the ministry taking to help women and children who are experiencing abuse during the MCO?” said Instagram user @ruzanna_rahman92 on Siti Zailah’s post.

Many others agreed.

“Sabar (patience) is what is killing these wives and children, ” said another user, @kisumifukumi.

Executive director of Sisters in Islam, Rozana Isa, in a response to Siti Zailah’s advise, urged the ministry to come up with concrete measures to tackle the increased risk victims of domestic violence are facing in the MCO period, which has been extended to April 28.

“Don’t you get it? This is a violent situation. Women are being battered, hit and verbally abused and the advice given is really not helpful at all. This is not what women need to hear especially when the MCO has been extended for another two weeks, ” said Rozana.

Those needing help can contact the Women’s Aid Organisation’s 24 hour hotline at 03-7956 3488 or WhatsApp Tina at 018-988 8058; the Women’s Centre for Change, Penang at 011-31084001,016-4287265,016-418 0342 or 016-439 0698, Sisters in Islam’s hotline (call or WhatsApp) 011- 2370 1006 (8am -10pm), Awam at 016-237 4221 or Talian Kasih at 15999.

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