The tough question of second chances

  • Focus
  • Friday, 15 May 2015

A WEEK ago, both traditional media and social media were awash with stories of a Malaysian math genius studying at Imperial College, London, who was convicted of being in possession of 600 videos and images of child pornography defined by the British authorities as an “extreme form of child abuse”.

NurFitri Azmeer Nordin, 23, was on a Mara scholarship, and as soon as he was convicted, his study loan was terminated.

However, Mara officials went on to show their support for NurFitri by offering him a second chance by allowing him to continue his education in any Mara institution in Malaysia.

At the same time, the Rural and Regional Development Ministry was also considering to appeal to have the Southwark Crown Court reduce NurFitri’s sentence.

Many Malaysians were just outraged over this.

Social media, especially, was rife with comments from individuals who felt this wasn’t the right stand to take on paedophilia.

A Facebook user, Suri wrote:“MAJLIS AMANAH RAKYAT you have got to be kidding me! So national bowler who commits statutory rape gets second chance, convicted paedophilic “genius” gets second chance, but God forbid there are students who are politically active or voice opinions or go to protests... I guess those students should just rot in hell.”

She was referring to the 2012 case where a 19-year-old national bowler pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend and escaped a jail sentence after the Court of Appeal ruled against a custodial sentence, saying the youth had shown remorse.

If we think about the justice system, it is predicated on the idea of second chances being given after the convicted criminal has served their jail term and had a chance to reform. The sad reality is that not all criminals reform.

Reformation and the reduction of recidivism has turned out to be an important area to work on.

The usual approach involves organisations working with people returning from prisons and juvenile facilities to help them reintegrate into society slowly, and ensuring they don’t return to their old criminal habits.

It’s a process which takes time. Giving NurFitri carte blanche to continue his studies at any Mara institution certainly doesn’t fall within the usual approach to helping ex-convicts reintegrate into society.

The reason many people reacted so emotionally and passionately is because the idea of child pornography and paedophilia is abhorrent in any developed society. For Malaysia, a country which aspires to be a high-income developed nation by 2020, our attitudes with regards to this have to change as well.

Consider the case of Gary Glitter, a former English musician who has gained international notoriety for sex offences against children. He was arrested in 1997 after authorities found pornographic images of children on his laptop.

After a long bout of public humiliation as a result of his actions, Glitter fled the UK and travelled to Spain, then Cuba and finally settled in Cambodia. He lived in Cambodia till 2002 when he was deported and banned from the country due to suspected child sexual abuse. He then moved to Vietnam, where again he was arrested for having sex with minors.

In Glitter’s case, it was clear that reformation just wasn’t possible. Perhaps the psychology of a paedophile doesn’t make reformation easy for them.

Paedophilia is considered a paraphilia, an “abnormal or unnatural attraction.” It involves the fantasy or act of sexual activity with prepubescent children.

Some people have tried to argue that it is a sexual orientation. However, Chris Wilson of Circles UK, which works with sex offenders to help them reintegrate into society, rejects the idea that paedophilia is a sexual orientation.

According to him, the roots of that desire for sex with a child lie in dysfunctional psychological issues to do with power, control, anger, emotional loneliness and isolation.

Thus the question is whether reformation of paedophiles is just about the offender’s character or whether it requires psychological intervention.

Research suggests that a mixture of cognitive-behavioural models are effective in treating paraphiliacs.

It requires a lot of work such as relapse prevention, surveillance systems and lifelong maintenance.

If people like NurFitri were to be given genuine second chances, it would involved him being in a programme which offers him help with regards to treatment.

We keep being told that Malaysian students should respect the laws of the country they are in.

So NurFitri should have respected the laws of the UK with regards to child pornography. Which begs the question — surely downloading child porn and paedophilia is not acceptable here either?

We need to exhibit consistency in our approach to child sexual offenders. Otherwise we end up losing sight of our moral compass and this would be a sad indictment for Malaysia as a whole.

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Opinion , Central Region , sheila stanley


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