IT’S a nauseating crime, where victims are violated by their own family.
For incest in Malaysia, stepfathers of victims have topped the list of the accused in cases brought to court.
They make up 45% of the total 334 incest cases (149 cases) registered and charged in court nationwide, between last year and June this year.
This is more than the fathers of the victims, which comprise 35% or 116 cases, based on data from the Malaysian judiciary, made available to Sunday Star.
“A total of 128 cases ended up with perpetrators being convicted,” says the Office of the Registrar of the Subordinate Court of Malaya.
Other perpetrators include uncles, siblings, grandfathers and brothers-in-law.
There was also a case involving a mother and child.
“For the victims, most were under 16 (the legal age to give consent to sex) when the crime was committed,” the office says.
Of the total cases, 83% or 276 were involving victims aged below 16.
The bulk of the court cases were in Peninsular Malaysia, which had 310 incest charges, while 24 cases were registered in courts in Sabah and Sarawak from last year to June this year.
A recent case involving a stepfather saw the man being sentenced to 1,050 years in jail and 24 strokes of the cane by the Klang Sessions Court after he pleaded guilty to raping his 14-year-old stepdaughter 105 times over a period of two years.
It’s also worrying that an average of 15 incest cases are received by the police each month, according to reports.
The police have also said that the number of rape reports allegedly committed against minors by older family members have spiked during the various movement control order (MCO) in the pandemic.
More complaints on incest
But the real figures on incest are likely to be more than what’s reported.
The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has received more complaints of incest and child sexual abuse since the first MCO in March last year.
Before the pandemic in 2019, WAO received one complaint on incest.
But last year when the MCO began, it received 15 cases through its hotline and WhatsApp messaging service, TINA.
“For this year, we have already received 19 complaints of incest between January and May,” says WAO deputy executive director Yu Ren Chung.
The organisation also received 43 calls and messages related to child sexual abuse in 2019, which rose to 163 last year.
Between January and May this year, 93 of such cases were received.
“Lockdowns force children to be isolated with their abusers for long periods of time without access to their social circles or usual support systems.
“For this reason, strong and consistent child-friendly public messaging on how the public can seek help is critical during this time,” Yu highlights.
Such public messaging also sends a clear signal to perpetrators that they can still be held accountable for their actions even during lockdowns.
With the perpetrator being a family member, incest cases are extremely traumatising for the victims.
To minimise the impact on the victim during trials, Malaysian courts have provided vulnerable witness rooms located at major courts in every state to enable witnesses to give evidence during proceedings from a room separated from the perpetrator.
Measures are also taken according to the National Guideline on Sexual Offences against Children, produced in 2017, which involves cooperation from multiple agencies including the court.
Yu says statement taking for children should be carried out by trained officers at Child Interview Centres (CICs).
“CICs were set up in each state by the police to ensure that evidence from child witnesses are obtained by trained officers in a child-friendly manner.
“As a best practice, it’s important for all child witnesses to be supported through these centres and to ensure that there are sufficient facilities and trained officers to implement this critical form of support,” he says.
There are also a few special measures at court that can be arranged beforehand by the deputy public prosecutor, investigation officer, legal companion or watching brief lawyer to ease the impact on children.
“These include the use of a screen or video live link in court where a child is able to give evidence from another room and is transmitted to the court through video.
“There can also be requests for a gag order where the judge may issue an order that prohibits certain details about the victim or case to be published in the media,” Yu explains.
Sadly, there are times when families choose to keep the case a secret due to fear of being shamed, depriving the victim of justice.
On times where such complaints are withdrawn, Yu says the implications on the child are tremendous, as there is a high chance that the abuse may continue.
“This can cause long-term harm to the child both mentally and physically,” he adds.
Yu urges those who need advice and support for domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of violence against to contact WAO through its hotline at 03-30008858 and its SMS/WhatsApp line known as TINA at 018-9888058.
There are other helplines like the government’s 15999 Talian Kasih and emergency 999 number too.
But Suriana Welfare Society chairman Dr James Nayagam says it is most effective for communities to monitor for crimes like incest in their neighbourhoods.
“This is because the residents know one another and can easily be the eyes and ears to spot such crimes,” he adds.
Using an example of a team he helped to form in the Desa Mentari low-cost flats in Petaling Jaya, Nayagam shares that such community groups have prevented such cases from happening.
“We hope all housing areas can have similar teams of residents as it can deter these crimes,” he says.
For those who come across children who have been abused, child and family psychiatrist Datuk Dr Lai Fong Hwa advises them to listen to their stories.
“If they said someone touched them, ask them for more details to understand what happened,” he says.
He adds that people should avoid asking the children if they were touched in specific areas as that may plant ideas into their minds.
“Whether it’s the truth or not, make a note of it and call the Social Welfare Department for help,” Dr Lai advises.