When it’s the family that wants to cover up the crime

Justice needed: Incest survivors need support from their family members as they will have to carry the deep scars of the crime for life.— 123rf.com

FEAR of embarrassment, public stigma and even worrying their daughters won’t get married.

Some incest cases are kept hush hush because of these reasons, as family members want to avoid the “shame” attached to such incidents, instead of getting justice for the victim.

Several experts who have dealt with incest share that a big challenge in getting perpetrators behind bars is the family members themselves who do not want the case to be out in the open.

Dr James Nayagam, chairman of Suriana Welfare Society, says a lot of incest cases go unreported because of the negative stigma.

“For the perpetrator, there is shame and if the victim is a girl, some family members even worry that nobody will want to marry her in future,” he says.

However, this should not be an excuse in forgoing justice for the victim, who will have to carry the deep scars of the crime for life.

Since the world went into lockdown due to Covid-19, Nayagam says there’s been an increase in child abuse, especially sexual abuse.

“I have come across incest victims as young as five years old during the pandemic. The disturbing part is they can’t run anywhere given the lockdown,” Nayagam relates.

Another challenge is that reports to the authorities tend to be made later and not immediately after the crime, with research saying it sometimes takes four years after the incident.

“But by then, it is difficult as evidence is needed to prove elements like penetration.

“It would then be the victim’s word against the perpetrator’s,” he points out.

However, should the perpetrator be jailed, Nayagam adds that psychological therapy should also be given to treat the perpetrator’s mental health status.

Concurring, civil and family law practitioner Amsa Naidu says some incest cases were unearthed during the movement control order.

She shares that a 12-year-old girl, caught in a custody battle between her parents, was sexually abused by her father.

However, the victim’s mother did not report the case after the father promised to release his custody claim of their daughter.

“The father initially had a court order allowing his daughter to stay with him once a month for three days.

“But due to the MCO, the child was stuck with him for two months.

“After the crime was committed, both parents agreed not to go to the police after the father promised not to see the girl again,” she recalls.

In another case, Amsa, who has been in legal practice for 23 years, says a mother found out that her husband had been sexually abusing their daughter for the past three years.

“During the MCO, his actions were discovered since everyone was at home.

“The mother noticed something amiss and asked her daughter why her father was in her room when she was studying,” she says.

There was also a separate incident whereby a 17-year-old boy had sexually assaulted his 13-year-old sister after watching pornography.

“Not all of these cases were reported to the authorities, despite my advice,” Amsa sighs.

She adds that some worry they will be looked upon as bad parents, because the incidents may have happened right under their noses.

“If they still refuse to go to the police, then I urge these parents to get help for their children by letting them see a psychiatrist.

“As they have deprived their children of legal justice, help your children with their internal wellbeing,” Amsa stresses.

She also hopes that children will be taught from kindergarten on what is an inappropriate touch or action and what to do if someone does it to them.

“Counselling should also be made more accessible for people, including the low income group,” she adds.

Child and family psychiatrist Datuk Dr Lai Fong Hwa says children who are incest victims suffer severe psychological damage.

“The difficult thing to process for the child are thoughts like “why is father doing this to me?”

“Most try to understand the reason, which is either ‘my father is bad’ or ‘I am bad.’

“For children, they often believe their parents are right, so they will tend to believe they are the ones to blame for the act.

“As such, they attribute this bad image to themselves, and may grow up acquiring bad habits like abusing substances or going into prostitution,” he says.

In some cases, it is also difficult when the child discovers their mother knew about the crime but chose to keep quiet about it.

“For some, this is even more hurtful,” Dr Lai shares.

He says there were cases where the children who attempted to tell their relatives like an aunt, got scolded by the mother for defaming the father.

Recalling a case he dealt with, Dr Lai remembers that a girl who was sexually abused by her stepfather had told her teacher about the crime, who later reported it to the Social Welfare Department.

“However, the mother told the girl to withdraw the claim because her stepfather was the sole breadwinner of the family, who paid the rent and put food on the table.

“If he went to jail, they would get evicted,” he says.

Dr Lai urges for incest victims to be given proper psychological help to be treated for their trauma and emotional scars.

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