PETALING JAYA: You constantly hear abusive voices, loud banging and pleading cries from your neighbour's house, and suspect that unspeakable violence is occurring behind closed doors.
Whom do you call? The police, of course.
"You should not hesitate to contact the police when you suspect domestic violence or any other violence occurring in your neighborhood," said Inspector-General of Police Secretariat Assistant Head ACP Ramli Yoosuf.
“Domestic violence is a public issue, and it is not something where you mind your own business", he added.
The Star Online editor Philip Golingai, in his recent latest column Caught in a dilemma, wrote of his personal experience in overhearing abuse and banging coming from his neighbour's home.
He was in a dilemma over who to call and whether or not he should interfere in the first place.
"The police can take action and check out what's happening in the house where the suspected domestic abuse is happening," ACP Ramli affirmed.
"Even if the house is quiet and they receive a report (of domestic abuse), the police will knock on the door of the house.
"If they suspect that something is going on they will go into the house to check it out. But this is on case-by-case instance only," he said.
ACP Ramli also assured that the police would keep the report as confidential as possible.
"If the aggressor is particularly violent, the police can then take action," he said.
According to police statistics, from the year 2000 to 2012, an average of 3,265 domestic violence cases were report yearly in Malaysia.
The highest number of cases recorded was 3,769 in 2008, and the lowest, 2,555 in 2003.
In 2012, the number of recorded domestic violence cases was 3,488.
Apart from police help, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), All Women's Action Society (Awam) and Sisters In Islam (SIS) provide a helpline for victims and those want to report domestic violence.
WAO director Ivy Josiah said the first step would be to let the abuser know you are aware of what is going on.
"If you feel confident enough, ring the bell and ask general questions such as, ‘Is there something wrong?' or ‘Is there a burglary?’ " said Josiah.
"This simple act may serve as a warning to the perpetrators. Indirectly, it is akin to telling them that they are being 'watched'," she added.
The next thing to do is call the police and lodge a report.
"There have been a few cases where the police have actually rescued abused women," said Josiah.
"And even if they don't, your police report is on the record and can serve well in future investigations," she adds.
Josiah also says that a third thing you can try is to communicate with the victim.
"If you know or are comfortable to talk to the victim, ask her if she is alright. You can also pass her the counseling phone numbers," Josiah said.
"The main thing is that you're not silent. You can do all three things to help the situation," said Josiah.
Family law practitioner Honey Tan agreed that those suspect domestic abuse approach the neighbour.
"Don't be put off if the neighbour is rude. The purpose of the interruption is not to mount a rescue mission. That brief cessation of violence may give the victim a chance to run out, cry for help or it could be a breather so the abuser can collect himself," she said.
However, a problem potential "interveners" may face is that it may not be clear where the loud noises of abuse are coming from, and by the time they come out, the noise may have ceased.
"What I have done in the past is to get pamphlets from a women's organisation about domestic violence and what to do - then I put it in all the post boxes in my block of apartments," she revealed.
Tan adds that the main legislation for dealing with domestic violence is the Domestic Violence Act 1994.
"If there are any charges to be filed against the abuser, it is usually under the Penal Code," she said.
SIS communications officer Roxana Ridzuan said that on top of Malaysia's Domestic Violence Act, the Islamic Family Law states that a man can be punished for ill-treating his wife.
She said domestic violence was also included as a ground for fasakh (divorce) under section 52(1)(h) of the Islamic Family Law Act.
Numbers to contact:
Police – 03-2031 9999 / 03-2266 3333
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) – 03-7956 3488
Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang – 04-2280 342
Telenita Helpline (All Women's Action Society) – 03-7877 0224
Telenisa (Sisters In Islam) – 03-7960 8802