NGOs call for a 'safe space' for sexual abuse victims to be heard

PETALING JAYA: Women's rights organisations in Malaysia are calling for a "safe space" where women can speak up on sexual violence and harassment.

"In a world of changing cultural values of modern society, women's rights along with other human rights groups have an important responsibility to stand up in solidarity to create safe spaces for victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment," said the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) in a statement on Tuesday (Feb 6).

JAG said it is traumatising for women to make public allegations of rape and harassment that are sexual in nature, especially when the alleged perpetrators are often in positions of power and influence.

They also said that it took 20 years for victims of US gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar to speak out about the assault.

Nassar is now facing a lifetime in prison for sexually abusing more than 260 women and girls.

"The #metoo campaign which recently swept and shocked the world exposed alleged assault events which date as far back as the 1980s," said JAG.

"The revelations of such acts of sexual violations point to one crucial reality: That it is easy to silence women from speaking out and to intimidate them to think that no one will believe them," said the group.

JAG said that it is important for there to be a safe space for women to speak up.

"As validated by the #metoo campaign, when a safe space is created via solidarity, women are more courageous in coming forward to report such assaults," said the group.

JAG commented on the case of activist Henda Ayari, who stepped forward with rape allegations against prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, after five years of silence.

Tariq has since been charged with rape on Feb 2 in France, based on accusations made against him by two women.

"We strongly believe that support and protection for victims accorded by the criminal justice system for allegations of rape and sexual assault, should begin from the time the report is made to the final judgement in court," said JAG.

JAG is made up of Sisters in Islam (SIS), Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), Perak Women for Women (PWW), Association of Women's Lawyers (AWL), Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), Justice for Sisters, Women's Centre for Change (WCC), All Women's Action Society (Awam), Sabah Women's Action-Resource Group (Sawo), and Tenaganita.

In October 2017, Malaysian national aquatics assistant coach Huang Qiang was charged with raping a trainee at the dry gym of the National Aquatic Sports Complex in Bukit Jalil on Sept 26.

The victim was said to be traumatised over the incident. She is reportedly also training for the upcoming Olympics.

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