Taking it in her stride


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 14 Jul 2019

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Fighting the good fight against those that prey among the most vulnerable is a tough job. But it’s just another day at work for those working in D11 – the police’s sexual crime unit. 

THE men and women of Bukit Aman Sexual, Women and Child Investigations Division (D11) are on the frontlines when it comes to combating sexual abuse and the like. Hence, on top of the essential training for effective investigation, those in D11 are also required to have one particular trait: “soft-approach” skills, especially for dealing with child victims.

However, times have changed, said principal assistant director Asst Comm Choo Lily and the fight against those who prey on children has evolved.

Online sexual predators and the emergence of sexual grooming are among the top issues faced by the department.

Stalking and online harassment are also a cause for concern, she added, more so when there are no set laws law enforcers can use to take quick action.

But these challenges are all a part of the day’s job for ACP Choo and her D11 officers.

The senior policewoman is certainly no stranger to the department.

Before helming D11 on the Federal level, she was once its Kuala Lumpur chief.

In a recent exclusive interview with Sunday Star, she talked about the D11 of today and the current setbacks the department face.

> What kind of challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?

Our cases involve a lot of young victims. The fact that they are young means they can’t vocalise what has taken place and what has happened. This is one of the obstacles we face.

We have to depend on a lot of circumstantial and supporting evidence like medical reports. If we’re lucky, maybe there are eyewitnesses.

We have to approach the children with counselling and play sessions to make them feel relaxed for them to relay what transpired.

> Do you get any push backs from guardians when you approach them for statements?

Everybody has their own interests. You have parents who are not fully cooperative because they might have something to hide.

You also have scenarios where the parents are divorced and there are allegations of abuse by one party on the other, so you have a conflict there as well.

Not everybody cooperates for the best interest of the child. We have faced such issues.

> What happens when the parents do not cooperate?

When they are not cooperative, we become very suspicious. Why won’t you cooperate to help uncover the truth?

When things like these happen, we have to try to investigate them in more detail and see what exactly they are trying to hide.

This is a sort of alarm bell for us – when they don’t cooperate in the best interest of the child.

We have to look at it more seriously (because) why won’t parents do their best for their own children?

> Ever since Richard Huckle rocked the nation with his deviant acts on children, D11 has been thrown into the limelight. What makes sexual grooming such an important issue to tackle?

Most of these cases involve very young victims, half the time they are not even aware grooming is going on.

Parents should be aware of what their children are doing, especially online, and who they are chatting with.

I think a lot of the public don’t understand sexual grooming and the forms it takes. And also how something like chatting with kids and so-called friends online can turn into something horrible.

If the parents don’t play a part in this, it will be very hard.

Advice children on the dos and don’ts and have a guideline for them. This is something we have to give awareness to because it’s been happening a lot lately due to social media.

> How many such cases have the department investigated?

We have one or two referrals from overseas where the account holder is from here but the victims are from the United States.

But besides the one case last year that we investigated, there hasn’t been any reported of that nature.

Children, when they trust someone, they will do as what they’re told. This is how groomers control the mind of a child.

Of course, the child – who doesn’t know what they are doing is wrong – would comply with this. In some cases, the child will still feel that they did nothing wrong.

When we looked into the Richard Huckle case, we found that the children who were in touch with him were very protective of him.

They were not willing to cooperate with us. They believed that Huckle genuinely wanted to help them.

Many were not willing to co­­operate with the police.

> Many harassment and stalking victims have come out publicly but there isn’t a specific law that authorities can use in such cases. What are your thoughts on the issue?

Yes, the problem is we don’t have a law per se for stalking.

So police officers feel like their hands are tied. They feel like they can’t take action.

I think it would be good if we can come up with a sexual harassment or stalking law so that the police will be able to take action when the victim is being harassed or stalked.

For now, the law is clear that if there are issues of harm to the person or family members, then it becomes a criminal offence.

But if someone just continues to post pictures of you when you were together, or when you had sex etc, it is not something the police can take action on right now, even though we think it’s an offence.

You can go to MCMC (Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission), but then the act itself is creating a lot of stress and humiliation for the victim.

The law is not there to protect them immediately in that sense. Until you are a victim, you don’t understand the stress a victim goes through.

So if we can have better policies that allow us to be more effective in dealing with this sort of things, I think that would help the victim faster instead of dragging it for months on end.

> Have any lawmakers approached you about this?

So far no policymakers have approached me about setting up such a law, but if they want to have a discussion about this, PDRM would be more than happy to support the move.

> What about marital rape?

According to our statistics from January to March this year, there have been three cases, which is 1.26% (of total cases).

This might seem small but a lot of cases go unreported.

For domestic violence there can also be an issue of rape – if the husband can physically abuse the wife, it is possible that he’s also forcing himself on her.

As many could have gone unreported so we don’t have the exact figure. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.

In some scenarios of abuse, the victims would not have the freedom to leave the house.

In such scenarios, I would advise family members or friends who know about their predicament to make a report on their behalf. It doesn’t have to be the victim themselves.

If you know of a friend or family member who is being abused, you can make a report on their behalf.

For abuse victims who are able to come forward, I would advise them to have courage and trust in us to ensure that you are not put in that same situation again.

When you take action to stop the abuse, it’s a start and it (tells abusers) that the victim is not as easily available for abuse.

Most of the reports that have been done and have been investigated by us, I would say that we were able to stop the abuse.

You have to take a stand to stop the abusers somehow and we will help you. Let us come in and help you.

> Logistically speaking, does D11 have enough right now?

No, we don’t. Particularly in some district and contingent level.

Some only have one counsellor at the contingent level, which is really not enough.

We need to expand our number of counsellors to get more effective results in our investigations.

Also, the D11 offices really need looking into. Some of them are pretty rundown.

When we interview victims and all, it will be good to have the necessary rooms and facilities that we need ... But I think that’s a general problem faced by PDRM as a whole.

> What about the manpower situation?

D11 needs more trained officers for every different aspect of our investigations.

For domestic violence, children and now cyber cases, every investigation needs different expertise.

We also need more counsellors and better training for police officers to be more detailed and to empathise with the victims better. But we also have to be fair.

We can’t just put a number (for an optimal number of officers) without looking at the volume of cases.

If it (number of cases) is not that high, a minimum of two (officers for that area) and for those with a high number of cases, then at least three in one area.

So that they can at least take turns to cover each other, for example when one goes on leave.

There are some cases where one officer goes on leave and you don’t have a lady officer to deal with all these cases.

We also need a lot of logistic support (for cyber-related cases). Once we get the intelligence, we need to link up with other agencies like MCMC.

At the moment, we don’t have an automatic set up, we still have to do it the official way by writing to them and this takes time. We need to link up.

Also, if the politicians can look into policies that would enable us to have more cooperation with the necessary agencies and companies, even though they are not under the government, that would definitely be very useful.

Look at the United States, they are so great in that way.

They work hand in hand with Facebook and other big social media companies. As soon as something happens, these tech giants are bound by law to give all the necessary information.

Here we lack that. And the time it takes (for us to get information from them) is a hindrance.

> Are there plans to rectify these issues in the near future?

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry has been very generous to us. They donated around RM50,000 in 2019 to help us upgrade ourselves.

Besides that, we are putting out a working paper to expand D11. But we are more concerned about the ground level.

In some contingents, we realise there are only one or two officers available and that’s just not enough. So we have suggested for some D11 departments to be expanded.

We have also suggested for the upgrading of some of the officer posts. Some of the smaller contingents are headed only by an ASP, which we feel is not enough.

The Js (CID district head) is a DSP at the very least, so the D11 chiefs need to be on par.

For places like Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Selangor, which currently have heads with the rank of DSP, we are suggesting to upgrade that to a superintendent.


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