Debunking myth surrounding rape

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 20 Jul 2003


AN average of four women were raped daily in just the first five months of this year in this country. This alarming statistic, especially in the wake of the tragic Canny Ong case, has prompted many Malaysian women to ask: Am I really safe?  

Added to this, almost every day there are reports in newspapers of women being raped. In the last three weeks alone, rape has made the headlines in the local dailies, as in “Six rape factory worker”, “Joyride that turned into rape”, “Brothers held for raping sisters”, and “Mum on way home raped by taxi driver”. 

In Malaysia, rape is categorised as a violent crime and there is a very specific legal definition for it. Chief Inspector Suraini Hussain of the Sexual Investigation Unit (D9) in Bukit Aman says that according to the Malaysian Penal Code, rape is defined as the penetration of the male sexual organ into the female sexual organ without the consent of the woman.  

Statutory rape involves underage women (those who are below 16) and, in this case, rape is said to occur with or without a woman's consent. 

“This crime is punishable by not less than five years and not more than 20 years in prison and the sentence can include whipping,” explains Suraini, who has been investigating sex crimes for more than 10 years. 

There are many widely believed myths and misconceptions that surround rape. One of the most common is the concept of “the stranger in the dark alley”. There are many who think women are mainly attacked and raped by sex-crazed psychos who lurk in dark alleyways, waiting for their target. But detailed police statistics have shown just how wrong this notion is.  

Statistics on reported rape cases are divided into categories that define the relationship between the perpetrator and the rape victim. These categories include strangers, family (this is considered to be incest), boyfriends and acquaintances, among others.  

“In 2002 and 2003, most of the rapes which occurred involved people who knew each other. The perpetrators were generally acquaintances of the victim,” says Suraini. “Many of the perpetrators were also the boyfriends of the victims.” 

Another misconception is that rapes only occur in certain “hot spots” such as in poorly lit parking lots. Suraini insists this is just not true. “In my investigating experience, rape can occur anywhere. It can even happen in a home.”  

The common thread seems to be that the victim is alone and in a deserted area.  

There are various things that women can do to protect themselves from rape, such as to avoid deserted areas, carry a pepper spray and perhaps learn self-defence skills.  

However, it should be understood that although these measures can help women in dangerous situations, it does nothing to prevent the perpetrator from trying to rape in the first place.  

Dr Shanthi Thambiah, coordinator for the gender studies programme in Universiti Malaya says: “In our society, men are encouraged to be more aggressive, competitive and sexual than women in order to demonstrate their masculinity.” 

Masculinity is seen as a form of power, she explains. “This enables some men to act out this power in the subordination and control of women and one of the manifestations of this is rape.” 

One of the strategies to curb this problem is to educate men to change the notion of masculinity that is connected to aggression and power, says Shanti, who believes that violence towards women is a gender issue and a product of the social construction of masculinity. 

Manohary Subramaniam, the administration and programmes manager for Awam would probably agree. “Gender roles are reinforced even in the education system,” she says.  

“The gender division has to go. It is very important that a young boy is taught to view women as equals and to treat them with respect. Society generally excuses men (who rape) by accepting the myth that men cannot control their sexual urges.”  

Professor Dr Abdul Hadi Zakaria, a sociologist who heads the Department of Social Administration and Justice in Universiti Malaya, also thinks that the general attitude of society is important. The current status of social relationships, especially in urban areas, is not healthy and there is a widespread tendency for people to allow minor infractions of the law without reacting to it, says Hadi. 

“For example, people are not willing to react or help when a snatch theft occurs. This can work as subtle form of encouragement for all criminals. It can be called encouragement by omission.”  

As for why some men rape, Hadi says there is no real way to know what goes on in a rapist's head. There could be many reasons why someone would resort to committing rape, and one could be the sex drive of the offender.  

“Sexual desire is common but how this desire is transformed into action is important,” says Hadi. “In the case of a rapist, he will look for possible targets when this desire needs to be acted on.” 

Hadi says that if consensual sex is not available then force might be used. “This is just one of the many possible explanations.”  

Hadi also says that there many people who connect rape with an outside stimulus such as pornography or how women dress. “But although this is possible, I believe rape happens for some deeper reason. It’s not that simple.”  

Every activity we do is a response to something, he says. “When confronted with difficult situations or stress, the average person will find a normal way of responding to it, like going jogging to alleviate stress.  

“But for some, when there are problems that cause stress or pain and the avenues for responding to it are limited, they turn to other means of overcoming it.”  

Hadi says there are many people who view rape as just another activity even though they realise it is a crime. “The attitude (of the offender) is that there’s actually nothing wrong with rape as long as nobody knows about it, then it’s all right. The offender tells himself that if he doesn't rape the woman, she is probably going to sleep with her boyfriend anyway, and that’s the same thing.”  

When it comes to the law, Hadi believes that it is not just about how severe the sentence is for rape. “The speed at which the punishment is imposed is very important because this will serve to remind that the crime of rape is very wrong.”  

Hadi points out that currently there is a lapse of time between the offence and punishment. “Nowadays, there are people who wait for two years before sentencing. Sometimes the offender claims that he has changed – from being unemployed to being employed and from being a hooligan to being pious. This may influence the court when passing a sentence.”  

Hadi believes that the punishment meted out should stop people from committing rape. 

“The offender should feel the pain,” he said.  

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