We need to get serious about sexual crimes

One of my favourite pastimes is watching television dramas and I have a particular predisposition for British television dramas because I have always found them to be riveting and exciting.

I was recently watching the final episode of the first season of the latest British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) drama, Apple Tree Yard based on a book of the same name.

In the final episode, the protagonist of the show, Dr Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson) was torn to shreds by the lawyers of her co-accused and this has sparked a debate in the United Kingdom on how victims of sexual crimes always find themselves on the receiving end of haranguing and criticism despite the ordeal they have been through resulting in many women refusing the report crimes of a sexual nature.

Sexual crimes are not only a problem in Malaysia but also a concern in more developed societies as well. Sweden and Denmark, countries that are constantly rated as having the best quality of life, have the highest incidence of sexual crimes in Europe.

According to a parliamentary reply to Batu Kawan Member of Parliament (MP) in 2015 there have been 37, 263 rape cases, involving girls as young as six, reported between 2000 and 2015. This which means there is an average of eight rape cases reported daily in the country.

The shocking statistics showed more than half of the total rape cases were committed against minors between the ages of 13 and 15, with up to 16, 265 victims and followed closely behind by 10, 289 victims over the age of 18. Out of the 37,263 cases, 2,854 victims were sodomized while 4,739 were incest-rape cases.

The case of Richard Huckle, a British paedophile, who preyed on Malaysian children in an impoverished part of Kuala Lumpur shocked Malaysians and we were forced to confront the ugly truth that such incidents are happening in our own country.

We were rightly outraged and it brought to the fore one of the most inconvenient truths about sexual crimes and paedophilia; that is happens in Malaysia and such crimes are on the rise. Huckle was handed 23 life sentences to be served concurrently after he pleaded guilty to 71 counts of child sex offences by a British court.

Another case that has been dominating the headlines recently is the return of Selva Kumar, a serial rapist that was sentenced by the Canadian courts to imprisonment of 24-year years

Selva 57, went to Canada as a student in 1980 and his visa was extended after he was sponsored by a spouse. He was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women in the late 1980s and early 1990s while posing as a modelling agent, movie producer and professional dancer.

Sexual crimes are under-reported

According to the United States (USA) Department of Justice, only 30% of sexual crimes are reported and I am not sure of the numbers in Malaysia but I suspect it is under reported as well given the stigma attached to sexual crimes.

Many, trapped by conservative thinking, tend to blame the victim for the crime. India which has the highest incidence of sexual assaults in the world often sees politicians making remarks like “she asked for it.”

Such an approach is wrong and a complete and total injustice to victims of sexual crimes. A woman is sovereign and the way she speaks, dresses or acts can never be a justification for any form of sexual assault.

It is high time we acknowledge that the problem does not lie at all with the victims of sexual crimes and punish the perpetrators and not the victims.

Laws on sexual crimes needs to be re-examined

In Malaysia the law on rape requires amendments because only penetration by the penis is considered rape. Some years back, a man in Sarawak was acquitted on a rape charge by the Court of Appeal as he penetrated his victim with his fingers.

The USA Department of Justice defines rape as: “… the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This is a wider interpretation that will ensure justice for victims as any violation of the body of an individual must be treated as a sexual crime.

In the aftermath of the Huckle case, the Malaysian government has stated that there will introduce a new law to tackle cases of paedophilia, sexual crimes and violence against children and grooming of children for sex.

The current legal framework lacks the scope to protect children from sex crimes and Malaysia as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child must conform to its treaty obligations on protecting children.

Malaysia needs a sexual offenders register

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive and public sex offenders register. According to Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Nur Jazlan there is currently an unofficial sex offenders register maintained by the police.

Nur Jazlan has also called for an official sex offenders register and he said such a registry would alert the public on any sexual offender who might be in their midst such as in the same neighbourhood. He said the registry should be placed under the charge of the Royal Malaysian Police.

I wholeheartedly welcome Nur Jazlan’s suggestion and it is heartening to note he has taken such a progressive view on this issue. While some have argued that the rights of sex offenders, who have served their sentence, will be affected if their names appear on the list and they may also face discrimination; I for one have zero sympathy for any criminal.

Serving their sentence alone does not absolve one from a crime and every effort must be made to ensure they do not cause harm again. It would be foolish to allow a child sex offender to work with kids or a rapist to work for example as a caretaker of a women’s hostel. As such, the sexual offenders registry can be used to weed out potential criminals based on their antecedents.

I believe we must get serious on tackling sexual crimes and the steps I have detailed will ensure that we effectively confront this menace. If left unchecked, it can cause unimaginable damage to society.
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