Break the silence

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Burung Pipit calls on Malaysians to act now and put a stop to violence against women. We must be part of the struggle. Together we can make a difference. 

  

  • He wraps one end of a blanket around her neck and throws the other end of the blanket around the ceiling fan. Her parents are locked in the bedroom they are screaming for help. Her 3-year-old son is in front of her, speechless with fear. He continues to try and strangle her, further twisting the blanket around a stick as he presses down on her neck. He is her husband.


  • He grabs hold of her toddler son. He holds the child upside down over a monsoon drain, threatening to drop the child into the drain. She screams hysterically for help. She pleads with him. She asks him what he wants. He replies, “I want you to die.” He is her husband.


  • He has stayed out overnight gambling. He comes home midmorning the next day. She follows him into the kitchen demanding to know why he is wasting their money. He backhands her. She falls to the ground. He presses the kitchen stool legs onto her face, into her eyes. He is her husband.


  • He is away months at a time for ‘business’. She does not know where he has gone. He comes home for a few days in between each trip. He watches pornographic CDs and demands that they have sex the same way. She has never known sex to be painless. He threatens to take her son away if she does not comply. He is her husband.

These are real stories. They are just some examples of domestic violence taking place every day in homes and neighbourhoods in our country. None of these women made a police report. None of them had heard about the Domestic Violent Act.

The Domestic Violence Act

The Domestic Violence Act (DVA) of course was passed in 1994 and implemented in 1996. It was the result of a long campaign by concerned citizens and groups. The Act sends a strong message to the community that domestic violence will not be condoned under any circumstance and, more than that, is a crime punishable by the full force of the law. We say ‘of course’ but actually not nearly enough people know about it, and certainly not nearly enough women who are suffering daily domestic violence. How many people know that the Act exists or what it states? 

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The Act recognises domestic violence as

            a) willfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, the victim in fear of physical injury;

            b) causing physical injury to the victim by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in physical injury;

            c)compelling the victim by force or threat to engage in any conduct or act, sexual or otherwise, from

which the victim has a right to abstain;

            d) confining or detaining the victim against the victim’s will; or

            e) causing mischief or destruction or damage to property with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause distress or annoyance to the victim

The Act is applicable to all Malaysians and protects the spouse, former spouse, a child, incapacitated adult or any other member of the family (adult son or daughter, father, mother, brother sister or any other relative).

Reporting Domestic Violence in Malaysia

 

Figure 1: Reports of domestic violence cases in Malaysia between 2000-2005

 

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

Police

3,468

3,107

2,755

2,555

3,101

3,093

            Source: Royal Malaysian Police

Figure 1 shows the number of domestic violence cases reported to the police. Statistics show that on average, the police receive 3,000 reports of domestic violence annually. This translates into approximately eight cases of domestic violence reported daily nationwide. This of course is not the actual incidence of domestic violence in the country but merely the cases reported to the police.

Picking up on the ‘drop’ in domestic violence reports between 2000 and 2004, the recently submitted report from the Malaysian Government to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, claims it is because of  “the successful awareness campaigns as well as other programmes against violence which were taken by the Government especially through the Ministry of Women and Family Development”.  How nice if this were true, but there may well be other factors we should be not only paying attention to but also be worried about.

At least half the women suffering do not report?

Research both in Malaysia and around the world indicates that when it comes to domestic violence, there is serious under-reporting. For example, the Women’s Centre for Change in Penang (WCC) sees on average 80 cases of domestic violence a year. According to their 2005 statistics, of the total number of clients reporting domestic violence to WCC’s counsellors, 52.4 per cent made a police report. This means that 47.6 per cent (almost half) of the women who experienced domestic violence did not make a police report. And these are women who are already ‘brave’ enough to come to WCC. There are very, very many who don’t seek help from anywhere.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently published their findings on a multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women (2005). The study was conducted via detailed interviews with 24,000 women from 10 countries. One of the areas investigated was women’s responses to physical violence by an intimate partner. Findings showed that whether from urban or rural areas, the majority (between 55 per cent and 95 per cent) of women who had been physically abused had never sought help from formal services or people in positions of authority, including police, health services, legal advice, shelters, women’s non governmental organisations, local leaders and/or religious leaders.

Why is domestic violence not reported?

There are many reasons why women do not report domestic violence. The recent WHO Study reported the prevalence of the following reasons: the woman
•    was afraid of bringing shame on her family;
•    was embarrassed or afraid of being blamed or not believed;
•    was afraid of the consequences i.e. more violence, or that she would lose her children;
•    believed that the violence was normal or not serious.

The story is similar here in Malaysia. Staff at WCC report that the women seeking help feel ashamed, bewildered, shocked, scared and upset at the violent episodes they have experienced. And yet many have said that they ‘don’t want to make a big issue out of it’. Others state that they ‘don’t want my husband to go to jail’. Some seem to think that the violence is acceptable: ‘memang laki macam tu lah (men are like that)’. And of course many of these women (and their spouses) are unaware of the DVA, and of the possibility for example of applying for an interim protection order.

So what can be done?

We cannot be complacent about domestic violence. It is good the reported figures are available; but we should be wary of using them to infer any trend or ‘success’. What we have is a situation where we know that domestic violence crimes are taking place every day, every hour, in homes around the country. And we know the reasons why women are unwilling or unable to come forward and get the help they need to stop the violence.  

For things to change, there are two major things that all of us need to be involved with.

First, let people know that there is a law and there are steps that can be taken to protect themselves against domestic violence. In other words, tell your friends, your community, your colleagues at work about the Domestic Violence Act and how/where to go to make a report. In particular, tell anyone you think who may be suffering or who may know someone who is suffering from domestic violence. If we don’t make even the basic information available, we are allowing the suffering caused by domestic violence to go on.

Second, we know that even where the information is known, many women (and men, and families) will still avoid making a report, for the reasons mentioned above. So we need to work on breaking the taboos and the stigmas that exist in our societies, which keeps women mute and allows them to continue to suffer. Men and women must be involved in challenging the attitude and the perception that somehow it is better for abuse to occur than to report it and to seek protection from it. Along with this, we must continue to work to ensure that the Act does cover the incidences of abuse and does provide proper protection, and that its implementation is done without fear or favour.

Together we can make a difference. Be part of the struggle to help break the silence about domestic violence. Help eradicate this silent crime affecting thousands of women in our society.

Useful Contacts:

  • All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)    03-78770224
  • Pejabat Pembangunan Wanita Kelantan    09-7741005
  • Pejabat Pembangunan Wanita Terengganu    09-6203341
  • Perak Women for Women(PWW)    016-5374957
  • Pertubuhan Kesedaran Wanita Kedah (PKKW)    013-4131205
  • Sabah Women’s Action Resources Group (SAWO)    088-269291
  • Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)    082-423642
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)    03-79606121
  • Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)    03-79563488
  • Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)    04-2280342
  • Women In Action (WIN)    06-2810230

 

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