Defence minister’s statement on abuse welcomed, but six urgent actions needed

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Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

On Sunday, 12 April, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob encouraged domestic violence survivors to contact the Talian Kasih hotline and announced that the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and the police are working together to respond to domestic violence during the movement control order.

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) welcomes the minister’s statement and urges the government to take six critical actions to ensure that this response is implemented effectively.

First, the government should issue standard operating procedures for responding to domestic violence during the movement control order. This would improve coordination among all relevant agencies and, in turn, ensure that survivors do not fall through the cracks.

Second, the government must ensure that survivors can obtain court-issued interim protection orders during the movement control order. Interim protection orders are critical for the protection of survivors, as these orders send a warning to perpetrators that they must stop their abuse or else risk being arrested. With reduced court operations, however, it is unclear how survivors are to obtain interim protection orders.

Hence, the courts should include the application for interim protectoin orders, as well as action against their breach, in the court’s list of essential services.

Third, the government must carry out more public service announcements about domestic violence. Such announcements should not only inform survivors about how to get help but also send the message that there is no excuse for abuse.

Fourth, the government must deploy sufficient personnel and resources to ensure the response to domestic violence is effective. For example, Talian Kasih must be resourced with adequate personnel to manage the notable increase in calls. Some survivors have reported that they had not been able to reach Talian Kasih possibly due to the high volume of calls.

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The government should also designate certain social welfare officers with the task of responding to domestic violence cases and relieve them from food distribution duties.

Fifth, the government should improve the availability of temporary shelters and make them an essential service. Shelters are a lifeline to survivors, yet they are sorely lacking in Malaysia. International best practices recommend a minimum of one family place in a women’s shelter per 10,000 people, but Malaysia only has an estimated one family place per 72,538 people.

The WAO runs the largest domestic violence shelter in Malaysia, but our shelter is currently at maximum capacity. Survivors have contacted the WAO, asking for shelter, and we have been unable to place them anywhere. Some survivors have resorted to sleeping in their cars, only to be caught by the police.

In these urgent times, we urge the government to set up temporary shelters in places such as hotels and hostels to accommodate the rising need for shelter. The government can also collaborate with the private sector in providing shelter.

Sixth, the government should ensure that financial aid reaches domestic violence survivors.

The recently announced Bantuan Prihatin National (National Caring Assistance), the bulk of which goes to households, does not reach domestic violence survivors who have no access to household finances or are in the process of getting a divorce.

Hence, we recommend that the government allows survivors who would otherwise be ineligible to apply for these benefits with a supporting letter from a gazetted shelter or other designated organisation.

The government must also make it clear in the Bantuan Prihatin National application process that either adult qualifies as the household representative.

READ MORE:  SIS urges ministry to protect women and children

These six critical actions will help ensure that survivors receive adequate support when they take the brave step of reaching out for help.

To survivors out there, you can contact Talian Kasih at 15999 or through WhatsApp at 019 261 5999. You can also contact the 24-hour WAO Hotline at 03 7956 3488 or through WhatsApp at 018 9888 058.

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