Sexual abuse: Pandelela’s revelation is a wake-up call

Raise awareness of sexual abuse and violence among officials and increase the protection for survivors

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JUAN PABLO SERRANO ARENAS/ PEXELS

The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) is utterly shocked by national diver Pandelela Rinong’s revelation in her tweet over lewd jokes by a former coach and that she was bullied for speaking up.

Anybody who has followed such cases would know that, for the victim, often there is a very real fear of retaliation (if the perpetrator is someone in power), a feeling of self-blame and shame, a lack of understanding or a lack of access to a safe means of reporting the act. Or that there is a lack of confidence that their report will be taken seriously.

Hence, there is an urgent need for sexual harassment policies to be enacted and enforced. But having laws alone will not be enough, as we all know how enforcement is a problem in Malaysia.

Indeed, without even waiting for such laws to come into effect, clear and safe redress mechanisms are needed to address such reports, including providing expert counselling services for survivors.

Gerak calls on all ministries and government agencies to immediately take every report of sexual abuse and violence seriously through thorough investigations.

Gerak also urges this government to ensure all government officials are from now on regularly schooled on issues related to sexual abuse and violence by compulsorily mandating their attendance at awareness training sessions.

This is one of the reforms which Gerak has long been advocating. Thus, Gerak would like to remind the Ministry of Higher Education to immediately implement this reform to provide a safe environment in all institutions of higher learning.

All universities need to have clear sexual harassment policies and redress mechanisms in place. These must be disseminated widely and, more importantly, enforced.

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Gerak believes our universities have failed miserably in this regard, and that the Ministry of Higher Education has been disappointingly inert.

There have been reported cases of universities evidently protecting the perpetrators instead of taking action against them. In one case, the victim made a police report but was asked by the vice-chancellor, no less, to retract the report.

It is high time that Malaysian MPs take the Sexual Harassment Bill seriously and that its tabling should not be delayed any further.

Justice must be provided for all survivors of sexual abuse and violence; many of whom have been suffering in silence and in fear, even for years.

Gerak stands together with Pandelela and all other survivors who seek justice and closure for their harrowing ordeal.

Gerak believes that whenever they are ready, survivors should not be discouraged from speaking.

We, together, must raise awareness of sexual harassment, abuse and violence – painful issues that have been swept under the carpet for far too long. – Gerak

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