Sunday, August 08, 2010

EMPOWER: - Knee Jerk Responses do not solve sexual crimes

2 August 2010
Dear Editor,
Knee Jerk Responses do not solve sexual crimes
EMPOWER is disturbed by Karpal Singh's suggestion to have death penalty for child rapists. Ending death penalty has always been a call by the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and it is worrying to know that one of its top leaders is backtracking on such a basic human rights principle. Karpal Singh has to retract his statement and call for an end to death penalty.
The reaction by Karpal Singh also raise a grave concern on how “policy makers” view solutions to sexual crimes and other serious crimes. Empower believes that Karpal’s call to end sexual crimes against children by passing death penalty on the offender is a narrow knee jerk reaction to a crime that demands for more long term solutions. Time and again when serious sexual crimes are reported, there is a tendency to suggest "a tooth for a tooth" solution. But will this really solve crimes? If it does, then how do we explain Malaysia's drug problems - death by hanging - but the numbers have not decreased or disappeared. Heavier punishment has really not proved to end crime and violence.
 So please - let us have a more committed, comprehensive and sustainable approach towards ending sexual crimes.
 Between 2005-2007, a three-year research on sexual crime was conducted by the Women's Centre for Change Penang. The findings of this study showed that "45% of court cases in a sample of 439 cases did not go to full triall and of the contested cases that were heard in full, only 4% resulted in a conviction". So even if we do use death penalty as a punishment, the hard reality is that very few rapists will be sent to the gallows, unless they are caught red handed as is the case of the bus driver raping the school girl in front of her friends.
Most cases which appear in the media are reported cases. Research has shown that the vast majority of sex offences are never reported, let alone the offender tried and convicted. We also forget that sexual crimes are not always committed by strangers but by persons whom the victims know and/or love - their fathers, uncles, persons in authority (e.g. teachers, religious instructors, police). If there is a heavy penalty, such as death, the victims will not want to report. Who would want to send their own fathers, uncles, brothers to the electric chair or hanged?
 Putting an end to sexual crime, therefore, goes beyond just reforming the criminal justice system.
Empower believes that the continued existence of sexual crimes is really due to a flawed and unsupportive judiciary and executive system where it has failed to bring about justice to victims of violence. The WCC's research also showed that 48% of the cases took over a year to complete their trial, and with 18% of the cases taking more than 2 years. There has been little actions taken to improve the poor collection of forensic evidences, lack of witnesses, "cold" cases" due to late reporting and/or lack of evidences, and the long waiting trial period – these have dampened reporting and hence victims’ access to justice.
The prevailing negative attitudes held by society, family and friends against the victims leave very little legal and psychological support for them. Rape victims being branded as "spoilt", her fault as she enticed the rapist with her dressing, have gravely added to unsupportive responses by family, friends and enforcement agencies. Such attitudes are grounded in the manner in which women and children are treated - weak, subordinate and therefore they are meant to satisfy sexual urges of the males (in most sexual crimes, women and children formed the majority of the abused). Such attitudes must be transformed.
Empower feels that it is about time that the authorities take the necessary steps to develop a long term and sustained effort to combat sexual crimes. Some of them include:
 Reforming the judiciary and the executive system
1. Ensure effective collection of forensic evidences.
2. Develop gender sensitive support services for victims of sexual crimes. Having shelters, half-way houses, drop-in centres, may not be sufficient if the social workers or counsellors do not understand why sexual crimes happen
2.  Implement offenders' programmes aim to prevent violence by changing the attitudes and behaviour through individual counselling, case management, and group programmes. Programs may be court-mandated or voluntary. This means providing training to social welfare counsellors and/or police officers who will be able to conduct the offenders' programmes.
3.  Monitoring and intensive supervision of those offenders who are at highest risk of re-offense. While this is limited to reported cases and is still a controversial issue but nevertheless it has to be discussed where a mechanism can be developed to track repeat offenders.
4.  Government needs to mandate for professional development for judicial and law enforcement personnel, and other professionals within the legal sector. Gender sensitising programmes need to be conducted on a yearly basis to include changes in personnel. This will help change mindset towards a more positive and supportive attitude for victims of violence.

5.  Changing attitudes
If the long term goal is to eradicate violence, then the government agencies and implementators need to fully understand why violence occurs in the first place. In Australia, under the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigeneous Affairs, they have emphasised on changing the attitudes and behaviours of individuals, emphasising the way people operate in relationships and families, the way they engage as communities, and how social structures and institutions are regulated and these were viewed as the most effective ways to combat violence.
Last of all and a need to underscore this recommendation is to bring about a longer term action by teaching respectful relationship and sex education at schools, beginning from kindergartens with teaching children about good and bad touch. Such insterventions will not only save lives but reduce, if not eliminate, sexual violence. Presently, the piecemeal introduction of sex education at schools is not sufficient and will not end sexual violence. The policy has failed to understand that sexual violence is due to a deep and engrained perception and values about unequal power relationships, where women and children are treated as chattels, inferior and dependants. .It is not just about physical violence and sex.
 At the end of the day, any attempts to transform and end sexual violence must ask the question: will the action bring about prevention of future sexual crimes? 
Maria Chin Abdullah
Executive Director

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