KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — Women can still experience sexual harassment during the movement control order (MCO) including when they are on the road or shopping alone, All Women’s Action Society (Awam) said today as it provided safety tips for such situations.

Awam highlighted a recent case of alleged sexual harassment which it was alerted of an enforcement officer allegedly used vulgar slang at a checkpoint, noting that this was on top of an increase in the alleged use of sexist language on social media during the MCO period.

Awam described the alleged incident as purportedly involving abuse of power by an official.

“The abuse of power in the alleged sexual harassment case above has left the survivor extremely traumatised. Worse, the survivor is also afraid and unsure of how to make a report under the unusual circumstances of the MCO,” Awam said in a statement of the alleged incident.

While acknowledging a huge sense of gratitude to all Covid-19 frontliners in all sectors such as health, hygiene, food aid, mental health aid, domestic violence support, the police and the army, Awam said that it has to be remembered that frontliners are “human too, and will also sometimes crack under stress and react in anger and/or an upsetting manner”. 

“However there are limits in how people should react under duress, especially when they are in the position of power. Authority tips the scales in favour of the police and the army, and thus they have the responsibility to ensure that the power is not abused,” it said.

Awam pointed out that sexual harassment can happen anywhere and can be perpetrated by anyone, and can happen in multiple forms.

“Sexual harassment refers to an unwanted or unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature, and may be committed physically, verbally, non-verbally, psychologically and/or visually, which can or may cause the person being harassed to feel humiliated, offended or threatened,” it said.

Tips to stay safe when driving alone. — Picture courtesy of All Women's Action Society (Awam)
Tips to stay safe when driving alone. — Picture courtesy of All Women's Action Society (Awam)

How to stay safe for women out there alone

Noting that Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador had warned the public against taking photographs and videos of police officers at roadblocks with intention to create a negative perception, Awam urged those who have survived sexual harassment or their friends against posting such photos online.

Awam said sexual harassment survivors or their friends should instead submit these photographs as evidence when they lodge a report with the police or when they inform any non-governmental organisations.

Awam said it was happy to work with the police in any way possible to ensure that sexual harassment cases do not happen.

The group also provided quick tips for women to stay safe while driving or shopping alone during the MCO period, including by ensuring their mobile phones were adequately charged and by having emergency contacts readily available, and by taking down details of the sexual harassment incident such as location, time and other memories before reporting it to the police or to Awam.

Awam said anyone facing sexual harassment could contact Awam through its helpline 016-237-4221 or via email at [email protected].

Among measures imposed during the MCO period to slow the spread of Covid-19 are having Malaysians stay at home except for essential activities, and having only one person drive out when going out for matters such as getting groceries.

During the MCO period, women groups have continued to offer aid and operate hotlines for women who may be at higher risk or more vulnerable to harm such as domestic violence.

Tips to stay safe when shopping alone. — Picture courtesy of All Women's Action Society (Awam)
Tips to stay safe when shopping alone. — Picture courtesy of All Women's Action Society (Awam)