Breaking the silence on child sexual abuse

APRIL 10 ― Daphne Iking recently made a call for authorities to shut down or block access to a Wordpress page which depicted fantasies and stories of rape, incest and sexual abuse of children. Written in Bahasa Malaysia and active since 2013, the contents of this page Pancut Dalam Awek are symptomatic of a major problem in our country: the problem of child sexual abuse and the conspiracy of silence which surrounds it.

Make no mistake. This is an ongoing problem and there is denial, tolerance and even acceptance of this issue to the extent that it has become endemic in our society.

There is something rotten in our society if we can tolerate and even accept adults having sex with children. Yet, this is a common fantasy among many men which when realised with actual children (as opposed to adults play-acting as children) constitutes a form of abuse that is beyond the pale.

According to the Department of Women Development under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, one in three women and girls in Malaysia have or will experience some form of abuse or violence in her lifetime. For many, this experience begins much earlier in life.

Statistics from the Royal Malaysian Police indicate that 10 women and girls are sexually assaulted each day. Every 2.5 hours somewhere in Malaysia, a woman or girl is raped.

According to the RMP’s Sexual Crimes Unit, 50 per cent of these cases, which includes rape, involve children below the age of 16. These do not include situations where the rape survivor was married off to the rapist, a situation not uncommon in this day and age in this country.

Child sexual abuse is also not only about physical contact. It could include non-contact abuse, such as exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography.

A child who experiences sexual abuse over long periods will usually develop low levels of self-esteem and a feeling of worthlessness. It is not uncommon for them to also develop an abnormal or distorted view of the act of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful, especially of adults. They can also become suicidal.

It can be family members and close relatives who become perpetrators of sexual abuse. Grandfathers, uncles, brothers even mothers and aunts (yes, boys can get abused too).

It is often the case that when the perpetrator is found out, the fault is sometimes placed on the child regardless of how absurd that may be (for example, an eight-year-old seducing a 23-year-old man).

This must be made clear. When they have been abused, it is never the fault of the child. The blame and guilt must always lie with the abuser.

It is a reality that childhood sexual abuse happens far more frequently than we believe, or previously wanted to believe.

Many victims and survivors continue to silently live their childhoods through such abuse each day and find solace and escape only in adulthood. There are many women in Malaysia who live their entire lives with a childhood of sexual abuse that many would rather forget.

When looking at the official statistics of successful convictions in Malaysia, it is a sobering reality to realise that rape and sexual abuse, especially if it involves a child, is seemingly a crime that is committed with impunity, where perpetrators often escape being prosecuted under the law. There is clearly something wrong with the system.

Children as young as three and four have become prey for predators, and are described in vivid and explicit detail in the pages of the site which Daphne is campaigning to have blocked and shut down.

I suggest that you read some of the stories contained within this site. In order for us to recognise the abhorrent and repugnant behaviour which is being condemned and needing to be prevented, we must first know what we are talking about. Very few people I have spoken to, cannot but help be repelled by the acts being described with children who are barely old enough to learn their ABCs and 123s.

As of the writing of this column, the page Pancut Dalam Awek remains accessible and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) appears to be either indifferent or sluggish in its response to Daphne’s call to action. Of late, we have seen the MCMC demonstrate its abilities to move with warp speed and unholy haste so we know that the commission is able to do what is necessary when it wants to.

The sad reality is that there are many other such sites catering to the local crowd which exist on the Internet. The shutting down of this one site will just mean that they will shift their appetites elsewhere.

However, abuse thrives on secrecy and our silence. We need to condemn the existence of such sites which serve to give tolerance and normalise abuse. By blocking and shutting down this page, maybe we can send a message that it is time to break the silence surrounding child sexual abuse in our country.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.