Saving face: Protecting predators in education — Concerned Educators

MAY 21 — Teaching is a noble profession and Malaysian teachers are some of the most respected educators in the world1. This notion sets the perspective that a teacher, or any other adult in the education world for that matter, can do no wrong. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. As educators who have worked with both Malaysian and foreign education in Malaysian secondary schools across the country, we have seen many incidents of sexual harassment, indecent behaviour and assault in national secondary schools. When this happens to an adult, it is extremely upsetting. When it happens to our students, it is unforgivable.

As recent as several months ago, we encountered a case where secondary school students were asked to spend time alone with a male representative of a state education department (JPN) and his assistant. During this time, intimate, physical contact took place. As concerned educators, we did our best to gather evidence and testimonies from the victims and submitted these to the Ministry of Education (MoE). The tactless internal investigation resulted in the perpetrator getting hold of the investigation report2, exposing the victims and the informer, and MoE setting up a discussion session with the victims and perpetrators in the same room! The perpetrator got away with a slap on the wrist because the underage victims were intimidated by the thought of challenging a figure of authority, and didn’t want their schools and communities to view them as homosexual.

Given that we, as well as several other concerned colleagues put our jobs and careers at risk, we were outraged to see the MoE put the reputation of “one of its own” over the safety of our children. The same group of people who mandate the expulsion of anyone who engages in this predatorial, morally corrupt behaviour not only protected this monster, but they allowed, and to our knowledge are still currently allowing this man to continue serving as headmaster for a primary school!

This example is typical of how MoE resolves indecent behaviour, harassment, assault or abuse of power — perpetrators are cut off from their victims but not from the general student population. The heaviest punishment might be a transfer to a different school or a demotion. But generally, these types of men are invincible. With MoE’s overall main concern focused on upholding and protecting the reputation of “one of their own” as opposed to upholding their obligations to protect our students, they tend to avoid lawsuits by labeling these types of situations as “misunderstandings.” This process of avoidance could manifest in many subtle ways, but the most commonly observed from our end has been something to the effect of this:

1. Student approaches trusted educator to address an issue that makes them uncomfortable; or, an educator witnesses inappropriate conduct by another educator.

2. Concerned educator utilises the chain of command and is told to either “let it go,” or more commonly, that they are “misunderstanding the situation.”

3. Concerned educator reaches out to MoE to inform them of inappropriate behaviour being carried out by someone among their ranks. These MoE officers then relinquish control of the case over to their internal investigation team. (It has been, from our experience, during this investigation process that the accused is made aware of allegations. In one instance, the predator received a physical copy of paperwork, and was informed to reach out and “fix it” by a superior official).

4. In order to “save face,” the accused is afforded the opportunity to contact the accusers and explain to them how they misunderstood the situation. Often, he will assure them that they really don’t feel uncomfortable about it, and that the teacher is trying to cause drama. (In such cases where the victims are male, hypothetical scenarios such as “what if the school and your family finds out and thinks you’re gay?” have even been presented by trusted colleagues of the accused in order to dissuade further persecution through intimidation).

5. MoE official with some form of connection to the accused tells investigators to “make it all go away.” And it does. 

Hiding in plain sight

As one of the most respected professionals, the predators are able to get away with their crimes because they gain the trust of colleagues, parents and the community.  However, this trust lays the foundation for manipulation. In a 2018 Psychology Today UK article titled “The Stealthiest Predator,” Dr Wendy L. Patrick3 relays “social predators [charm their] way through personal and professional settings, using flattery and positive attention to win over those who will help [them] get ahead. These predators do not [always] violate the law; they [always] violate loyalty. They exploit their victims financially, reputationally, emotionally, and [in these particular instances,] sexually, carefully covering their tracks to avoid any ‘official’ wrongdoing. They seduce and discard a broad spectrum of trusting individuals.” In this case, the “broad spectrum of trusting individuals” could be anyone from a Form 1 student to a district education (PPD) officer. Predation knows no boundary.

On more than one instance, promises such as school reassignments and over-the-top flattery were observed. Conversations with junior teachers about sick loved ones were also commonplace. While the grieving, anxious teacher spills his or her heart and soul to a man they see as genuine and caring, the “stealthy predator” is collecting information to use for his benefit. With this false sense of hope, wonder, and security blinding his colleagues, most of which the predator holds some form of professional superiority over, it becomes easy for him to manipulate the thoughts of others in certain situations. But what happens when an issue that is too serious to sweep under the rug and ignore comes up? How will the predator assert his control not only over what his subordinates and colleagues think, but also how they act? The answer is, through fear.

Real life scenario

Perhaps a female teacher is approached by one of her male students who claims that a headmaster touched various parts of his body, and at one point, alluded to rubbing his penis. Or, perhaps a male teacher is approached by a female student who confides that another male teacher continuously breaks the no physical contact rule of school and Islam by repeatedly rubbing her back and shoulders in class. The concerned teacher, although appalled and saddened by what she/he hears, just cannot believe that the nice family man whom she/he laughs and jokes with could do such a thing.  However, the teacher follows the steps in accordance with the Malaysian Teacher’s Code of Ethics based on the Public Service Guidelines4.

As the code of ethics is disseminated by the MoE, one would think accusations such as this would be taken seriously, and the teacher who follows the reporting guidelines would be applauded. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen because the Public Service Guidelines serve as just another bureaucratic document. It defines harassment and inappropriate behaviours, shows the flow of complaints, how it affects the psychology of the victims, and how it can adversely impact the career of the accused.  However, it does not state how it could protect the victims and the informer from any form of intimidation or blackmail, and the most important of all, there are no consequences stated for perpetrators who are found guilty! Secondly, there are no mandatory child neglect and abuse reporting laws in Malaysia5. The lack of this legislation and the attempts to avoid ‘disrupting’ the career of the perpetrator result in a lackadaisical investigation. In many cases, a closed-door meeting is arranged in which the reporting teacher is confronted by the accused and representatives from the JPN, PPD, and MoE.

For the female teacher, she is forced to sit alone in a room full of men who prey on her societal status as a woman, and in this case, a woman bringing to light accusations that would be deemed unthinkable and despicable in any culture, but even more so in one rooted in the importance of reputation. The predators assure her the student misunderstood and misinterpreted what had happened, and instruct her to inform the boy that it will not happen again. They laugh and joke about how wild children’s imaginations can be. In some cases, the predators may even force the teacher to look at pictures of the accused’s family, because if a man is married, that means he could never be evil, right?

The intimidation and manipulation do not stop there. These men begin to berate her for even entertaining such an idea as the one she’s posed. The predators threaten her career, and even worse, her moral character and intelligence. The predators employ their universal rhetoric, which is almost always to the effect of “don’t you think if I were really like this, someone would have reported it in the past?” as a way to make the scared female teacher question herself and her concern for her student. The predators then accuse her of defamation and threaten her with legal action. They revel in the fact that they are able to incite fear, not only through professional and personal lenses, but a religious one, as well. “Would a true Muslim woman disobey her faith by falsely accusing a man in a position of authority of wrongdoing?” the predators may ask her. In the end, the concerned teacher is left with no other choice but to convince her male student to just drop and forget the whole thing, and to spend the rest of her career with a target on her back while the real monsters are able to save face.  For the concerned male teacher, perhaps the predators accuse him of salacious wrongdoing. “Why is it that this female student feels so comfortable coming to you and not a female teacher or counsellor?” they’ll ask, insinuating that he has also broken the code of ethics in some way. The male teacher is then also forced to persuade his student into dropping and forgetting it for fear that he will be blackmailed by a corrupt and immoral ministry.

You see, these monsters not only prey on our defenceless children, but they use their status as men in positions of authority, and skills in stealthy predation to manipulate and intimidate all of us caring and concerned educators through fear of personal and professional ruin. They are the most dangerous predators in society, but even more so in schools, and they continue to prey because the Ministry of Education, local PPDs and JPNs are only concerned with protecting themselves and their reputations. Or, even more realistically, because they too, have fallen victim to the tactics of this subtle, yet effective predator.

How our laws help predators

But what about the parents? Can’t they report these occurrences, or at least address the school? The parents can, but it has become more difficult. According a Star article “Ministry to Fine Tune Code of Ethics6,” teacher can look forward to being protected from parents and guardians once a code of ethics has been fine-tuned and approved by the Education Ministry. Granted, there are several scenarios in which an irate parent would attack a teacher over a poor mark, but how much of an overlap will this new code of ethics have when it comes to reporting and addressing the unthinkable crimes these predators commit every day? Who and what are really being protected here?  The article then goes onto relay that there are to be “no more incidents of teachers being hauled to court by parents or parents and guardians fighting with teachers,” upon which Mahadzir added, “the code is to protect the plight of teachers but more importantly, it is to ensure a harmonious environment in schools.” What is a harmonious environment? Is it one in which everyone is safe, or only the ones with power and authority? Is a “harmonious environment” one that “protects the plight” of overworked, underappreciated teachers, or the pension and reputation of the lazy, absentee ones?

Will it protect and nurture the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and growth of our future generations, or obstruct the justice system from bringing to light and prosecuting the evil wrongdoings of molesters, manipulators, thieves, and tyrants?  This code of ethics is not the only piece of legislature through which we empower these monsters. The Official Secrets Act of 1972, for example, is quite possibly the biggest enabler. According to Part 2 Interpretation, ‘“official secret” means any document specified in the Schedule and any information and material relating thereto and includes any other official document, information and material as may be classified as “Top Secret”, “Secret”, “Confidential” or “Restricted”, as the case may be, by a Minister, the Mentri Besar or Chief Minister of a State or such public officer appointed under section 2B” (pg. 7 of OSA).

According to Section 2B, Appointment of public officer to classify official document, etc., “A Minister, the Mentri Besar or the Chief Minister of a State may appoint any public officer by a certificate under his hand to classify any official document, information or material as “Top Secret”, “Secret”, “Confidential” or “Restricted”, as the case may be” (pg. 9 of OSA).

So how does this help predators? According to a November 16, 2016 article in Malaysiakini, “Classified data from the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) showed 12,987 cases of child sexual abuses between January 2012 and July of this year [2016]. Only 140 had been convicted from 2,189 charges. Apart from this vital information, there have been no other details on what happened to those who were convicted, or even for cases where there were no convictions. It is as though all this information has fallen into a black hole, intentionally.”7

While this data shows numbers, it does not, however, show number of people involved, nor any outcome of the cases where there were no convictions after charges had been filed. Even more disturbing, is the fact that in cases that did result in conviction, the information is still kept from the public. The reason? According to then- Assistant Commissioner Ong Chin Lan, head of the Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division of PDRM, the police “don’t want people to misinterpret and that the government doesn’t want to unduly alarm the public about possibly high numbers of child abuse cases.”8 So just to clarify, the government thinks it is more harmful to have an informed public who can protect themselves and their families, rather than a society susceptible to predation?

In fact, the way we as a society are conditioned by these laws to operate has not only made us susceptible to one another, but to the predatory tendencies of other nations, as well. In a November 14, 2016 article in the Straits Times, aptly titled “Paedophiles targeting Malaysia due to weak laws,” the gravity of this epidemic is highlighted through the horrific actions of Richard Huckle, a British tourist and paedophile. According to the article, “a British court handed Richard Huckle 22 life sentences for abusing up to 200 babies and children, mostly in Malaysia, and sharing images of his crimes on the dark web.”9 While deniers of this article will highlight the fact that this man is not Malay, therefore we cannot hold him to our standard, I must ask, who do you think was giving him access to these children? As the article states, the children were between the ages of “6 months to 12 years old.” Perhaps it was the school headmaster.  Perhaps it was a teacher. Perhaps it was the man at the nasi lemak stand outside your home. Perhaps it was the man in your home that you call husband and father. The fact is, because of these weak and vague laws, that seem to do nothing but protect certain individuals at the expense of less powerful ones, we may never know.  As if the cover-up aspect of these crimes is not egregious enough, “Malaysia does not have a law specifically prohibiting child pornography and defines rape narrowly as penile penetration. ‘Grooming’ — touching and befriending children as a prelude to sexual abuse — draws no legal penalties.” So, that previously mentioned headmaster who massages boys and talks to them about touching their genitals is technically not committing any crime. But, would you want to leave your children alone with him?  Potentially the most disturbing aspect of the Official Secrets Act, however, can be found in section 1 of Part 18, Power to Arrest. According the law, “If any person is found committing an offence under this Act or is reasonably suspected of having committed, or has attempted to commit, or is about to commit, such an offence, he may be arrested without a warrant” (pg. 21 of OSA).

Therefore, not only can a public officer, ranking as head of department or “ketua jabatan” choose to reclassify past-public information “Secret,” “Top Secret,” “Restricted,” or “Confidential,” but he can also arrest anyone he views is trying to obtain/divulge said information under rule of Official Secrets Act. He does not even need hard evidence or to prove intent, simply suspicion.

But, why?

A major theme throughout the Official Secrets Act is to deter and prevent anything that might be “prejudicial to the safety or interests of Malaysia.” That being said, I want us all, as Malaysians, to think about who and what brings more harm to the safety and interests of our nation: the education official who acts as a stealthy predator, hiding behind laws and well-connected friends while he abuses our children; or, the concerned educator who tries to do the right thing by making this knowledge public in order to protect his or her students, and other children of Malaysia from sick monsters? Are we more interested in actually being and living in a morally conscious society, or simply appearing that we do?

While the Official Secrets Act has received call for repeal, our current Prime Minister does not seem too keen on the idea. According to an August 27, 2018 article published in The Straits Times10, our current Prime Minister states that “The last government did not follow the rule of law. They did what they liked with the law. The main thing is to find a government that will not break the laws.”

Will this government’s definition of “not breaking the law” include prosecuting those who do, regardless of personal relationship and connection?

Slow to change

The truth is, we are failing our children. While we create laws that protect adults from other adults, we have been slow to enact preventive measures that protect children from adults. In fact, it took until 2017 for our nation to establish the Special Criminal Court on Sexual Crimes Against Children — “Believed to be the first of its kind in South-East Asia, the special court in Putrajaya was launched on June 22, 2017, to specifically execute justice against paedophiles and child sexual predators. Its second branch was set up in Kuching in April last year11.” What has taken us so long? Are we so blinded by loyalty and fear of reality that we waited until 2017 to address an issue that is surely far older than 2 years?

While the establishment of the special courts in Kucing and Putrajaya are a great step in the right direction, currently, no other states contain a special courts. This is problematic because the Special Criminal Court on Sexual Crimes Against Children is specifically designed “to provide more efficient and easy access to justice for victims.” Without an equal distribution of installations throughout the remaining states, specifically the more rural, conservative areas, where it is easier to make unfavourable actions of adults “go away,” our children could potentially continue to be victimised.  And that’s not to say that the courts already established in Kucing and Putrajaya are not working to put offenders behind bars. According to an April 29, 2019 Star article by Yuen Meikeng, at the time of publication, “A total of 173 child sexual abusers have been put behind bars by the special court handling sexual crimes against children since it was set up nearly two years ago. To date, the youngest victim was a seven-month-old baby while the oldest was 17.” 12 While this article makes no mention of the convicted perpetrators having any affiliation with the world of education, it also makes no mention that they did not. But, with the age range reflecting an array of victims from the daycare level to Form 5, is that really the point we should be focused on? Rather, let us join forces and focus our energy toward setting up more safety precautions for our children, such supporting as the special courts, and dangerous repercussions for those who violate them, such as prison. And we need not spend too much money to do so.

According to Bar Council child rights committee co-deputy chairman Ajeet Kaur, “Special courts can be set up within the premises of existing court complexes and do not involve expensive costs... All that is needed is a video-link room where the child is able to render evidence and a child-friendly waiting room.”

As opposed to a smoky backroom in a police station where ten of the predator’s friends in uniform are working to protect him, these spaces should include access to, and interactions with, not only legal personnel, but trained professionals such as an “investigating officer, paediatrician, psychiatrist, [and] social worker.” While access to technology and resources vary from state-to-state, each government facility should be equipped with, at the very least, an empty room to accommodate reporting victims in a way that encourages them to speak out against their attackers.

Call to action

It should be noted that we are highly aware that this article, the questions posed within, and especially the controversial topic will most likely go unaddressed by those who should be taking the most notice. However, we hope that parents, educators, and even students will take time to think about the scenarios and questions. The unfortunate reality is that the men and women in positions of power place the loyalty they have for one another over the loyalty they are supposed to show our children. To them, this is nothing more than politics and personal gain. While we cannot fault any individual for wanting to achieve personal success, we certainly can address them by the title they’ve now earned by enabling and excusing the manipulative nature of those predators around them: FOOLS. But, there are solutions to these problems. Here are some improvements we can all work toward:

On the macro level:

● A legislation needs to passed by the parliament to mandate reporting of children abuse by educators. There should be clear and real repercussions to the perpetrators. Victims and informers should be protected from perpetrators.

● The Public Service Guidelines for sexual offences need to be updated to include protection for victims and informers, and punishment for offences. Guidelines serve no purpose if they are merely as a suggestion or formality. It has to be enforceable. 

● MoE, JPN and PPD to get training on working with victims of sexual abuse.  Investigators need to understand and practice of strict CONFIDENTIALITY and the consequences of breaking them because incidents of leaked report are very common with all internal investigations within MoE. 

● MoE needs to treat this as an extremely serious violation and crime and therefore, should separate cases such as this from its regular disciplinary problems. 

● Creation of a special body to oversee cases of indecent behaviour, sexual harassment, and assault. Employees handling this matter need to exude confidence and trustworthiness for victims, parents and third-party informants to be willing to come forward. If resources are limited, outsource this to independent organisations or NGO who has expertise in this matter such as WAO, JKM*. We cannot have a regular desk officer with no knowledge of working with sexual assault victims to run investigations. 

● Disciplinary action for investigation officers breaking confidentiality. Severe punishment to be meted, including termination of job and jail time for the perpetrators.

On the school level:

● Administrators need to do away with strict conformity and educate students on when an instruction from an educator can be inappropriate. Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat runs such workshop for schools. 

● Counsellors receive specialised training for dealing with victims of sexual/physical/emotional abuse. 

● Parents need to learn about symptoms of harassment and assault, and to have access to appropriate resources should incidents such as this happen to their children.

DON’T BE FOOLS, PROTECT OUR SCHOOLS!

Childline Malaysia — 03- 5569 2755 / http://www.mctf.org.my/childline/ Women’s Aid Organisation — 03-7956 3488 / https://wao.org.my/ *Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat — Despite the word kebajikan , the scope of their work includes overseeing welfare of children under the age of 18, including cases of sexual harassment and assault. They have an office in every state.

Head office: 03-2612 4000 / http://www.jkm.gov.my/Concerned Educators

Footnotes:

1 List of countries where teachers are the most respected:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2018/11/15/where-world-are-teachers-most-respected-not-us-new-survey-shows/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b5b0f017f936

2 Violating the third party confidentiality in the Garis Panduan Pengendalian Kes Gangguan Seksual di Tempat Kerja

(Bil.5/2018),8.2.

Additional ref:   Example of Kod Etika Perguruan (Peraturan 4A) module by Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Pendidikan teknik. From: http://ipgkpt.edu.my/kdc per cent20interim/2017/modul/Tajuk per cent204EtikaGuru.pdf

3 Psychology Today UK. Patrick, W. The Stealthiest Predator. Published 1 May 2018. From https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/articles/201805/the-stealthiest-predator

4 “sekiranya seseorang mempunyai maklumat atau menjadi saksi kepada perlakuan gangguan seksual yang berlaku ke atas atau dilakukan oleh seorang Pegawai Awam, orang tersebut boleh membuat aduan kepada Unit Integriti di Jabatan yang berkaitan” Section 8.2, pg 18. Guideline for Sexual Offences for Public Servants (Surat Pekeliling No.5/2018) by Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam https://www.kpwkm.gov.my/kpwkm/uploads/files/Muat per cent20Turun/2018/Pekeliling per cent20PP per cent205 per cent202018 per cent20Gangguan per cent20Seksual per cent20di per cent20Pejabat.pdf

5 Wan Yuen Choo et al. (2013) Are Malaysian Teachers Ready to Assume the Duties of Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect? From: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/car.2241

6 The Star. Ministry to Fine Tune Code of Ethics. Published 18 March 2018. From:

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2018/03/18/ministry-to-fine-tune-code-of-ethics/

7 Malaysiakini. Why is info on child sexual violence hidden under the OSA? Published 16 November 2016. From:

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/363071

8 Refer to Footnote 7.

9 The Straits Times. Pedophiles targeting Malaysia due to weak laws. Published 14 November 2016.

From:    https://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/11/188502/paedophiles-targeting-malaysia-due-weak-laws

10 The Straits Time. Official Secrets Act to stay, says Malaysian PM. Published 27 August 2018. From:

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/official-secrets-act-to-stay-says-malaysian-pm-mahathir

11 The Star. Set Up Special Court Branches Quickly Urge Groups. Paragraph 2, 4-5, 7-8, 15. From:

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/04/29/set-up-special-court-branches-quickly-urge-groups/#9mkQzRkXCqBARyty.03

12 The Star. 173 Abusers Put Behind Bars. Paragraph 1. From:

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/04/29/173-abusers-put-behind-bars/#1hUHQXGrfpEk5VwQ.99

How Malaysia Allows Child Abuse To Go Unpunished

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-sexcrimes-insight/how-malaysia-allows-child-abuse-to-go-unpunished-idUSKBN1390AT

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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