Sugar relationships: Issue is about cohabitation, not prostitution — Puthan Perumal

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FEBRUARY 20 — The news of the recent arrest of the founder of a dating website has caused much debate to say the least. Some from the religious lenses, and some from a more liberal view.

If there is any hint of the existence of the element of force or abuse or violence, trust me, I would be first in line to agree to the closure of such activities.

However, in my humble opinion, to go under the umbrella of making statements conducing to public mischief, exploiting any person for the purpose of prostitution, soliciting for the purposes of prostitution, is a shot in the dark to say the least. With these not being able to see the light of day, the charges for improper use of network facilities would inevitably fall as well.

Firstly, the making of statements conducing to public mischief (section 505(b) Penal Code) relate to intent to cause, or which his likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public where by any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity. Person induced to commit what offence? I do not see one.

Secondly, exploiting any person for the purpose of prostitution (in this case section 372(1)(d) of Penal Code) relate to wrongfully restraining any person in any place with such intention that the person will be used or employed for the purpose of prostitution or of having sexual intercourse with any other person. The first element of wrongful restraint seems to be missing.

Same goes for soliciting for the purpose of prostitution (in this case 372B of Penal Code). It relates to the purpose of prostitution or any immoral purpose in any place. Perhaps this is where the important query is triggered: what is this ‘any immoral purpose’?

The Sugarbook dating application is seen on a phone screen in Kuala Lumpur February 18, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
The Sugarbook dating application is seen on a phone screen in Kuala Lumpur February 18, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

This brings me to the point of this article.

As I see it, what the policing authorities are intending to do is actually to protect vulnerable girls, I would think. For that, it must be applauded.

However, they may be me clouded with the concept of voluntary cohabitation, as opposed to involuntary prostitution or being forced to have sexual intercourse.

On 25th July 2017, it was reported:

“The Domestic Violence Act will only protect victims who are legally wedded and not cohabiting couples who suffer abuse at their lover’s’ hands, Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim confirmed today.

The women, family and community development minister said those unmarried victims of home violence could instead seek recourse under the Penal Code.

“The protection under this Act only applies to couples of de facto husband and wife, which is those who have gone through the marriage ceremony; this Act does not apply to couples that don’t have marriage ties even though they have intimate relations.

“Although these couples are not protected under this Act, reports on the perpetrator’s violence can be lodged by the victim and the perpetrator can be punished under the Penal Code such as Section 323 and Section 324 and so on,” she said in the Dewan Rakyat.

Rohani expressed concern over the “effectiveness” of the Domestic Violence Act if the definition of households became too wide.

“If we open it up too wide, later we can’t cope, so let it be like this for now. For this [Act], it is for married couples and whoever had marriage ceremonies.

“But there are many who mentioned boyfriend, girlfriend, I think we are unable to include it in this amendment. And if there is any need, we will see in the time to come, because for now we focus on those who are legally recognised,” she said in her winding-up speech after debates on proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act.”

There you have it. Our then minister said it in Parliament. It is a fact that there are cohabiting couples having intimate relations. No mention of it being unlawful. All that the then minister said was such cohabiting women cannot be protected under the Domestic Violence Act, for the moment. That was in 2017.

Therefore, it becomes clear now that while Parliament itself do not make cohabitating an offence, the police should not extend into private matters, even though their intention may be to protect the vulnerable.

When two people cohabitate, there will definitely be financial matters to be discussed. Just like in a household, the groceries have to be bought. Utility bills have to be paid. Cars do not run on water. Gardeners sometimes need to be hired. Clothes need to be bought.

In the end, the proper body to protect these girls in such situations should be Parliament by amending the Domestic Violence Act to include cohabiters as persons who are entitled to protection of the law. As we saw earlier, even our then minister had said in Parliament that for now, unmarried victims of home violence could instead seek recourse under the Penal Code. It is at this juncture where the police should step in. Apart from violence and abuse, the police, with all due respect, have no business whatsoever in anyone’s house.

While we understand that the current women affairs minister may be busy beautifying herself, which is paying off by the way, perhaps she could also look into these amendments to protect cohabiters.

Now, one would wonder, what is the Sugarbaby dating app or the person behind it guilty of other than making introductions?

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

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