PETALING JAYA - The brickbats hurled at former Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) CEO Cheryl Yeoh after she spoke out about being sexually assaulted illustrates the backlash women face when they decide to complain, say several women's groups.
Women's Centre for Change Penang executive director Loh Cheng Kooi said she was "appalled" that people were blaming Yeoh for the incident.
"The public needs to support victims of sexual crimes and not dampen their spirit," she said.
On Monday, Yeoh wrote on her blog that she was sexually assaulted by 500 Startups co-founder and CEO Dave McClure three years ago.
In her post, Yeoh said she decided to speak out now because McClure - who has resigned from 500 Startups in the wake of similar allegations by other women - had allegedly received sympathetic messages from members of the technology community after he posted a blog entry titled, "I'm a Creep. I'm Sorry."
Shockingly, McClure received messages consoling him.
After Yeoh's post went viral, there were many messages of support for her, but there were also others casting aspersion and doubt against her.
"We need to change the way society thinks about sexual assault and victims. We must not tolerate the objectifying of women, and support victims irrespective of when they disclose the incidents," Loh said.
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) communications officer Tan Heang Lee said research showed that false reporting of sexual assault is very rare.
"In fact, sexual assault is greatly under-reported," she added.
Betty Yeoh from All Women's Action Society (Awam) said the lack of "proper mechanisms and social structures that are gender sensitive" was among the many reasons why victims are reluctant to report sexual assaults.
For example, she claimed that when victims make a police report, they are often asked if they "did anything" to invite such assaults.
"Some victims also say that officers taking down their report often don't believe their accounts," she said.
Yeoh said victims felt vulnerable as they are afraid of what the perpetrator might do or say to discredit them, afraid of what the public might think, afraid of having their privacy invaded or having their jobs affected.
"This is especially true for single mothers, people with disabilities or those who are dependent on the perpetrator for their livelihood," she said.