Society's view of rape still a problem, say activists in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA - Women's organisations expressed their concern over society's view of rape and how it affects victims.

"I think the way society views rape is still very problematic. There are still a lot of myths which we need to address," said assistant programme manager at All Women's Action Society (Awam) Lee Wei San.

Lee said that there's still a lot of victim blaming where members of society claim that the victim was "asking for it" by the way they dress or act.

"Women can still get raped when they are wearing school uniforms or tudungs, whether you're a child or a grandmother. It doesn't matter how you're dressed," said Lee.

"It is due to these misconceptions that victims are resistant in talking about what they faced or getting help," she said.

"Saying that men aren't able to control their sexual desires is completely ridiculous. Men are not animals. We believe that men have the capacity to be responsible for his actions and think rationally," said Lee.

Blaming the victim for being raped feeds into the culture of women not reporting because women are afraid that they'd be blamed for what happened to them and be labelled as being "impure".

There's also a misconception that if a woman doesn't have any physical injuries, it's not a genuine case of rape.

Lee said that this feeds into the myth that women have to be fighting back during the rape and if she didn't it means that she wanted it.

"The victim may be overcome with fear to do anything. There are situations where victims can just be overpowered or restrained and unable to fight their rapists," said Lee.

She cites the horrific case in India where a woman died after being gang-raped by six men on a moving bus, and how terrifying the ordeal can be.

Many people also believe that rapists are crazy unknown strangers, but that is not the case.

Lee refers to 2012 statistics which states that 85 per cent of rapists was somebody the victim knew, whether he's a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, family member, neighbour, colleague or friend.

Executive director of Women's Aid Organisation (Wao) Ivy Josiah agrees that victim-blaming is very worrying.

"With every rape case that is reported, nine others go unreported," said Josiah.

"Rape right now is below the radar, a lot more is actually happening. But we don't have an environment where when a woman says very clearly no, it's a no," she added.

Josiah said that on top of the several misconceptions and myths about rape, many women aren't aware of the possibility of them being drugged.

"There are a lot of drug rape cases, where women are drugged and they don't realise what they're doing or what's happening," said Josiah.

"So women would go out and meet a guy for a date, a person who they think they can trust, only for them to be drugged and raped by the guy," she said.

Josiah said that a common side effect of being drugged is memory loss.

"Because they can't remember what happened, they're too embarrassed to report the incident," she said.

"But our position is very clear, consent on going on a date is not agreeing to have sex or be raped," said Josiah.

"You should also follow your instincts. If a person is being too assertive, if you're feeling woozy, leave. Don't worry if you drove your car, just take a cab and get back home," advises Josiah.

Josiah says that it's also important that rape victim know that it's never their fault: "Whether you're drunk or not, whether you're wearing a mini skirt or not, never blame yourself."

She advises women who have been sexually abused to lodge a police report and go to the public hospital to gather evidence quickly.

"The way we still look at rape is a problem. We don't have an enabling environment where we can empower women to come out to seek help," concluded Lee.

Lee said that victims need a lot more psychological and emotional support, and women organisations like Awam and Wao provides counselling and help to victims.

"Victims can call us if they need assistance. There are places and people to help you, you just have to take the first step to seek this assistance and that's the hardest step to take," said Lee.

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