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Save our daughters, sisters, wives from rape

Fifteen years ago when I was arrested and charged with publishing false news for a memorandum send to the government on the abuse, torture and dehumanised treatment of migrant workers in immigration detention centres, one of the charges I faced was the issue of rape of women in the detention centres.

In Indonesia, one of our partners investigated and documented five testimonies of women migrants raped at the camps. They were willing to testify.
Unfortunately and suspiciously, the office of our partner was raided and the files went missing. It was difficult to track the women and I lost my witnesses.

I did not lose hope. Together with one of my very committed lawyers, we went to Bangladesh to interview witnesses.

My partner there worked very hard to identify witnesses and even employed a full-time person to manage, counsel and sustain the witnesses as the court took a very long time to move the wheels of judicial process. Women who were raped were also identified.

The interviews conducted with the women were very painful and a stressful experience in my life. All five women whom we interviewed intensively were thrown out of their homes by their husbands and the community demanded they leave the village. The marriage future of their daughters was gone as they were seen as daughters of soiled women.

The trauma, impact and living on abject poverty by the women was for me most unbearable. It hurt too much. The look of hopelessness, fear and anxiety just pierced me over and over. In fact I fell ill on the second day of meeting with the survivors of rape and torture.

I then decided that I would rather go to jail than get the women to relive the trauma again. I will not make them witnesses for my trial. Reliving the trauma again with added publicity would be impactful and the consequences uncertain on the women and their children.

I faced an intense conflict on how do we make the rapists, the detention centre officers, the commandant, the home minister and the government of the day accountable for this form of torture on innocent women and womanhood and yet protect their dignity.

All I could do was open a window of opportunity for them to begin a new life with an income generation project and strengthen their livelihood skills combined with counselling. Today the women are able to live their lives but the stigma remains.

System fails to protect the victim

Today as news emerges of another woman domestic worker allegedly raped by a senior minister, we seem to be faced with a similar conflict. How do we make this minister and all those in power and in authority accountable?

It was easy for the datin to cancel her work permit and send her maid home to Indonesia with a stern warning and threat that the victim remains silent about the rape. The victim, helpless and filled with fear remained silent and just move on with life.

Have there been more victims and all silenced in the same way? Since the senior minister lives in a huge mansion, there must be a number of domestic workers in the household.

And the system fails to protect the victim and all potential women. What can a foreign domestic worker do when she does not have any off-day, when she is cut off from the rest of the world as she works in an isolated, individualised workplace which is a private domain? How can she communicate with family or others if she is denied that right?

The support for her withers from Malaysians whose perception of domestic workers is negative influenced by the mainstream media. It has been reflected in the number of comments that appeared in published articles about the rape.

These perceptions and attitude do not help the victim nor our efforts to fight the heinous crime of rape against women and children.
We support a regime that has destroyed every pillar of democracy and justice where the victim cannot access due process nor even reach out for help.

The outcry over making the minister accountable cannot remain at the individual level. It demands a serious change in our rotten corrupt system of governance. Rape will continue on our women as it is being done on the Penan and other indigenous women.

Statistics reveal that every 1.7 hours someone is raped. The figure will increase when we include the thousands of women forced into prostitution and sexual exploitation in our country. Rapists will flourish in our country because we have a government that facilitates it.

The only way out is to get rid of such senior ministers together with the Umno-BN-led government as they have failed to protect, recognise and ensure women's rights to body security.

If we want to save our daughters and granddaughters, our sisters and wives, then the system must change. And we as Malaysians, as voters must ensure this change takes place for justice and security to be the norm in our society.

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