Case Studies by Women's Aid Organisation (1-7)

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 Case studies (1 - 7) by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

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Case 1 – 999 representative refers case to NGO; police officer handles case sensitively

Alice lived in Sabah and was being physically abused by her husband. Alice called 999 in Sabah to get help, and they gave her WAO’s number from a list of NGOs they had on hand. Alice took a flight from Sabah to peninsular Malaysia one Saturday and, upon landing, called the WAO Hotline. She spoke with a social worker and came to WAO that same day for shelter. At the time, Alice’s children were staying with her husband’s parents. Subsequently, Alice obtained an IPO for herself and her children, and brought the children to Kuala Lumpur with her.

Alice’s husband continued to harass community members in Alice’s hometown, including his own parents. He asked his family about Alice’s whereabouts, and when they did not tell him, he got angry and torched his parents’ home – luckily no one was hurt. He was sentenced to five years in prison for this crime.

Later, Alice’s husband was also charged with domestic violence, and a date was set for the trial.  The WAO social worker assisting Alice flew to Sabah in order to testify as a witness in support of Alice for the trial. Given her unfamiliarity with Sabah, as well as Alice’s husband’s violent and erratic history, the social worker reached out to the police in Sabah prior to arriving there. The police officer she spoke with was extremely helpful and sent someone to the airport to pick up the social worker and Alice, and to take them to meet with the DPP handling the case.

The DPP explained the trial process to them and prepared them. The DPP also asked Alice if she wanted to do a Victim Impact Statement, wherein a victim may elaborate on the impact of the perpetrator’s crime on her life, which can be taken into account by the judge prior to sentencing.  Alice chose not to do the VIS, but ultimately, her husband pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten months in prison, on top of the five years he was serving for his other crime.

Remarks:

·        When Alice called the emergency 999 number in Sabah, the representative was not only aware that they had a directory of NGOs whom callers could be referred to, but also took the initiative to consult the directory and provide Alice with WAO’s Hotline number. Such initiative was likely the result of multi-stakeholder communication and engagement, leading to a referral mechanism in which 999 agents had been trained.

·        Via the WAO Hotline, WAO was able to provide immediate and critical support to Alice by speaking to her and subsequently providing her shelter. Later, a WAO social worker accompanied her to Sabah for her husband’s domestic violence trial and was prepared to serve as a witness.

·        The police officer whom Alice’s social worker spoke with was extremely helpful and sensitive to the nature of a domestic violence situation, going out of his way to make arrangements to ensure Alice and her social worker’s safety and convenience from the time of arrival in Sabah.

·        The DPP in Alice’s case met with Alice and her social worker beforehand to prepare them for the trial. He was aware of the availability of the Victim Impact Statement, and made sure to give Alice the option of utilising this tool.

·         As this case highlights, in domestic violence situations, it is not only the survivor who is at risk of harm, but also her children, her family, and even the perpetrator’s family. While in this case an IPO was granted to protect Alice and her children, the IPO did not cover Alice’s husband’s parents, who were also being harassed and threatened by her husband. He got angry when his parents would not tell him Alice’s wheareabouts, and torched the house, which could have resulted in grave injury or death.

Case 2 – Tarik balik of police reports; last residence requirement for JPN tribunal

Mary married her husband in 2005, and they had two children. Mary’s husband was an alcoholic and did not hold a regular job. The abuse started around three years into the marriage, getting increasingly severe. Her husband would throw a helmet, shoe, hose, or any object he could get a hold of at Mary, and also choke her, step on her stomach, and kick her. Once Mary’s husband forced her to take drugs. He would also abuse her mentally and force sex on her regularly. Mary’s husband also sometimes abused their daughter.

 After one particular incident, Mary was seriously injured. She filed a police report and was admitted to the hospital.  Mary’s husband was detained for one week in police lock-up, but he phoned Mary at the hospital and asked her to withdraw the police report. Mary withdrew the police report, and after her husband was released the abuse resumed.

Mary left her home to escape the abuse on several occasions before coming to WAO. She had been separated from her husband for some time, but finally had to seek shelter at WAO when her husband was looking for her.

When Mary was scheduled to go for one of her required marriage tribunals at JPN, her husband locked her inside the house and she was not able to attend. She wanted to divorce her husband, but was scared to attend the marriage tribunals after this incident, since she was forced to attend the marriage tribunal in the town where she and her husband last resided. Subsequently, a WAO social worker accompanied Mary for her three marriage tribunals, and also to the Legal Aid Bureau to get a lawyer to file her divorce papers.

After coming to WAO, Mary went twice with her social worker to apply for a school transfer for her children, but after Mary’s husband went to the school and made a scene, the school refused to process the transfer, and so her children were forced to be out of school for some period of time.  

Eventually, Mary left the WAO shelter, got a job, and rented a place of her own.

Remarks:

·        Like Mary, many women retract their police reports upon receiving promises and assurances from their husbands that the abuse will stop. Most of the time, the abuse continues immediately or soon after the survivor withdraws the police report. However, as responders to domestic violence, we must not let this retraction of reports, or ‘tarik balik’, affect the response a woman gets when she goes to the police station and files a police report.

·        Non-Muslim individuals who are filing for divorce must attend three marriage tribunals at JPN. The current policy is that the individual applying for divorce must attend the marriage tribunals in the location where they last resided, which can put domestic violence survivors at serious risk of harm.

·        Despite the domestic violence she and her children had endured, Mary was not successful in transferring her children to a different school because their father objected, and so the school would not proceed with completing the transfer.

Case 3 – Joint JPN tribunal results in grave risk to survivor’s safety

Nandita had been experiencing physical, psychological, and social domestic violence for more than ten years by her husband, who is a drug addict. Her husband burned her clothes and chased her out of the house, so the client escaped to her sister-in-law’s home, and her sister-in-law helped her contact WAO.

With WAO’s help, Nandita applied for a divorce, and as part of this process had to appear for three marriage tribunals at the JPN location where she had last resided with her husband. Two WAO staff members accompanied Nandita to her JPN tribunal. As Nandita sat out of sight, the two WAO staff members stood nearby, keeping an eye out for any trouble. It quickly became apparent that there were three men staring at them, who seemed to be taking pictures with their handphones. Nandita said she did not recognise the men; however, she had been locked in her house by her husband, so she did not know who his friends were.

Soon, Nandita’s husband and father-in-law arrived. Nandita was very scared at the sight of her husband and father-in-law, and clung on to the WAO staff members. Nandita’s father-in-law began to approach the area where she was sitting, and when he saw his daughter-in-law, he summoned her husband, who immediately went to her, knelt before her, and grabbed onto her legs. Nandita was extremely fearful, and protested and tried to pull away, but her husband would not let her go.

One WAO staff member called the police while the other approached the husband and tried to guard Nandita. The WAO staff member asked the husband and father-in-law to step back, as they had both begun to posture towards her, at which point Nandita’s brother-in-law arrived and begun threatening and cursing the WAO staff.

The JPN officer finally intervened, asking everyone to sit down. Everyone but the brother-in-law complied, and he continued to verbally attack Nandita. Again, the WAO staff put themselves between the client and the brother-in-law, who then yelled at them, threatening to call the police and saying that they were illegally interfering in “a family matter.” The JPN officer came out a second time and asked the brother-in-law to settle down. When the police finally arrived, the JPN officers called everyone into the office for reconciliation.

Everyone was dismissed and the police left. The WAO staff and the client, were still concerned, however, that the husband’s party had remained in the vicinity. They requested to leave through a back door, which the JPN officer laughed off saying that, while of course there was a back door, there was no way he was going to let them through because he ‘would not make an exception, lest everyone begins to demand a back-door policy.’ The WAO staff tried to compromise, asking him if he would then escort them to their cab, and again, he said that ‘that was not a service that JPN provided’. He said that the husband’s group “wouldn’t dare touch [WAO’s client]” and that “there are laws in this country and we should trust them.”

The two WAO staff members then implored another female officer for help, and she agreed. In the meantime, Nandita had finished her interview and her husband re-approached her, this time pleading more quietly with her while the WAO staff members stood nearby. The officer who had agreed to help called two other JPN employees to bring the WAO group to the car, while Nandita’s husband and six other men stood around the doors and followed the group, still shouting and cursing at them.

Remarks:

·         Nandita and her husband were called together for their JPN marriage tribunals, despite the fact that it was a domestic violence case and Section 106(5)(a) of the LRA does not require that the parties be present and heard together.

·         There are no known security protocols set out by JPN, even for cases of domestic violence and when there is an obvious risk of harm to a survivor from her perpetrator.

·         Despite observing the harassment and threats to Nandita and the WAO staff, the JPN officer they first sought help from was completely dismissive, refusing to let them exit through a back door or to escort them to their car.

·         WAO accompanied Nandita to her JPN tribunal and created a safety plan, having already anticipated the risk posed by her husband.

Case 4 – Justice for survivor made more accessible by legal aid and recognized DV exception to waiting period

Rachel met her husband at work and they got married. Soon after the marriage, Rachel’s husband found success in his business dealings and they were doing well financially. However, Rachel’s husband began taking drugs and associating with many other women.

Rachel wanted to save the marriage, but her husband would constantly chase her out of their home by abusing her and, on one occasion, even burning her with a cigarette butt.  Rachel’s husband did not want to remain married to her, but wanted to keep their older son with him, because he believed he had brought good luck to his business.

After one abusive incident, Rachel finally lodged a police report and shared that her husband was taking drugs. Her husband then lodged a police report against her, but when the police searched their home and conducted drug tests, only the husband’s test came back positive. Her husband was arrested immediately and sentenced to three months imprisonment.

A friend suggested to Rachel to get an IPO, but she struggled with doing so. She went to court several times to get information and sought help from a security guard, who did not have the necessary knowledge. Finally, Rachel was told by an acquaintance about WAO and contacted WAO via Facebook to seek shelter. WAO helped Rachel obtain an IPO and later looked after her children while she went out to look for another job.

Since Rachel had stopped working and did not have access to her husband’s assets, Rachel was able to obtain legal representation through the Legal Aid Bureau, and with the police report and IPO, she was able to get her divorce very quickly.

Remarks:

·         Rachel was able to access legal aid from the Legal Aid Bureau, since she was not earning an independent income and all assets were in her husband’s name. However, many survivors have difficulty qualifying for aid from the Legal Aid Bureau, as they have financial resources in excess of RM25,000 per year, but still do not have the means to pay for legal representation. This may be because of debts or financial obligations such as mortgage payments, children’s schooling, or caring for elderly parents.

·         Rachel was also able to bypass the normal waiting period—wherein an individual must first show that they have been separated for two years— to be assigned a lawyer through the Legal Aid Bureau for her divorce case by providing proof that she was a survivor of domestic violence.

Case 5 – DV and attempted murder met with minimal punishment

Noor suffered physical, psychological, and financial abuse by her husband for eight years. Noor and her husband have two children, aged seven and two-and-a-half years. After enduring years of abuse, Noor finally left her abusive situation and came to WAO for shelter.

Noor’s husband was charged for domestic violence and sentenced to six months imprisonment. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of their daughter, whom he tried to throw over a bridge, but was stopped from doing so by the public. For this crime, Noor’s husband pleaded guilty and was only sentenced to eight months in prison, and the sentences for his two crimes ran concurrently.

The police did not inform Noor or WAO when her husband was brought to trial, and Noor only found out when her social worker happened to hear it on the radio and relayed the news. When Noor’s husband was released from prison, he immediately went to look for his wife.

Noor continues live in hiding, for fear that her husband will find her, but with the support of WAO, she has found a job and is staying on her own with her children.

Remarks:

·         The domestic violence inflicted on Noor by her husband was part of a pattern of abusive and violent behaviour that extended to her children, culminating in her husband’s attempted murder of their daughter.

·         Despite the fact that Section 307 of the Penal Code provides a punishment of up to ten years imprisonment for attempted murder (and up to twenty years if a person is hurt in the course of such attempt), Noor’s husband was only sentenced to eight months for the attempted murder of his daughter. Even more egregious was the fact that her husband’s sentences for attempted murder and domestic violence ran concurrently, so he did not serve the full time set out by each punishment. This lenient sentencing sends a dangerous message to perpetrators of domestic violence that the consequences of their abusive and violent behaviour will be met with minimal consequences, and also may dissuade survivors from attempting to access justice.

Case 6 – No investigation paper opened after 12 police reports; insensitive remarks by police and JPN officers

Sarah’s husband subjected her to daily abuse for 12 years, including physical, psychological, sexual, financial, and social abuse. Sarah’s husband also abused their children, and throughout their marriage, would prevent Sarah from seeing the children, as he would move them without her consent, or take them away in attempts to lure Sarah back home when she would leave to escape the abuse.

Verbal arguments usually escalated into physical abuse as Sarah’s husband would slap and kick her before ramming her head into the wall; one such incident took place when he informed her of his plans to marry a second wife and she rejected his decision. Sarah’s husband demanded sex from her daily, and often raped Sarah. He also accused Sarah of having an affair with another man. At one point, Sarah underwent treatment at a hospital for injuries resulting from her abuse. The doctor posed her the option of moving into a shelter; however, Sarah decided against this option.

Sarah was prevented from speaking to her family and prohibited by her husband from seeking relief via religious institutions. This social abuse was coupled with a stream of psychological abuse in the form of humiliation, threats, and incessant insults. Sarah cared for the children and was not employed during the marriage, and her husband gave her no money for sustaining herself and the children. With no family or financial support, Sarah became depressed and attempted suicide more than once.

Sarah filed twelve police reports over the years, but no investigation paper was ever opened; the police only called the husband to give him a warning. When Sarah would return to the police station to file another report, she was asked by the police officers, ‘Why are you still getting pregnant?’ but they would not directly acknowledge the domestic violence.

The final straw for Sarah was an incident wherein Sarah’s husband slapped her in public and verbally assaulted her, and when she tried to leave, her husband’s mistress dragged her into the car and forced her to return home with her husband. Sarah left immediately after this event and found employment. Her employer referred her to WAO.

At WAO, a social worker assisted Sarah in following up on her thirteenth police report in order to obtain assistance from JKM to get an IPO. As Sarah was worried about her children, who were still living with her husband, the JKM officer assigned to the case accompanied Sarah to her home to see the children. The officer noted the poor living conditions of the children, but informed Sarah and her social worker that JKM could not take any action to remove the children from the home, as there were no recent bruises or injuries evident. The officer then advised Sarah to get the children’s names added to the IPO so that Sarah could later go back to the home with the police and get her children. The officer also warned Sarah’s husband against using any form of violence on Sarah and bolstered the warning with the threat of police reinforcement.

WAO subsequently accompanied Sarah to JKM to add the children’s name to the IPO; however, they were informed that the children could not be added to the IPO as their names were not included in the referral letter given by the police. The JKM officer advised Sarah to hire a lawyer and apply for temporary child custody from the court.

WAO also accompanied Sarah to her marriage tribunal at JPN. At her first marriage tribunal, the JPN officer advised Sarah to go back to her husband for a few months, telling Sarah that ‘she should think of what’s best for her children and go back and stay there’.

Remarks:

·         When Sarah went to seek medical attention for her injuries, the doctor informed her of her option to move into a shelter.

·         Sarah filed multiple police reports over the years, but the police did not take her complaints of domestic violence seriously, and no investigation paper was opened.

·         Sarah’s employer referred her to WAO, exemplifying the role that employers can potentially play in supporting survivors of domestic violence.

·         The JKM officer advised Sarah of how she could seek protection for her children when it became clear that adding them to the IPO was not an option.

·         The JPN officer demonstrated insensitivity to the fact that Sarah was a survivor of domestic violence when he advised Sarah to go back to her husband.

Case 7 – Lack of whollistic approach at JKM shelter

Ayesha’s husband began abusing her even before their marriage, but she thought that the abuse would subside after their marriage. Instead, within the first year the abuse escalated and her husband abused her physically, psychologically, sexually, socially, and financially on a daily basis. This abuse was witnessed by their children.

Ayesha’s husband was a drug user, which would often cause him to not sleep for two to three nights at a time when under the influence. He forced Ayesha to quit her job, resulting in her not having any savings, and also withheld her identity card.

Ayesha’s husband was formerly a Hindu and upon marrying Ayesha, converted to Islam. However, he would force Ayesha to practice Hinduism and prevented her from mingling with her family in order to sever her ties to Islam. He threatened her with physical harm if she did not comply with his wishes.

Ayesha’s husband forced her to carry their youngest child as she did the housework and didn’t allow Ayesha to rest at night, causing her much fatigue and stress. Her husband would rape her and physically abuse her with objects including padlocks, wooden rods, and brooms. After the physical abuse had taken place, her husband would lock her in the house with the children so that Ayesha could not seek help. Over the years, as a result of the abuse Ayesha developed bruises, cuts, and most severely, a head injury caused by a knife attack. This caused her not only physical harm, but also psychological trauma.

On the first day of Aidilfitri, despite Ayesha having asked for her husband’s permission to visit her mother and her husband obliging, he went into a fit of rage, yelling and beating her, and finally threatening to stab her with a knife. Ayesha managed to escape to her mother’s house and lodged a police report against her husband. She requested that the police remove her children from her husband’s home, but when the police arrived, her husband held their daughter in his arms so that the police only managed to secure and bring the son away.

Several days later, Ayesha’s husband arrived at her mother’s house and ordered her to come back home with him. When Ayesha refused, he proceeded to drag her out of the house and onto the concrete road, causing Ayesha to sustain a head injury. He then re-entered her mother’s home and emerged again with a knife to issue more death threats. Bystanders, neighbours, and onlookers watched, but did not intervene. Finally, one of them called the police, and subsequently Ayesha’s husband fled the scene.

Ayesha decided to seek shelter from JKM, as she felt her husband would find her if she continued to stay with her family members. Upon arriving at the JKM shelter, she was told that she could only stay there for two weeks. However, subsequently, she was allowed to stay for longer, but then after two months was told she had to pack up and move out immediately, without any warning or information. Ayesha was then referred to WAO by JKM.

At WAO, Ayesha was briefed on the divorce court process, how her daughter could be retrieved from her husband with the involvement of JKM and the police, and what financial aid was available to her. Ayesha’s husband filed a nusyuz action against her in Syariah court, but failed to appear for any of the three scheduled hearings, and so the action was dropped. Ayesha applied for a divorce with the assistance of a WAO social worker. However, Ayesha faced a setback in attempting to acquire her divorce, as she would have to travel to Ipoh to make the application and for hearings, incurring costs that she could not afford. Ayesha’s IC was being kept by her husband while the case was pending, which prevented her from applying for job vacancies and thus disabled her from financially providing for her family and being independent and self-reliant. Despite her financial circumstances, JPN did not make an exception for Ayesha and required her to pay RM1,000 for a new IC.

WAO also helped Ayesha enroll her children in a new school. This process initially required documents from the district education office (PPD) allowing the transfer. However, the PPD officer instead asked Ayesha to get a letter from the Commissioner for Oaths stating that she and her husband had divorced and that she had custody of her children, as well as a letter from WAO verifying her temporary home address at the refuge shelter. The school also cooperated in waiving the fee for the children’s textbooks.

Remarks:

·         Ayesha’s husband used religion as another tool of oppression and control over her, not allowing her to freely practice her religion and cutting off her ties to her family to further this end and socially isolate her.

·         WAO provided crucial support by helping Ayesha successfully divorce her husband, retrieve her children from the abusive environment, and transfer them to a new school without needing her husband’s consent.  

·         Ayesha’s time at JKM was unproductive and stagnant. She was offered financial aid and help to retrieve her children, but subsequently no action was taken. After two months, she was told without any warning that she had to immediately leave the JKM shelter. The only positive outcome from this was that she was referred to WAO. Ayesha arrived and left JKM with exactly the same problems; no practical help was provided during her stay.

·         No exception or financial aid was made available to Ayesha by JPN when Ayesha went to replace her IC, despite the domestic violence she had endured and the dire financial circumstances she faced.

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