Highlights from WAO Statistics

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Highlights from WAO Statistics
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WAO’s position as a provider of critical crisis services, including shelter and counselling, enables our strong, evidence-based advocacy. Our close engagement with survivors allows us to monitor how effectively domestic violence laws and policies are implemented. We learn from survivors’ lived realities to identify gaps in multi-stakeholder response to domestic violence, as well as gaps in existing laws and policies that must be fortified.

We collect relevant statistics in order to gauge the current level of domestic violence response and assess the experiences of the survivors whom we serve. This subsequently allows for an analysis of trends in the circumstances characterising domestic violence, as well as in the community response to domestic violence.

Based on these statistics, a few aspects of both the experience of survivors and of the response to domestic violence are highlighted below, in order to provide the reader insight into what survivors must overcome to lead a life free from violence, to inform multi-stakeholder services, and to enhance our community response.

Highlight 1: There is a consistent demand for NGO services

Provision of WAO Hotline Services from 2014-2016

In addition to the services we provided to women and children whom we sheltered, in 2015 and 2016, we also expanded the availability of our WAO Hotline via increased hours. The WAO Hotline extends access to critical information and counselling services to those who may not be ready or able to leave their abusive situation and simply want to find out their options or speak to someone.

The number of total WAO Hotline inquiries increased from 1,982 in 2014 to 2,395 in 2016, indicating the consistent need not only for counselling and information pertaining to one’s rights and options as a survivor of domestic violence, but also for shelter services.

Given the numbers of women who are likely experiencing DV, the need for the type of services provided by the WAO Hotline continues to outpace the availability of such services. NGOs, government responders, and other members of the community must continue to work to ensure that survivors of domestic violence have access to the support services and information that they need in order to escape their abusive situation.

Highlight 2: Many survivors made police reports prior to seeking WAO’s assistance, but in several of these cases no action was taken

In 2016, 41% of WAO residents had filed a police report before coming to WAO.  This is a positive trend, since it indicates that women know they have a right to be free from violence by seeking help from the police.

However, most of the reports filed by these WAO residents were cover reports, made by the women to document an incident of abuse, but—unlike a tindakan (action) report—not requesting the police to take investigative or intervening action. On the one hand, filing a cover report rather than an action report may indicate a woman’s reluctance to pursue a case and potentially subject her abuser to criminal charges. However, another perspective is that women are taking a more proactive approach by taking the step to create an official record of the abuse when it is takes place, in the event that another abusive incident occurs in the future and additional action must be taken.

Unfortunately, in many cases where WAO residents had approached the police prior to coming to WAO, no action was taken, despite an action report being filed. In these cases, police action was only taken after a WAO social worker became involved in the case and assisted the client in following up with the police. This lack of police action and support could deter women from making further reports or following up on previous reports. Such inaction may be due to a general lack of understanding, knowledge, and expertise on the part of the police when it comes to domestic violence and how the law requires the police to respond in such cases, as outlined by the Garis Panduan.

Highlight 3: A coordinated community response is essential to ensure survivors who leave their abusive situation are empowered not to return

Out of the total 192 DV survivors whom WAO sheltered in 2015 and 2016, 114, or 59%, had attempted to leave their abusive situations at least once before. While 44 of these 114 women (36%) attributed their return to the abusive situation to their husbands indicating their willingness to change, there are a host of reasons why women may choose not to leave, or to return.

Percentage of survivors who previously tried to leave their abusive situation

However, what remains consistent regardless of why a woman ultimately chooses to remain in an abusive situation is that a coordinated community response to domestic violence can empower more women to make the choice to permanently leave their abusive situations.

For example, if a woman attempts to leave an abusive relationship and seeks help from the police, but the police do not take any action on her report or tells her that ‘it is a family matter’, that woman is likely to return to her abuser, and unlikely to seek support from the police in the future. Similarly, a woman who is being abused and who tries to get help from friends or family members, but is told that ‘she should not embarrass or defame her husband’ may decide not to tell anyone else about what she is going through, thinking that she will be met with the same response.

In contrast, a woman who escapes her abusive situation with the aid of neighbours, is treated with respect and sensitivity when she goes to file a police report, receives counselling and information from an NGO, and knows that her family will support her regardless of what she decides to do, is far more likely to become empowered to leave her abusive situation.

Highlight 4: Contrary to common misconceptions, the majority of survivors were working or forced not to work before coming to WAO

Many people have misconceptions about who can become a victim of domestic violence. Some people believe that domestic violence only happens to women of a certain ethnic, religious or socio-economic background, and is largely limited to women who are homemakers. However, the reality is that domestic violence affects all women, regardless of ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, and even education level and employment status.

While it is true that financial dependence on the perpetrator does often make women more vulnerable to domestic violence and less able to leave an abusive situation, working women can be just as impacted by domestic violence. Out of the 192 DV survivors whom WAO sheltered in 2015 and 2016 only 73 (38%) were homemakers.

Out of these women, 52 (71%) had become homemakers not of their own choice, but because their husbands forced them to stay at home. Exerting control over a woman by not allowing her to work can be a form of both social and financial abuse, as it may be spurned by jealousy or suspicions around the woman’s relationships with co-workers, or motivated by the perpetrator’s desire to make the woman financially dependent. An abuser can also financially abuse his wife or intimate partner by forcing her to work and subsequently stealing or squandering her earnings, so that she is unable to establish any economic independence.

Highlight 5: Psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse

In 2015 and 2016, 93% of the DV survivors whom WAO sheltered reported that they had experienced psychological abuse. For most of these women, the psychological abuse was accompanied by physical abuse, and, for many women, social, financial, and sexual abuse as well.

At the same time, many women may experience severe psychological abuse for years without experiencing physical abuse. These women may never seek help because they do not realise that they can file a police report or seek medical attention for psychological harm, and may not think that this form of abuse warrants leaving their perpetrator. On some occasions, women who seek assistance from the police are told that nothing can be done since they do not have physical injuries.

However, the 2012 amendments to the DVA included the addition of the language, “causing psychological abuse which includes emotional injury to the victim” into the definition of domestic violence. Thus, survivors who are experiencing psychological abuse without physical abuse can still lodge a police report obtain an Interim Protection Order (IPO).

According to the Garis Panduan, if a woman who is experiencing psychological abuse goes to the police first, the police should refer the woman to Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM), and a JKM officer should accompany the woman to the hospital for a mental state assessment (which can be done at a government hospital). JKM should then inform the police once the mental state assessment has been completed, and the police should collect the report from the hospital as part of their investigation, as the report from the mental state assessment becomes an exhibit in evidence. The police may issue the referral letter for an IPO even before the mental state assessment is complete, and, with this referral letter, JKM can assist the survivor to obtain an IPO.

Unfortunately, for survivors of psychological abuse who choose to leave their abusive situations and take legal action against their perpetrator, a Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) may be unwilling to pursue charges against the perpetrator since meeting the evidentiary burden is more difficult in a case where there is no physical abuse, although the mental state assessment helps toward this end. Furthermore, where the woman is pursuing custody of her children, the perpetrator may try to use the woman’s evidence of psychological distress against her and argue that she is thereby an unfit mother.

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