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This report

WAO’s 2015 publication, “Working Together: Case Studies in Domestic Violence Response,” has been utilised in the training of various government agencies on responding to domestic violence; by NGOs in evidence-based lobbying efforts to call for stronger laws and policies to protect against domestic violence; and by WAO and other organisations as a tool for raising awareness on the experience of domestic violence survivors.

While the 2015 report remains a relevant resource to be relied on, with our 2017 report we wish to highlight an additional set of issues around the experience of domestic violence survivors and the current state of domestic violence response.

As the title of this report suggests, domestic violence is a community issue that requires a coordinated and formalised community response. This response must come not only from NGOs and the police, the welfare department and other government stakeholders, but from every member of the community, including the family members of survivors, the family members of perpetrators, and neighbours and bystanders. At the centre of this coordinated community response must always be the survivor.

Who does a community response to DV include?

The issues faced by survivors of domestic violence are complex and far-reaching. Even a woman who has managed to escape her abusive situation and seek help must deal with issues ranging from securing her financial stability, to accessing the justice system, obtaining a divorce from her abuser, coordinating the logistics of moving her children to a new location, resolving immigration issues and a whole host of other matters. Each of these issues places an additional burden on the survivor—who is already coping with the emotional and psychological trauma of her abuse—and each presents an opportunity for members of the community to respond to the survivor in a way that acknowledges her rights as a person, understands what she has endured, and is sensitive to her needs.

In addition to utilising actual case studies to illustrate the abuse experienced by survivors of domestic violence, as well as the issues they face in accessing support services and the justice system, this report includes an additional learning tool, entitled “Tina’s Journey.”

“Tina’s Journey” is a fictionalised narrative that does not represent the experience of one particular survivor whom WAO has assisted, but rather, has been created to reflect an aggregate of the experiences of survivors that WAO has observed. Tina is the voice of the domestic violence survivor.

Through this report, we hope to share the voices of survivors, learn from their experiences, and reflect on the ways in which we as a community can come forward with a comprehensive and coordinated response to domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is the use of intimidating, manipulative, or coercive behaviour by one partner in an intimate relationship over another partner, for the purpose of gaining or maintaining power and control.[1] Domestic violence is habitual, repeated, and random,[2] and it may take the form of physical, psychological, social, sexual, or financial abuse.

At WAO, we view domestic violence in the broader context of Malaysian society, with an eye toward the position of women and inequality between the genders. Thus, the term ‘habitual’ refers to the fact that the pattern of violence is ingrained in the psyche of the abuser. In our patriarchal society, our institutional and family structures tend to be male-dominated, which leads to gender stereotyping and subsequently to a power imbalance between men and women. In the context of an intimate or family relationship, this leads to discrimination in the form of de-valuing the women and her contributions, which eventually escalates into violence, whether physical or psychological.

‘Repeated’ refers to the fact that domestic violence is a cycle that rotates between the stages of tension or development, eruption (the violent incident), persuasion by the abuser of the survivor that the abuse will not happen again, and finally, the honeymoon stage, during which things may be calm and the survivor may begin to minimise or justify the violence.

Finally, ‘random’ refers to the fact that there is never any justification for domestic violence. While substance abuse, financial stresses, and other issues may be aggravating factors, they are never the reason for domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights and can have devastating and far-reaching consequences beyond even a woman’s own lifetime, including economic ramifications and inter-generational violence. This inter-generational violence may take the form of a girl who has witnessed the abuse of her mother going on to enter into an abusive relationship later in her life, or of a son growing up to replicate the violent behaviours of his father.

Domestic violence in Malaysia

According to a 2014 study conducted by the Women’s Development Research Centre (KANITA) in Universiti Sains Malaysia, nine percent of ever-partnered[3] women in Peninsular Malaysia have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime,[4] equating to over eight hundred thousand[5] women in Malaysia who have likely experienced abuse.

There has been a steady rise in the recent past in the number of domestic violence cases reported to the police. While in 2010, only 3,173 cases of domestic violence were reported,[6] this number rose to 4,123 cases in 2013,[7] 4807 cases in 2014,[8] and 5014 cases in 2015.[9] The increase in number of domestic violence cases reported to the police indicates a positive trend, in that more women are aware of their rights and are coming forward to seek help. However, despite this increase, domestic violence is still vastly underreported, given the hundreds of thousands of women in Malaysia who are likely experiencing abuse. 

Legal framework

Malaysia has made significant advances over the past two decades in protecting survivors of domestic violence through laws and policies.

·         The Domestic Violence Act 1994. The passing of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) in 1994, and its subsequent implementation in 1996, sent a clear message that domestic violence is not just a family matter, but is a crime, and demonstrated the government’s intention to address it as such. The DVA is read in conjunction with the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. 

·         Amendments to the DVA. Amendments were made to the DVA in 2012, with some of WAO’s recommendations included. Pursuant to on-going lobbying efforts by WAO, as part of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), further amendments to the Act to enhance its protections are anticipated to be tabled in Parliament in March 2017. WAO urges Parliament to pass the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development’s bill to adopt these amendments.

·         Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Malaysia ratified CEDAW in 1995. The treaty defines discrimination against women and articulates the state’s obligation to take measures to eliminate discrimination and bring about equality between the genders. CEDAW, through its General Recommendation No. 19 elaborates on the link between discrimination and gender-based violence, and the proactive measures a state must take to address violence against women.[10] The DVA and other domestic laws still do not fully comply with CEDAW.


·         Garis Panduan Pengendalian Kes Keganasan Rumah Tangga. In addition to conducting an on-going examination of existing laws and policies to ensure that they afford the maximum protection possible for survivors of domestic violence, we must also continue to work towards the comprehensive implementation of existing laws and policies. Such comprehensive implementation can best be achieved through a continuous process of training and knowledge-sharing, utilising a multi-stakeholder framework that puts the needs of the survivor at the forefront. Such framework has been codified in the Garis Panduan Pengendalian Kes Keganasan Rumah Tangga, (Garis Panduan)[11], which was published in 2015 by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and establishes the roles and responsibilities of the nine government agencies that are involved in handling domestic violence cases.