Lisa* came to Malaysia to study graphic design in a local college. She had been looking forward to it because she heard from her friends and relatives that the college she was attending was well recognised, and that Malaysia was generally a friendly place. When she arrived, she rented a room in a student house and had a daily routine of going to classes, joining her housemates for dinner and doing her coursework in the evenings. She did not go out much because she was only in the country for a few months and did not know many people.
Her landlord's son, Ben, also lived in the same house. Lisa wasn't very comfortable around him as he liked to walk around the house with only his towel on. He also liked to make rude, sexist remarks and jokes whenever she was around. The rest of the household told her that they were used to his behaviour, and advised her to be patient and ignore him, so she did. However, he liked to corner her in the kitchen and asked her frivolous questions about herself whenever she was there to make a drink. She tried her best to be friendly without encouraging his behaviour, while making sure she did not linger in the common areas of the house alone.
One morning, Lisa was feeling unwell and stayed at home. At that time, she thought no one else was in. Then, there was a knock at her door, and when she answered it, it was Ben. He locked the door behind him as soon as he walked in and tried to kiss her. Lisa became very frightened and tried to stop him. Ben called her a tease and continued to force himself on her. He warned her that if she struggled, he would spread rumours about her 'loose' character, evict her from the house, and make sure that she cannot get another place to stay. Lisa tried to scream and push him away, but he quickly grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her on the bed, and raped her. Ben told her that no one would believe her story, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
After he left, Lisa locked herself up in the room and cried. She was shaking from fear and did not know what to do. She was afraid that no one would not believe her. Lisa did not even know where the nearest police station was. Lisa was afraid that everyone would blame her for what had happened.
Lisa is not alone. Often the victim is blamed for rape, but it needs to be stressed that rape is not the fault of the victim. Rape is not provoked by women wearing sexy clothes or behaving seductively - many teenagers in uniforms have been raped. It is also not an "over-spill" of sexual energy, or an impulsive crime. Rape is a violation of the victim's will and her body - no woman asks to be raped - and rape is a crime of violence using sex as a weapon. A high percentage of rapists are acquaintances, "friends" and relatives, and approximately 69.4% of rapes occurred in "safe" places (houses, schools etc.)
Legally, rape is the insertion of the penis into the vagina against the will of the victim. However, if the victim is under 16 years of age, sex with or without consent is statutory rape. Section 376 of the Penal Code states that whoever commits rape shall be punished with imprisonment for a minimum term of five years and a maximum term of twenty years, and shall be liable to whipping.
Rape is one of the most abhorrent crimes in society. Sadly, research shows that for every case that is reported, nine goes unreported. We can all play a part in eliminating this crime by living our lives based on mutual respect for the opposite gender.
Speak up against anything that treats women as inferior to men, and which is disrespectful. Do not condone sexist remarks or jokes, or anything which regards women as nothing more than sex objects. You will probably never see a rape in progress, but you will see and hear attitudes and behaviors that degrade women and promote rape. When your best friend tells a joke about rape, say you don't find it funny. When you read an article that blames a rape survivor for being assaulted, write a letter to the editor. When laws are proposed that limit women's rights, let politicians know that you won't support them. Do anything but remain silent.
What to do if you are raped:
- Do not wash. Although your first instinct is to clean yourself, you will lose important evidence like seminal and body fluids, hairs, mud, debris, fibre etc if you clean yourself. Go to a hospital immediately for a medical examination.
- Go to the Emergency room at the government hospital. The doctor will examine you and your genital area, as well as your clothes. You will first be asked to fill out a form to be give approval of the examination, and the information will be used for police investigation. You may request for a female gynecologist. The hospital staff will also notify the police, and a female police officer will take your report at the hospital.
- If you go to the police first, a female police officer will take your report and accompany you to the hospital. After the first report, a detailed statement will be taken. You may then be required to attend an identification parade to identify the alleged rapist.
- You may be unsure as to what to do, or may wish support and/or counselling. Call a friend, or someone close to you, or a women's organisation.
*Name and some details changed to protect client's identity
Women's Aid Organisation - 20 Years of Service to Women and Children
Fortnightly Column by WAO on Sunday Mail, 2002