Know Your Rights - Sexual Assault
Saras* went with some colleagues after work for some drinks. While walking, she realised that she left her mobile phone in the car. Telling her friends that she will join them in the coffee place, she walked back to where her car was parked. On the way there, Saras noticed a group of men hanging around leaning on their motorbikes. They began to verbally hassle her: asking her for her name, for dates, making sexual comments and so forth. This agitated her, but she kept her silence and just quickened her pace.
However, as she was about to get into her car, one of the motorcyclist went past and grabbed her breasts from behind. She was completely shocked. Before she could manage to scream, the man has gotten away. Saras was shaken by the entire affair. She locked herself up in her car, and began to feel very angry and vulnerable at the same time. Can she take any legal action on the assault?
Molestation and sexual assault are traumatic experiences. Different survivors respond differently to the trauma; whether it may be anger, sadness, vulnerability, repression or any of the range of possible reactions. What is important to note is that all feelings are valid. To help her feel better, Saras can talk to someone she trusts about what happened, and then assess her options on what to do next.
Sexual assault is a criminal offence. Under Section 354 of the Penal Code, it is stated as "assault or use of criminal force to a person with intent to outrage modesty". The punishment for a person convicted under this section is a maximum imprisonment of ten years, or with fine, or with whipping or with any two of such punishments. As for non-physical sexual harassment, the offenders can be charged under Section 509 of the Penal Code. This section provides that anyone who makes any sound or gesture or exhibits any object with the intention of insulting the modesty of a woman, if convicted, can be punished with a maximum of five years imprisonment, or fine, or both.
As such, Saras has a legal right to make a police report. Even if the chances of conviction are slim - as in Saras' case where she only managed to see the offender's back - it is important to alert the police that such incidences are occuring. Then, they may increase their watch over certain areas to help ensure that sexual assault does not happen to someone else. Not only that, it will help give a more accurate picture of the crime's frequency and bring to light the particular areas with high rates.
Reporting the crime:
- For the record, you can write the police report in Bahasa Malaysia, English, Tamil or Mandarin. If you are unable to write, you can also request for assistance from your family, friends or the police.
- In the police report, state the date, time and place that the incident happened.
- Detail clearly what happened and describe the perpetrator as best possible.
- The Investigating Officer will interview you for a statement, and then conduct investigation of the case.
- If the police finds a suspect, they will contact you. You will then have to go to the police station to identify the offender.
- The offender is then charged for the crime, and his case will be heard in court.
Most sex offenders choose victims whom they perceive as being vulnerable. Below are a few steps you can take so that you do not become an easy target:
- If you are walking alone, be aware of your surroundings. If you notice someone following you, turn and look at the person in the face. Ask him the time, or comment about the weather. Now that you have seen how he looks like and can recognise him, he may be discouraged to continue. If not, cross the street, and if necessary, criss-cross from one side to the other. Don't be afraid to RUN. You may feel a little silly, but it is better to be slightly embarassed and safe, than otherwise.
- If someone hassles you verbally, do not be afraid to tell him to stop. Tell the offender firmly and clearly that his advances are not welcomed. If he persists, tell him that you will make a police report if he does not leave you alone.
- If someone is coming towards you, hold out your hands in front of you and shout, "Stop!" or "Stay back!" Show that you are not afraid to fight back.
- You can also take self-defence classes to help you be more in control of your body. This will help you be more confident in the way you carry yourself, and may discourage potential offenders.
From September 2002, WAO have extended our services to include a sexual assault helpline. For emotional support, counselling or information on sexual assault, rape, child sexual abuse or incest, you can call WAO's Sexual Assault Helpline at 03 - 7960 3030.
*Names changed to protect WAO's client's confidentiality.
Prepared by Jaclyn Kee
Women's Aid Organisation - 20 Years of Service to Women and Children
Fortnightly Column by WAO on Sunday Mail (Reprinted with permission from Sunday Mail)