Working together, not against each other in ending domestic violence

Posted on 12 November 2014

 Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

Letter to the Editor, 12 November 2014

Working together, not against each other in ending domestic violence


                                                                                                                    For more information:

Kristine Yap, Advocacy Officer (Communications)


The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) shelter was established in 1982 when we opened our doors to a woman who left her husband, taking her two children with her. Since setting up the shelter 32 years ago, the Polis Di-Raja Malaysia’s (PDRM) role has been absolutely crucial and necessary in our services. The police help to protect women in crisis, rescue them from high-risk situations, and they even escort the women to retrieve their belongings after they leave the abusive partner, which is one of the most dangerous times for the victim-survivor.


Having said that, the role of a safe house and shelter is no less important than that of the police. It is not only a space for counseling; it is where a safe, supportive environment is provided, where women can rebuild and regain control of their lives. Most pertinently, the function of a shelter and safe house is to provide physical and psychological safety to a person or family experiencing domestic violence.


Reflecting on WAO’s experience with the police at our shelter and safe house, our relationship has not been short of challenges. As recent as last month, three police officers brought the husband of an abused wife to our safe house, demanding they do a search for the wife. This was because one of the estranged couple’s children was ill; a child that the husband was caring for as he had chased his wife out of the house and she could not take her children with her. Incidentally, the wife had made a police report when she was abused and chased out.


Being responsible for enforcing laws and protection services, the primary duty of PDRM is to ensure safety for all. Bearing that in mind, the role of the police in a domestic violence situation is not too different from ours, which is to protect the safety of the victim-survivor. Taking that into account, the police should not reveal the classified address of the shelter to anyone, especially not to the perpetrator.


Bringing the abusive husband to the shelter compromises the safety and confidentiality of WAO’s shelter, potentially risking the lives of women and children who seek refuge here. On top of that, the police should not turn up at the shelter with the perpetrator, aggressively demanding the staff and residents to let them in.


In such a situation, whereby a missing person has been reported, the police ought to first find out whether the husband has a report made against him too. If the police officer needs to confirm whether the missing person is safe, they should notify a social worker to meet them at the police station first instead of turning up at the shelter unannounced, causing distress. Additionally, if the perpetrator and/or his family members start to create a scene at the shelter gate, verbally abusing the staff and residents, we hope police officers will take action to remove these intruders.


Being the nation’s largest service provider for domestic violence survivors, WAO’s priority is to ensure our clients’ safety, confidentiality, and to provide a safe haven for the victim-survivors of abuse. However, this is not something we can attain by ourselves. As a matter of routine, WAO notifies the police of these incidents, also requesting for meetings at the Bukit Aman Police Headquarters, as we believe that face-to-face dialogue is the best way forward to improve our relations.


We know from past experience that the police has fulfilled their duty to protect. There have been many occasions where we called upon police intervention at our shelter gates and immediate assistance was provided. In our continued efforts to eliminate domestic violence in Malaysia, WAO will continue to improve communication and ties with the police through bilateral engagements to strengthen our partnership.


Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) provides social work and counseling services for domestic violence survivors and advocates for women’s human rights. Call our counselling line at 03 7956 3488 or SMS TINA at 018 988 8058 if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse. Together, we change lives.


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