Making people disappear

This is an article from The Nut Graph, in light of the Penan rape cases. I reproduce some excerpts:

It is now 2008. Malaysia has gone through long-delayed amendments to laws related to rape in the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. We had an election during which the Women’s Candidacy Initiative actively campaigned against  Members of Parliament (MPs) who made derogatory remarks against women in Parliament. And yet I still burn with anger and pain when I read responses by the authorities to allegations of sexual assault committed against Penan women and girls.


The Police Commissioner insisted that a police report had to be made, despite provisions in the Child Act 2001 that empowers the police to take proactive action upon suspicions of child sexual abuse. A disproportionate number of the victims, it should be recalled, were girls below the age of 18.

Datuk Patinggi Alfred Jabu Numpang, a deputy chief minister, initially rubbished the allegations, only to seemingly experience a change of heart: Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen claimed to have received a letter from him strongly recommending a thorough investigation by the police. However, Jabu then proceeded to tick off a Sarawakian blogger who was calling for essentially the same action.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri George Chan, in stressing the need for “very firm evidence”, said it was because it could portray a very bad national image.

Unbelievable. One would think that when faced with reports of systematic rapes committed over a decade-long period, the human reaction would be one of sympathy and anger at the pain so many women must have gone through. But no. We might as well be living in an era when violence against women, especially domestic violence, was seen not as a crime but a private matter.


We live in an environment rife with apathy and a culture of impunity towards violence against women. Sections of the population still view these violations of women’s human rights as unimportant. Or, at best, they are seen as shameful incidents to be covered up to preserve the family honour.


And the culture of victim blaming is not the only deterrent to women seeking reparations for the violations they have suffered. Well-known abuses of power by those tasked to protect us all should also give women pause. Recently a column in Malaysiakini highlighted two rape cases where the accused rapists were police officers.


For we live in a society where equality in every sense is still seen as a dirty word, and where fighting for justice often means a woman has to play a victim-martyr. And this takes us ever further from the principle that a person has rights simply by virtue of being human.


The struggle for all of us is to see that we are part of this battle. The struggle is to act upon this knowledge, and to never, ever let those in power forget that these numbers are human.

Read the whole article HERE.

What is even sadder, I think, is the fact that in Malaysia, those who are fighting for women’s rights, and fighting against violence against women and children, are women themselves. No, I’m not saying that all men are bad. I’m just saying that there are simply not enough men out there who are willing to go that extra mile, that extra step, to help protect the rights of women and children.

And sometimes, though it’s sad to admit, women are their own worst enemies. We fear the ‘shame’ that we may bring to the family should we tell of such crimes that have been committed towards our bodies. We fear the taunting that will ensue. Some of us believe that this is what we deserve, though we have done nothing wrong, except be born female.

We tell ourselves to endure abuse for the sake of our family and children, when we don’t realise that it is actually breaking the family apart. We tell ourselves to keep rape a secret for fear that our husbands will no longer bear to touch our ‘dirty’ bodies. We make ourselves disappear.

It’s about time we stopped doing that.


4 Comments on “Making people disappear”

  1. Crankshaft says:

    ..the need for “very firm evidence”, said it was because it could portray a very bad national image.

    A bad image? We couldn’t possibly have a worse image than we do now. We’re the killers of mongolian translators, we rig our elections, we imprison our whistle-blowers, we make wild allegations of sodomy against opposition politicians to get them thrown in jail.


    It couldn’t get worse. Then again… Malaysia boleh.

  2. Antares says:

    When was the last time I raped anybody? Jeez, must have been at least 38,000 years ago! Miss my club and hairy anus.

    Some events, like the rape of the Penans (not just the womenfolk but the entire tribe and their forest home)… what happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot… what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians… Abu Ghraib… Guantanamo… Kamunting… pain me so much I can’t even scream! Just thinking about it makes me want to use the flame-thrower on the brutes who perpetrate such loathsome acts and then hide behind their pedigree and expensive suits. Thanks for airing this, Michelle.
    No thanks needed. We both feel the pain.

  3. LightsInTheDistance says:

    Men do the most cruel and inhuman things imaginable to women. And the sickest thing is other men seemed to approved of it with some even saying it is inherent in man’s nature. It proved that one is more of a man by showing his masculine side.

    What utter nonsense. Men are supposed to protect women and children, and that’s the universal truth. That is the power entrusted to men. That is the real power of men. That is what men should use their entrusted power for.

    If men misused their power by abusing women and children, then they are not men. If men don’t speak up and make their voice heard when there’s injustice done to the women and children they’re supposed to protect. If men failed to make a clear stand against crimes perpetrated to women and children, then not only men, but humankind has failed.

    I am a man. And all these injustices and crimes done to my fellow humans shamed me so. The apathy and indifference shown by some men; ordinary men and more so, men who have power to put things right, shames me even more.

    What have our country become if those men in power failed to protect its citizens? To whom does the future generations placed their hopes upon when they can’t place their hopes on those who are there to protect them?

    We can’t change those ordinary men and those men in power any more than we could change the course of the rising sun. What we could change, what we should change is teach our future generations; our sons and daughters.

    Teach them when young, especially the men, that all men should and must respect women.

    Teach our sons that women are also humans and deserved all the respects and equal treatment as men do.

    Teach them that men shall not violate women without their consent and women are not “inferior” to men in any ways.

    Teach them that men shall come to the protection of women if ever there were abuses and injustice done to them.

    And don’t forget to teach our daughters the same.
    And may we have more men like you.

  4. Gadfly says:

    We do not know the full extent of the sexual violence against the Penan women. It seems to be a tip of the iceberg. Sexual violence against one woman is called rape, but it suggests tribal cleansing if it is systemic and prolonged over a long period of time. Rape is used as weapon to intimidate the entire population. The main issue is not sex or sexism or alcoholism, but power to dominate, oppress and to exploit.

    When workers commit a crime, the responsibility of top management of corporations are called into question : Do they condone it or just deliberately negligent ?

    The powers-that-be seems to be more concerned to protect the ‘national image’ rather human beings – the survivors of sexual abuse.

    Powerless tribal groups often face a host of human right violation : the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and family, including medical care and necessary social services; the right to education etc. It is not just the transport problem.

    Sexual violence is traumatic to survivors. Reforms are needed to reduce re-traumatisation in the process involving the police, hospital and the courts when stigma is already too much of a burden. All the talk about ‘firm evidence’ sounds denials. Empathy is not manifested.

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