Brave voices

Sur­vivors of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence open up about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By LEE MEI LI star2@thes­tar.com.my

SHE spoke calmly and you would not have no­ticed her miss­ing fin­ger if she had not pointed it out with a shrug. Her sto­ries are hor­rific - los­ing a fin­ger and be­ing as­saulted in a car park as “pun­ish­ment” but she re­lated them mat­ter-of- factly, which ren­ders her story all the more stark and ter­ri­ble.

This woman’s story is one of the cases high­lighted in Sur­vivors Speak Up, a video pro­duced by the Women’s Aid Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WAO) in con­junc­tion with their 16 Days of Ac­tivism Against Gen­der Vi­o­lence cam­paign.

“You read about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, but it’s just not the same when you’re talk­ing to the sur­vivors in per­son,” says WAO ad­vo­cacy of­fi­cer Sally Wangsawijaya, who con­ducted the in­ter­views with the sur­vivors.

Putting this video to­gether was Wangsawijaya’s first project since join­ing WAO, and it was her most in­ti­mate en­counter with sur­vivors of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“Some­times, it takes many years be­fore the vic­tims build up enough courage to lodge their first po­lice re­port. And get­ting them to talk about it – you can lit­er­ally feel what they’ve gone through – was very in­tense.”

The video was first un­veiled at a re­cent roundtable ses­sion or­gan­ised with the Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Min­istry to im­prove the re­sponse mech­a­nisms on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in the coun­try.

For the first time, the pub­lic will get to put a face and a voice to bat­tered women. “The point of the video isn’t so much about what had hap­pened to the sur­vivors, but more so on what you can do if it hap­pens to you too,” ex­plains Wangsawijaya.

From a sneak pre­view of the video, the video high­lights the vic­tims’ painstak­ingly nav­i­gat­ing the sys­tem to pro­tect them­selves against their abusers; from lodg­ing a po­lice re­port to seek­ing help from groups like WAO to ob­tain an In­terim Pro­tec­tion Or­der (IPO).

The video shows how help­less women liv­ing with vi­o­lence are when their calls for help are an­swered with an echo­ing si­lence. In two of the three cases fea­tured in the video, po­lice re­ports did lit­tle to get her the in­ter­ven­tion she needed.

“The sta­tis­tics show that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is on the rise, but the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion is of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated. It is still a taboo sub­ject in our so­ci­ety and many cases go un­re­ported. The spirit of the video isn’t about point­ing fin­gers or blam­ing any in­di­vid­u­als or agen­cies for not do­ing their jobs. It’s more about iden­ti­fy­ing the weak­nesses in the cur­rent sys­tem and how we can all work to­gether to fur­ther im­prove on it,” says Wangsawijaya.

One of the chal­lenges of mak­ing the video was find­ing sur­vivors who were will­ing to talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Most feared for the safety of their chil­dren, or did not want to bear the stigma of be­ing an abuse vic­tim.

“The women fea­tured in the video wanted to share their sto­ries. Be­yond get­ting peo­ple to un­der­stand what they went through, they also wanted to ap­peal to the com­mu­nity to work to­gether to ad­dress vi­o­lence. Af­ter go­ing through so much abuse, the sur­vivors are still strong.

“One of them still face threats from her hus­band, but she’s no longer scared. She is fi­nally step­ping up for her­self and for her chil­dren. I think sto­ries like th­ese can be very in­spi­ra­tional for a lot of peo­ple.

“WAO felt that pro­duc­ing a video would be much more im­pact­ful to help the pub­lic re­assess the sit­u­a­tion. The video was also made as a part of our ef­fort in mon­i­tor­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act.

“We don’t want to be, in other words, a band aid – to just lis­ten to the sto­ries of the vic­tims and have it end there.

“We in­tend to take the sto­ries one step fur­ther and use them as a means to im­prove the cur­rent sys­tem in pro­tect­ing the abused,” says Wangsawijaya.

Watch “Sur­vivors Speak Up” on YouTube.com/wom­en­saidorg

Heart-wrench­ing: WaO ad­vo­cacy of­fi­cer Sally Wangsawijaya was moved by the sto­ries she heard while mak­ing the videos.

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