More ur­gency in pro­tect­ing vic­tims

The pro­posed Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence (Amend­ments) Act 2017 puts vic­tims’ safety at the fore­front.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Woman - By S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­

THE pro­posed Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence (Amend­ment) Act 2017 – slated for its sec­ond and third read­ing in Par­lia­ment on Mon­day – will of­fer vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse more pro­tec­tion, a mea­sure which the Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Min­istry and women’s rights groups have been push­ing for, since 2013. The new bill is more pro­gres­sive and ad­dresses the grave and in­sid­i­ous na­ture of do­mes­tic abuse. “We are push­ing for the bill to go through soon and are con­fi­dent that it will. Po­lice statis­tics show that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is on the in­crease, with 15,617 re­ported cases be­tween 2014 and 2016. On a pos­i­tive note, this shows that more vic­tims are com­ing for­ward to re­port such abuse.

“Our pri­or­ity is their wel­fare and safety. We need to see this bill through. We also need vic­tims to know that there are laws to pro­tect them from vi­o­lence,” said Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment min­is­ter Datuk Seri Ro­hani Abdul Karim at a me­dia brief­ing on the amend­ments to the bill this week.

The new bill is the re­sult of four years of col­lab­o­ra­tive work by the min­istry, the Joint Ac­tion Group for Gen­der Equal­ity, the Women’s Par­lia­men­tary Cau­cus and the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Cham­bers. Other agen­cies in­volved in draft­ing the amend­ments in­clude the po­lice, Ja­batan Ke­ma­juan Is­lam Malaysia (Jakim) the Bar Coun­cil and the Malaysian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Mul­ti­me­dia Com­mis­sion.

Im­me­di­ate pro­tec­tion

One of the key amend­ments to the bill is the in­tro­duc­tion of an Emer­gency Pro­tec­tion Or­der (EPO) which al­lows so­cial wel­fare of­fi­cers to grant vic­tims im­me­di­ate pro­tec­tion against their abusers.

The EPO can be is­sued within two hours af­ter an ap­pli­ca­tion is heard by a wel­fare of­fi­cer. Vic­tims don’t need a po­lice re­port or a court hear­ing to ob­tain the EPO, which is valid for seven days.

“In crit­i­cal cases where the vic­tim can­not phys­i­cally come to the so­cial wel­fare depart­ment to ob­tain the EPO, they can ap­ply for it by call­ing the wel­fare of­fice or even send­ing an email. The ser­vice is avail­able to them 24/7,” ex­plained the min­istry’s le­gal ad­vi­sor, Zahi­dah Zakariah, at the me­dia brief­ing.

Some 1,600 wel­fare of­fi­cers through­out the coun­try are cur­rently un­der­go­ing train­ing at dis­trict and state level to em­power them to as­sess cases and iden­tify those who war­rant EPOs.

“The EPOs are pri­mar­ily for vic­tims who are in im­me­di­ate dan­ger, those who have been phys­i­cally abused or threat­ened with griev­ous harm. It is for vic­tims who fear for their im­me­di­ate safety. The EPO of­fers in­stant pro­tec­tion and can be ob­tained at any time, seven days a week,” said Zahi­dah.

The EPO pro­hibits the abuser from harm­ing the vic­tim or in­cit­ing third par­ties to ha­rass and harm the vic­tim. It also pro­hibits a per­pe­tra­tor from com­ing near the vic­tim or in the vicin­ity of her safe space or shel­ter where she is seek­ing refuge.

The in­tro­duc­tion of the EPO, say women’s rights ac­tivists, is a huge step in boost­ing pro­tec­tion for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“Cur­rently, vic­tims are re­quired to make a po­lice re­port and ap­pear in court be­fore they can ob­tain ei­ther an In­terim Pro­tec­tion Or­der (IPO) or a Pro­tec­tion Or­der, which takes time. While wait­ing for these or­ders, vic­tims have no pro­tec­tion what­so­ever. Some vic­tims fear mak­ing a po­lice re­port for var­i­ous other rea­sons.

“The EPO, which is valid for a week, will of­fer them pro­tec­tion while they are con­sid­er­ing their next move. The or­der also pro­tects the safe space where the vic­tim is seek­ing refuge whether it is a shel­ter or home of rel­a­tives of friends. This also ex­tends pro­tec­tion to their fam­ily mem­bers who are help­ing them,” said Women’s Aid Or­gan­i­sa­tion ad­vo­cacy man­ager Yu Ren Chung.

Those found guilty of breach­ing the EPO face up to six months in prison.

Recog­nis­ing vic­tims’ rights

On top of the EPO, the amend­ments also for­tify the ex­ist­ing IPO by in­clud­ing ad­di­tional safe­guards for vic­tims.

Presently, an IPO pro­hibits the per­pe­tra­tor from harm­ing the vic­tim. It does not stop him from in­tim­i­dat­ing or ha­rass­ing the vic­tim.

With the new law, ad­di­tional or­ders can be in­cluded – based on the sever­ity of each case – which will stop abusers from com­ing near the vic­tim, ha­rass­ing her at her work­place or in her safe space.

“It can now act as a re­strain­ing or­der and will al­low the po­lice to act be­fore any fur­ther vi­o­lence hap­pens,” ex­plains Yu.

With the new law, po­lice are also man­dated to keep vic­tims up­dated on the sta­tus of their cases. This in­cludes pro­vid­ing vic­tims reg­u­lar up­dates on their in­ves­ti­ga­tion, up­dates on the sta­tus of their pro­tec­tion or­ders as well as the court dates for their tri­als and re­lated de­vel­op­ments.

This, says Women’s Cen­tre for Change’s Se­nior Ad­vo­cacy Of­fi­cer Melissa Mohd Akhir, is a pos­i­tive move in recog­nis­ing and val­i­dat­ing the rights of the vic­tims and em­pow­er­ing them to seek jus­tice for them­selves.

“When sur­vivors are left in the dark with few up­dates, they feel un­sup­ported and it dis­cour­ages them from pur­su­ing their crim­i­nal case. This is why many do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases do not go through to trial,” said Melissa.

Un­der the new law, the court can no longer or­der a vic­tim to at­tend rec­on­cil­ia­tory coun­selling with her abuser.

Presently, vic­tims who are seek­ing a di­vorce are re­quired to at­tend a mar­i­tal tri­bunal where they of­ten come face to face with the abuser. This prac­tice puts vic­tims in grave dan­ger and leaves them vul­ner­a­ble to fur­ther abuse.

“The aim of the law is to pro­tect the vic­tim. She must feel safe and if she feels she is in dan­ger, no amount of coun­selling – which is the aim of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gramme – will work. With the new law, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­ceed­ings can only be car­ried out with the con­sent of the vic­tim. This is not to pun­ish ei­ther party but to pro­tect the vic­tim. You can­not force her to face her abuser,” ex­plained Melissa.

Ex­panded def­i­ni­tion

The DVA was first amended in 2012 to in­clude psy­cho­log­i­cal, emo­tional and men­tal abuse as forms of do­mes­tic abuse.

How­ever, un­like phys­i­cal abuse where the scars on the vic­tim are clear, the ef­fects of psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional abuse are not so ob­vi­ous.

As a re­sult, vic­tims are of­ten dis­re­garded and even turned away when they re­port such forms of abuse. Also, to de­ter­mine psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, vic­tims are re­quired to un­dergo a men­tal state as­sess­ment at a gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal (ac­com­pa­nied by a wel­fare of­fi­cer). The re­port of her as­sess­ment will be sub­mit­ted to the po­lice as part of the ev­i­dence for in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

How­ever, the new bill ad­dresses this gap by defin­ing the ac­tions that cause psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional trauma (which in­cludes threats, in­sult­ing the mod­esty of the vic­tims, leav­ing dis­tress­ing mes­sages on elec­tronic or so­cial me­dia and mes­sag­ing plat­forms), mak­ing it clear to in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers that their com­plaints are le­git­i­mate.

“This is im­por­tant. Presently, be­cause of the lack of clar­ity about what con­sti­tutes psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, vic­tims are some­times turned away when they want to make a re­port. Vic­tims also of­ten worry about the stigma they may face with the term ‘psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse’. This way, we can avoid such ad­di­tional dis­tress on them,” said Melissa.

The ex­panded def­i­ni­tion of abuse un­der the new law will also in­clude mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds or prop­erty. This is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases in­volv­ing the el­derly, says Ro­hani.

“We tend to talk about the DVA only in re­la­tion to mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ship but it in fact cov­ers all types of fa­mil­ial re­la­tion­ship. Abuse oc­curs not only in a mar­riage but in other types of re­la­tion­ships within the fam­ily.

“We have been hear­ing of cases where the el­derly are swin­dled out of their pen­sions or prop­erty. This too comes un­der the DVA,” she said.

— Women’s Cen­tre For Change

Women who ex­pe­ri­ence do­mes­tic vi­o­lence need to lodge a po­lice re­port and ob­tain pro­tec­tion not only to seek jus­tice but also to make the Gov­ern­ment sit up and take no­tice of the sever­ity of the prob­lem.

— Pho­tos: RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

Ro­hani is con­fi­dent that the amend­ments to the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act will be passed soon, ac­cord­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims more pro­tec­tion un­der the law.

Zahi­dah: Emer­gency Pro­tec­tion Or­ders are to of­fer im­me­di­ate pro­tec­tion to vic­tims 24/7.

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