“Don’t talk to strangers.”
Words of supposed wisdom passed down by parents to their children as a precautionary reminder. Words presumably enough to deter away any unwanted company around their children. Words that an innocent child’s mind is supposed to adapt and adopt within their daily lives. But what happens if danger comes in the form of a familiar face?
According to a study conducted by Darkness To Light, an NGO formed to stop child sexual abuse, 90% of child sexual abuse victims personally knew their perpetrators and only 10% were assaulted by strangers. Out of this 90%, 30% of them were attacked by immediate family members while the other 60% were attacked by people the family trusted. So is a piece of advice efficient enough to save our children?
Recently Malaysia was left dumbstruck when local social activist, Syed Azmi, uploaded a screenshot from a private group chat consisting of 751 members on Telegram. The image shown was of a young child and the pedophilic comments left by the members surprised the public, especially seeing how some of the members were in their 20s, a considerably young age to be having any of these unnatural perverse thoughts about children.
However, it did not stop there. Over the next few days, he shed light upon the rampant child abuse happening in Malaysia by posting on Facebook a series of traumatizing confessions from sexual abuse victims who are now well-grown adults living a daily life still scarred by the incidents that remain permanently on their mind.
As I scrolled through each confession, I found myself needing to hold back my tears when imagining how these brave individuals managed to find the strength to finally tell their painful stories in hopes of finding an ease of mind. These are grown adults, some with children of their own, still living with fear, some with guilt, some with addictions of their own—all because they are still haunted by those experiences in the past.
But it also left me wondering, why exactly did we feel shocked upon realizing that child sexual abuse is unfortunately a common occurrence? Why are we surprised by something that we turn a blind eye to? Because ignorance is apparently bliss, but it’s time to stop this.
The Other Side Of The Story
Pedophilia is described as an abnormal or unnatural attraction towards prepubescent children. It is a mental illness which is growing rampant globally and the media has been continuously exposing these convicted felonies to bring awareness towards an issue which we blind ourselves from seeing happening almost daily. But what is still kept in the dark are the voices of the victims who remain unheard.
If you go through the confessions which Syed Azmi has posted, you can notice a recurring theme. They all chose to stay silent, whether it be willingly or not is debatable. Even after the physical and mental torment they were put through, they hid their bruises and scars beneath a facade of normality and painfully watch as their abusers are free to roam. Why?
The answer is fear. Fear stemmed from the belief that there is something far worse than the harm cast upon their bodies. Fear of haunting threats on their lives from the attackers should any word of the abuse got out. Fear of burdening their loved ones more than what life was already handing them. Fear of causing shame to the family in front of judgmental eyes and lips so ready to scorn.
This brings back the question of why Malaysians seem to be shocked when these pedophiles are exposed after years of their nasty deeds going on under our noses and not a whiff was caught? It’s because this fear exists and so long as these victims continue to feel as though they can never be saved, the predators will prey.
Is Malaysia A Safe Haven?
After Syed Azmi’s exposure as well as Richard Huckle’s arrest after he pleaded guilty to 71 counts of child sex offences, it beckons the real question of what exactly has Malaysia done to create a safer haven for our children?
When asked why it took so long before Huckle was revealed, local authorities commented that Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) had only provided them information regarding Huckle about a month ago from his convicted crime which contradicts deputy director of NCA, Andrew Brennan’s statement of how they had already informed local authorities since November 2014.
Should this be the case, it can be said that Malaysian authorities have failed their duty towards the safety of our children and that Malaysia’s child protection on the legal side is extremely insufficient. The only laws and official help provided by the government are seen with the legislation of Child Act (Act 611) which protects and defends the rights of all Malaysian children, building of homes for victims of abuse by the Department of Social Welfare as well as local hospitals providing comprehensive treatment for victims of abuse by SCAN (suspected child abuse and neglect) teams.
But treatments, shelters and therapies can only go so far as curing abuse survivors. Development on procedures to prevent child sexual abuse from growing is still highly lacking. Several parties have outwardly expressed how our country is deemed inadequate in handling sexual abuse. In fact, numerous requests have been made for the establishment of a public sex offender registry and as of today, there is yet to be such a list made public for all to be aware of.
Some noble citizens in our society have taken it upon themselves to create more awareness regarding this issue. An example would be Projek Layang-Layang, a community to educate parents on protecting and freeing children from sexual abuse, which is a big stepping stone for Malaysians to realise how serious this issue is. With more effort, I hope to see both the government and public work together to create an environment where children can live their lives as they should.
Start Doing Something About It
Moving past from the stage of being shocked by what’s happening in our country, what should we be doing about it?
1. Seed awareness from young.
Growing up in a conservative country where sex is categorized as a sensitive topic and should be highly censored for preventive measures, my exposure to sex education only came in my late teen years. An age too late when countless of children below the age of 12 have probably been forced to experience these sordid acts with no prior inkling on what was even being done to them.
This highlights the urgency to implement holistic sex education into our school curriculum so that the young generation would be aware on inappropriate sexual contact as well as the repercussions of underage sex. Although many adults may argue that children are too naive to be indulged with such ‘heavy’ information but it is because of their naivety that they should know the value of their bodies and who they allow to come within close contact.
2. Prioritise security and background checks.
Our nation should also consider taking a more thorough screening procedure when it comes to employment of people who work closely with children. A detailed criminal background and reference check will help prevent employing candidates with profiles which contain traits of a sexual offender. Specific indicators include, prior sexual offenses against children, difficulties with or aversion to adult sexual relationships, the lack of empathy, frequent and unexplained moves.
3. Start talking about it.
In an Asian community where sex and abuse are considered as taboo subjects, it’s even more crucial than ever that we (both young and old) should be encouraged to talk about it. And not in the gossipy whisper-over-the-neighbour’s-fence sort of way. Bring it up with friends and family, around dinner tables or at local community events. Actively discuss the serious implications of this social issue to bring about more awareness.
When a topic is widely examined intellectually and proactively, it can’t get swept under the rug anymore. It’s like the issue of bullying, if everyone is mindful about it, even a bully will think twice before shoving someone in the playground.
4. Don’t feign ignorance.
Another primary problem when it comes to awareness of sexual abuse is the lack of listening. Sexually abused victims often mention how their initial attempt in voicing out their concerns were quickly diminished by their loved ones which leads to them muting their problems altogether. They are left to wonder if their voices will ever bring salvation or further suffering.
Our country needs to open their eyes and realise how sexual abuse can easily happen to anyone around us and needs to be addressed properly. Malaysia needs to wake up and start listening. Listen to your children when they tell you that someone told them to do something suspicious. Listen to your children when they cry out in fear because they were touched inappropriately. Listen to your children who desperately need to know they’re not alone. Because if you don’t, who will?
If you know of any support groups or therapy specialists for victims of child sexual abuse, do share in the comments. Together, we can make this world a better place for children everywhere.