CASES of rape involving young girls and women have been in the news headlines in recent weeks. A 54-year-old taxi driver from Kuala Lumpur raped and blackmailed secondary schoolgirls into becoming his sex slaves.

There was also a case involving a despatch clerk and a tow truck driver who first befriended young girls between 12 and 14, and then invited them to their homes and raped them.

The most recent case is of a schoolbus driver accused of raping a 10-year-old girl in broad daylight and in front of other children in the bus; he is also reported to have raped other kids.

We often read reports of fathers, uncles and brothers sexually abusing and raping their young female family members, and of teachers who violate their charges’ trust.

In many cases, the rapists rape the girls repeatedly over a period of time because their victims were too afraid to report their ordeal.

The taxi driver used videos he took of the rape to blackmail his victims, while the labourer and tow truck driver threatened the girls and paid them to keep quiet. These rapists let the girls go after they have raped them, but continue to hold them in fear and shame.

In more than 80% of rape and sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is someone the survivor knows. -- All pictures in this story were posed by models for illustration purposes only

Some rape survivors suffer in silence for years, and many sex crimes go unreported while the perpetrators remain free and continue to rape. This is because of the “fear of shame, of not being believed, of being cast out of their homes, of being ‘in the press’,” said Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) social work manager Wong Su Zane.

Few seek help. Even when rape survivors reach out to others, they hesitate to report the crime.

“It’s surprising how many girls come to us and are reluctant to make a police report of the incident because they are afraid their stories will be printed in the papers, with graphic details of what had happened,” says Su Zane, who has been a social worker for over 11 years.

“It’s our society as well, who encourage this culture of fear. We tend to blame the survivor for what had happened to her, and make excuses for the perpetrator, such as ‘He was abused as well’, ‘He can’t help himself’ and so on,” she adds.

According to Su Zane filing a rape report can be daunting. A rape survivor must go to the police station nearest to where she was raped, relate her story to a police officer in the general waiting area in the police station in front of everyone. Sometimes, other police officers will crowd around and throw their questions at her.

Only then is she taken to a private room to give her full statement.

If it is a fresh case, meaning the rape has just happened, the survivor will be asked to go for a medical check-up and a police officer will take down her statement at the hospital.

“If the survivor doesn’t make a report immediately, some officers will even ask ‘Why did you wait so long?’, which is another way of blaming her for the situation,” says Su Zane.

She says that the rape survivor’s family members and friends may not mean to further victimise her, but they also hold her responsible for the rape by asking questions like, ‘Why did you go out with him in the first place?’.

“This makes the survivor doubt herself, and question her actions, and leaves her wondering if she actually did do something wrong. Girls and women need to know that even if they went out with the rapist, or kissed him, he should not force himself on her. It’s not the girl’s fault,” says Su Zane.

However, most rape survivors are conditioned to believe that the rape is their fault.

Often a rape or sexual abuse survivor stays silent about her ordeal because she is afraid of being judged and shamed, or of losing her family should she be removed from her home where the perpetrator lives (All pictures in this story were posed by models for illustration purposes only)

Most rapists are known to their victims, and they build a relationship with the girls before raping them.

“It depends on how the perpetrator ‘groomed’ the survivor. It may have started with kind words, gifts, and slowly he may introduce pornography and touching, then oral sex and then sex itself,” says Madeline Yong, director of PS the Children.

“When the perpetrator suspects that the survivor thinks that something is wrong, that’s when he starts making threats. He’ll say, ‘If you tell anyone, they’ll take you away from me and the family and put you in a home’. Some survivors suffer for years in silence because they don’t want to lose their family and home,” adds Madeline.

Madeline explains that many perpetrators will make the survivor feel ashamed at what had happened to her, calling her a “slut” or “dirty”, making her fearful of other peoples’ reactions should she break her silence.

“It’s the ‘judging’, the lack of support from society, the fear of being shamed that forces the survivor to remain silent,” adds Madeline.

Sometimes, a survivor, still in shock from the incident, will have difficulty remembering what the perpetrator looks like. “What a police officer, friend, or family members says next can have a huge bearing on whether the survivor takes up the case or not,” says Su Zane.

However, Su Zane also acknowledges that the police and hospital staff have taken a kinder approach in helping a rape survivor lodge her report.

“She may write her story down on a piece of paper, or type it out and save it into a thumbdrive to avoid having to relate her story in front of the whole police station,” explains Su Zane.

Even though reporting a rape or sexual abuse will be stressful and emotionally draining, she stresses on the importance of carrying it out, and getting moral support from a family member, social worker, or friend.

“They can approach a women’s organisation first if they want a social worker to go with them to the police station and hospital. From then on, we can offer them counselling and we will also follow up on their court case as it progresses.”

When a friend confides in you, don't judge, never ask her 'Are you sure?', and offer to go with her to file a report (All pictures in this story were posed by models for illustration purposes only)

Women, Family and Community Development minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said her ministry is conducting programmes with the police on how to deal sensitively with rape survivors. She added that girls and women should not be afraid to come forward and report their case.

“They must not be afraid to come, especially when it is a rape case because if they don’t come to make this report the perpetrator might do the same thing to someone else. It’s really important not only for themselves that justice is done but also to prevent it from happening again,” she says, adding that counselling for rape survivors is available at her ministry.

“These days, women are outraged by the sexual violence and they are aware of their rights. But once they report their case, they have to go for counselling so they won’t be emotionally damaged,” she adds.

Source: The Star Online