Attitude Towards Sexual Harassment
May Be Enabling Perpetrators
The government enforcement agencies, especially the police, must maintain proper attitude, respect and sensitivity when dealing with victims of sexual harassment. Over the last week, AWAM (All Women’s Action Society) had identified a few women who had approached the police separately to file a sexual harassment complaint only to be met with laughter.
These women had connected on Twitter and this revealed that their sexual harasser, a Dr. Haji Abu Bakar (sometimes Dr. Haji Abdullah) had somehow obtained their personal information from the Ampang Health Clinic by posing as a doctor and enquiring about the women who had recently undergone an HIV screening there.
A quick search of his name and number on the internet also revealed that this is not the first time he has done this as the name, phone number and method of harassment is remarkably consistent. In 2017, Sinar Harian had carried a news story and the Ministry of Health (MOH), Terengganu had also issued a public announcement regarding this matter which was covered by Harian Metro. In the statement by MOH, the modus operandi of the perpetrator is the same as the sexual harassment case from 2010.
In the thread on Twitter (now deleted to protect the privacy of the victim), Syarifah, 21 had lodged a report with the police. However, they had laughed and teased her about it; going so far as to tell her to include the clause “No action is to be taken as long as the harasser does not disturb me”.
Another victim also made a report but the police did not take any action as they claimed that it is not a criminal case. Another victim had approached MCMC (Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission) for assistance but MCMC had said that they cannot take action without an order by the police.
Addressing the issue of Sexual Harassment
From 2013 to 2016, the number of reported sexual harassment cases had been steadily increasing, peaking in 2016 at 338 cases. However, in 2017, there was a huge dip in the numbers, standing at 267 cases.
While these statistics may seem to reflect a drop in sexual harassment, this is not necessarily true. Social stigma, trivialization of the issue by the police and the victim’s refusal to relive the traumatic experience are all contributing factors as to why victims do not lodge police complaints.
Women’s organizations working on the ground estimate that for every reported case of sexual harassment, 8-9 cases go unreported.
This attitude towards sexual harassment makes light of the situation when it is a matter personal security especially mental, physical and emotional security. Syarifah, the victim mentioned above, is so traumatized by her experience that she is afraid of picking up calls on her phone. The effects of sexual harassment does not only fall in the victim but also on the family, friends and coworkers.
Breach of Duties
Aside from the actual harassment, there also exist several breaches of duties which are as follows:
- a) Ampang Health Clinic
The clinic and its staff have a duty as the ‘data user’ under the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 to protect the information on the personal health of the ‘data subject’ (the patients). Giving out personal information without prior verification is simply unacceptable.
- b) The police
The police have a duty under Section 3 (3) of the Police Act 1967 to file and investigate a complaint in order to uphold law and order in the country.
AWAM calls on the government to take the necessary steps to address this specific matter and the broader issue of sexual harassment properly. The government must look into setting up the IPCMC (Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission) to address gaps in police enforcement.
Aside from assurring access to justice, this would also allow the police force to identify areas that require training and allow for better transparency and accountability to the public.
Without proper checks, perpetrators of GBV (gender-based violence) may go on to commit more serious sexual crimes. The police must properly investigate this matter with the utmost urgency and discretion.
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
3 JULY 2019