Letter to the Editor: A Bill For Justice, Not Justification

(Based on this news report: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/486122)


The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) condemns the statement made by PKR senator Mohd Imran Abd Hamid, proposing the enactment of sexual harassment law to protect men from being seduced into committing crimes such as rape.

First of all, this statement was made in response to the Sexual Harassment Bill proposed by JAG. Sexual harassment is a social issue that disproportionately affects women, meaning that while men and women are both victims of sexual harassment,  a bulk of victims are actually women.

A sexual harassment act is meant to address the current gaps in the law – especially when there is so much about sexual harassment that is misunderstood. Only today, the Center for Governance and Political Studies had released a report showing that out of 2000 men who were interviewed in Klang Valley, only 34.6% had specifically identified verbal consent as the bar for consent – and that really is the line that divides sexual harassment from friendly or acceptable norms of behavious.

It is unacceptable for the Senator to place the blame of rape, molestation, incest, porn and otherwise on the victim. After all, it is the perpetrator who must take responsibility for their own actions. The idea that victims are unable to access justice or demand some form or redress after undergoing such a dehumanizing experience simply adds into the creation of a culture of fear and violence.

Underlying all of this is the assumption that gender-based violence stems from desire or lust. However, such violence is never about desire or lust. It is about power and objectification. There are many accounts where sexual harassment has taken place between two heterosexual people of the same sex – and this just goes to show that it is not about sex, it is about power, control and saying that ‘I can do this to you’.

Moral policing has not worked – and that is expected because dress is not the reason why children are molested, or why people rape. It is the power, privilege and permission given by society when the people in charge fail to properly address the violence, when rapists go free or marry their victims, when children are sold into a marriage to ease the families’ financial burdens. All moral policing has achieved is that when someone is raped or harassed, the people in charge start saying things like “Why did you wear such a bright lipstick?”, or “Why did you wear jeans?”.

AWAM held a quick survey with 35 schoolgirls aged 14 – 17 in June, asking them if they have ever been harassed. More than 60 percent claimed that they were sexually harassed, mainly through verbal channels (including catcalling, sexual innuendos or jokes). The key point here almost all the girls surveyed were wearing the hijab, and usually dressed modestly.

We need a Sexual Harassment Act – not because women need special privileges – but because everyone (this law will be applied to all people, not just women) deserves to live in dignity, and without fear for their personal safety.

Issued by:
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
31 JULY 2019