Monday, February 19, 2018

Reimagining Malaysia Part 12: Rape

Occasionally, we see social media users expressing outrage over high profile rape cases, such as the Kelantan gang rape, which saw 38 men gang-raping a 15 year-old girl [1], or the heartless father in Chow Kit who repeatedly hit and raped his underage daughter who had just arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Sarawak in search of a better life only to have it turn into an unimaginable nightmare[2]. Despite such cases, only a few people recognise the severity of the rape culture problem in Malaysia.

On average, there are 3,000 rape cases reported yearly in Malaysia. What is even more astounding is that only two out of every 10 cases are reported. Even worse, two out of three rape victims are minors (under 16 years old)[3]. How do these numbers translate into real life?

Including the non-reported cases, it is estimated that there are as many as 15,000 rape cases in Malaysia every year. Hence, a rape takes place every 35 minutes – by the time you finish reading 2 articles of this series, one female would have been raped in some corner of Malaysia. And 80 percent of rape victims, many of whom are girls, suffer in silence.

Even when a rape case is reported to the police, there is a possibility that the suspected perpetrator will get away scot-free. According to a parliamentary reply from the Home Ministry, from 2005 to July 2014, a total of 28,471 rape cases were reported, of which only 16 percent (4,514 cases) were brought to court and only 2.7 percent (765 cases) of the perpetrators were found guilty[4].

The factors that resulted in acquittal or a lesser sentence were:
1. Delay of the police report;
2. Victims pulling back their reports, stating personal reasons i.e. lack of interest, desire to forget the incident, desire to marry, etc.;
3. Lack of cooperation, commitment of victims and witnesses (willing party) and lack of criminal evidence;
4. Difficulties of documentation, identifying and arresting suspects; and
5. No supporting statements from witnesses, medical reports and chemical reports to support the victim’s statement.

The low reporting and high acquittal rates are probably a result of the overarching culture of victim blaming.

In Eastern culture, women are often seen as an object or a “possession” and we are somewhat inferior to men. Whenever a rape happens, many will ask questions like “What was she wearing?", “Where was she?”, "Was she drunk?", “Did she go out late?”, “Where did she go?” and so on, as if the victim partly or fully deserved to be raped.

When someone is robbed, the blame is on the robber; when someone is killed, the blame is on the murderer; but when someone is raped, we point our finger at the victim? This just does not make sense. The incidence of rape can only be reduced when we as a society have greater awareness about the severity of the issue and start addressing the taboos, myths and mindsets that exacerbate rape culture.

Cannot tahan, she’s too sexy!
We often hear that women should cover up to avoid being raped. How true is such a claim?

Let’s test this hypothesis against the rape statistics across the different states in Malaysia. If the claim that covering up helps to prevent rape is true, we should be able to see fewer rape cases recorded in the more conservative states in Malaysia when compared to the more urbanised states.

Using the latest number of rape cases by states [5] and the population of each state[6], the number of rape cases for every 100,000 population is listed in the table.

Number of Rape Cases (2009)
Population (million)
Number of Rape Cases Per 100,000 population
Negeri Sembilan

The states that top the table are Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Perlis and Kedah with 20.59, 20, 18.7 and 17.64 rape cases per 100,000 population. The most urbanised states in Malaysia, such as Penang, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, are ranked near the bottom with 11.47, 11.41 and 9.28 rape cases per 100,000 population.

We can see from the statistics above that there is no positive or negative correlation between the level of conservativeness of the states and the number of rape cases per 100,000 population. The numbers have clearly shown that it is mathematically and statistically baseless to claim that rape is related to what women are wearing. If that were the case, you would see the highest incidence of rape in the most urbanised states.

Indeed, the different religious groups have varied teachings and guidelines on how the women of that particular religion should dress. However, the claim that women should cover up to avoid being raped must be substantiated by facts and figures, and proper research. If the root cause of the problem is not identified, solutions cannot be found, which will further exacerbate the problem.

In fact, various social studies have found that instead of sexual attractiveness, rapists rape to show power and control [7]. They actually look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness [8]. This explains why most victims are usually submissive and non-assertive, hence the preference for underage girls.

Women in Malaysia must have the freedom to choose what they want to wear. No woman deserves to be told they are inviting rape when they exercise this personal freedom.

Sex on the Camel’s Back

In 2015, my office ran an anti-rape awareness programme that was sponsored by the Selangor state government. We invited the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) to partner with us in the campaign because we felt that it had the expertise to follow up on the cases reported to us once the campaign had ended.

The title of our campaign was "Rogol adalah Rogol, Tiada Alasan" (Rape is rape, no excuse). We used videos and images on social media to tell people what rape was. The campaign went viral and the videos have cumulatively garnered more than 1 million views to date and have been used in many women empowerment workshops. Here's a photo at the launch of the campaign.

In the campaign videos, we demonstrated what constituted rape, for example, if a girl is under 16, it is rape with or without consent. That is also the case when she doesn’t say yes (she’s drunk or unconscious). There was a controversial portion in the video related to marital rape that landed us in hot water.

In Malaysia, marital rape is a specific exception from Penal Code 375, which is the act that defines rape. That’s right – the law in Malaysia does not recognise marital rape. Despite this, AWAM and I decided to express our opinions via a video that demonstrated that marriage was not a license for a husband to force his wife into sex without her consent. In fact, many countries around the world have already criminalised marital rape.

A woman should have the right not to be treated as a man’s property after marriage. Why is forced sex by a boyfriend considered rape when forced sex by a husband isn’t? How can a certificate of marriage degrade the status of women from equal human being to mere possession?

Although I expected some dissent over our position on marital rape before releasing the video, I didn’t expect it to invite derogatory remarks. One of the most widely reported responses to the video was the shocking remark made by an established public figure who said that a wife must give her husband sex even on a camel’s back! [9] It was reported not only in local news portals but also in Singapore, the UK etc.

I didn’t expect everyone to agree with us on the issue of marital rape but I was shocked at the disrespectful language used in the public discourse. Our girls shouldn’t have to grow up believing that their bodies don’t belong to them, and in such a demeaning manner.

Although there were negative responses, we also received a lot of positive feedback and heard many life-changing stories because of our awareness campaign. For example, a woman in her 20s finally told her family the secret that she had been keeping for many years after she watched the video – she had been raped by her brother’s friend when she was a teenager. A burden that she had been shouldering alone for so long finally got the well-deserved support and love of her family. That’s the power of awareness and empowerment. It is life-changing.

Indeed, sometimes we find resistance from some segments of society, but whenever I think of that young lady who was finally free to deal with the trauma of the past, victims who were empowered and many other young girls who were informed about what rape is and what to do if it happens, I know that more needs to be done by more people in society.

We need to protect our girls and women against rape and rape culture. Our girls should grow up knowing that they are as valuable as members of the opposite sex. Malaysia must be a place that is safe for women to live in so that they can fulfil their potential and pursue happiness.

*This article is extracted from a chapter of my upcoming book, "Reimagining Malaysia."

[1] Trinna Leong. Malaysian teenage gang-raped by 38 men – media. Reuters. 30 May 2014 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from:
[2] Jasmine Andria. Monster dad turns teen into his sex slave. Malay Mail Online. 18 Sept 2016 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from
[3] Bernama. 3,000 rape cases in Malaysia every year. Malaysiakini. 11 Dec 2015 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from
[4] Parliament Malaysia, Ref 7105, Oct 2014
[5] Women Center for Change Penang. Rape cases in Malaysia 2000-2009 (by states). [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from
[6] Department of Statistic Malaysia. Population Distribution and Basic Demographic Characteristic Report 2010. Updated: 5 Aug 2011.
[7] Jill Filipovic. Rape is about power, not sex. The Guardian. 29 Aug 2013 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from
[8] Theresa M Beiner. Sexy dressing revisited: does target dress play a part in sexual harassment cases? Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy. Vol 14:125. 2007.
[9] Ida Lim. Women must give husbands sex ‘even on camels’, Islamic scholar says. 27 Apr 2015 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from