Due to the MCO, most Malaysians have had to stay at home. One unintended consequence of this is a sharp increase in domestic violence—as the victims would be trapped at home with their abusers. Domestic violence doesn’t just involve one partner abusing another, as it also happens between family members and those staying together. Sometimes it can also happen between people don’t live under the same roof but have some relation to each other.
The Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) said that they had received 234 calls and messages in the third week of April 2020 alone from women who had suffered some form of abuse at home. This number was four times higher than the usual number of calls and messages received before the MCO. And from 1st January-30th June 2020 alone, there were 1,721 cases of sexual crimes against children—not taking into account the other types of abuse suffered by children.
These numbers are already very sad to see, but the sadder truth is this:
*Many* cases go unreported
While these numbers are high, these are just the ones who have been brought to attention. There are still many victims who suffer in silence due to various reasons. We spoke to Dato’ Fion Wong, a partner of Shang & Co., who deals with family law cases. According to her, some reasons victims don’t report their abuse are:
- embarrassment/stigma: victims who are men or women with high qualifications may feel that others would perceive them as weak, especially due to the assumption that abuse mostly happens in poorer households
- not being taken seriously: a lot of the time, people might only believe abuse has taken place if the victim has visible scars and bruises. However, it must be remembered that abuse can also happen sexually, mentally and financially, among other ways
- thinking the danger will never really go away: the abuser might have instilled so much fear in the victim, making them believe that they will always have control of the victim’s life, even if they get caught
- financial dependence on the abuser: the victim may be a partner or child of the abuser who depends on them financially, for food and shelter. Their worry is that they may not be able to fend for themselves if the abuser is caught
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the aspect of financial dependence.
Victims can claim financial support from the abuser
According to Dato’ Fion, not many victims are aware that they CAN continue to get financial help from the abuser even if the abuser is caught. This may give the victim more confidence to go ahead and report the abuse that they are suffering. To start with, there are various laws in place that deal with violence and abuse, such as the Domestic Violence Act 1994, the Penal Code and the Child Act 2001.
In Malaysia, there are orders that can be issued against the abuser, that would prevent the abuser from coming anywhere near the victim.
- Emergency Protection Order: Can be issued to the victim within two hours of application by the Welfare Department. It is valid for 7 days.
- Interim Protection Order: Issued before the abuser is charged in court. Also valid for 7 days
- Protection Order: Issued after the abuser is charged. It is valid for one year and can be extended for another year, provided the trial is still going on in court.
In some cases, the court can also allow the victim to have full control of the home that is shared by them and their abuser, so that they would have a place to stay. And of course, the abuser will not be allowed to stay there at that time.
But in terms of getting financial help, victims are advised to speak to a lawyer first. Abusers can be still made to pay a maintenance, or monthly sum needed for the expenses of the victim(s). After a petition is filed in court, the court can order the abuser to pay up. The only reason an abuser can be exempted from paying is if they were never the main person to earn for the family. However, the other way victims can get help is by filing for divorce. Here, the assets that the victim and abuser own will be divided, and the victim will be able to take their share.
Understandably, seeking legal help can also incur expenses. But if the victim needs legal aid, there are 4 ways they can go about it:
The Legal Aid Department – they can help with both civil and criminal cases
The Bar Council – they have legal aid specifically for family law, employment law and criminal cases
National Legal Aid Foundation/ Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan
Pro bono lawyers – lawyers who will take up the case for free, but each firm will have specific requirements to be met by the client
What can YOU do to help victims?
As mentioned above. abuse may be difficult to detect at first, especially if it isn’t physical. But if you suspect that someone you know may be going through abuse, check on them let them know that help is available. As mentioned, there are laws in place that can help deal with specific cases. Besides going to PDRM directly, which would be the first natural step, there are other avenues that victims of violence can also reach out to:
- Women’s Aid Organization: 03 7956 3488/ 018 988 8058
- Talian Nur: 15999
- Covid-19 psychosocial support hotline (also under WAO): 03-2935 9935
If the victim is too afraid to seek help, you can also reach out these bodies on their behalf, and they will take over the matter from there.