Will They Ever Learn?

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editor deskBy Fathol Zaman Bukhari

No one wants to be on the receiving end of physical abuse, more so if the victim is a loved one. The number of battered women and kids are on a steady rise in the country. On June 2, a three-year-old boy’s body was exhumed from a makeshift grave at the foot of Gunung Brinchang in Cameron Highlands. The cause of death was abuse inflicted by the boyfriend of the mother, ironically a policewoman who has gone AWOL (Absent Without Leave).

This is not an isolated case but one of the many that have received wide coverage in the media. I am sure there are many that have gone unreported largely because the victims, out of fear and shame, have deliberately kept their troubles to themselves to protect the perpetrators. They could be close relatives, a father or brother or an uncle whom they prefer to “protect”.

However, since the passing of the Domestic Violence Act in 1994, and implemented in 1996, cases of abuses by spouses, parents and relatives are beginning to receive the attention they truly deserve. Although it is a welcome change, things are not as rosy as they are supposed to be.

The biggest hurdle and the ones putting up all the obstacles, are the police. I don’t mean the force as a whole but those who man the front desk at the not so glorious ‘balai polis’ (police station) that dot the countryside. The quintessential ‘balai polis’ has become an important part of our system as they serve a purpose, especially at this moment in time. With crime rate spiralling out of control the sight of this conspicuous blue-white building in the neighbourhood is a welcome relief. But sight is one thing, reality is another.

The fact that the Domestic Violence Act was only passed in 1994 and implemented in 1996, after tireless campaigning by women’s groups beginning in the early 1980s, says plenty about the whole matter. Apathy is the reason behind the charade and I say this with much conviction.

I had the misfortune of following one aggrieved woman who wanted to take a temporary protection order against her abusive husband not so long ago. The procedure requires the victim, if she is wounded, to report to the nearest government hospital where a one-stop-crisis centre to cater for such exigencies is in operation. There is one at the Ipoh General Hospital.

After being attended to by a medical doctor she will be told to make an initial report to the police personnel on duty at the crisis centre. That is where her problem begins. She will then be directed to an Investigating Officer (IO) at the district police station who is responsible to investigate and validate the case.

On that fateful day the IO in question was away on a course and his relief, a lady officer, was nowhere to be found. After many enquiries she was finally traced, and that only happened many hours later. Meanwhile, the woman and a representative from a local women’s group had to while away their time doing nothing. I stayed on to watch the fun.

When the officer finally arrived she took some time to settle. She gave all sorts of excuses for the delay and had the audacity to say that her computer was kaput when the rest in the office were working. When I pointed this out to her, she grudgingly took her time to take down the woman’s particulars and her complaints. While hammering at the keyboard she told the woman to settle things with her husband. “You go back home and try to make up lah,” she said.

Go back and patch things up? She must be mad. The poor woman was at her wits end and anything more would simply be suicidal. And this police officer, a woman herself, was telling the victim to go home and make up? What a shame. I was disgusted.

Once a police report has been filed the victim needs to go to the local welfare department (Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat) to initiate proceedings for a temporary court order. The restraining order is only issued by a magistrate upon receipt of the department’s request. Enforcing the order is the duty of the police.

The procedures are simple but front-liners, especially police personnel manning the front desk at the ubiquitous balai polis, are neither sympathetic nor empathetic. Their grasp of the laws on violence against women is shallow, to say the least. They need to be taught and be more sensitive to changes made for the good of the general public.

This does not bode well for the Prime Minister’s much-publicised Government Transformation Programme where fighting crime is one of the National Key Results Areas under the programme. To the policemen at the balai, however, it is business as usual. Will they ever learn?