Different strokes for different folks?

FORGIVENESS: Justice that love gives is a surrender, justice that law gives is a punishment. — Mahatma Gandhi. May Jemima find peace and live out of the shadows of her bad childhood memories.

SHE was 11 when she was molested by her uncle who was then in his 20’s.

Jemima (not her real name) moved to another town shortly after but had been avoiding any family occasion where she would meet this uncle.

It was a month ago, 40 years later, that she received a telephone call from this same uncle. She trembled as the caller identified himself as uncle so and so.

She broke down and for the first time, related the anger and hurt to someone.

Unthinkable that Jemima should be carrying the harm done by a person whom she called uncle for 40 years and undoubtedly, beyond?

Yes, considering that Jemima has a family, a career and seen as a cheerful and loving woman, aging gracefully.

According to the Encyclopaedia of Crime and Punishment, the long-term effects of child sexual abuse include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction and sub-stance abuse.

Some victims were also twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to non-abused children.

And throughout their lives, sexually abused children are “four times more likely to be at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder and about three times more likely to abuse substances than their non-abused counterparts.”

Based on the extent of effects on rape victims in these researches, it must have been a devastating moment to Jemima and many other child sex abuse victims to read the words of a law enforcer, a protector, a person of high society standing: “Public interest will not be served if (the rapist) was given a custodial sentence when he had a bright future.”

Noor Afizal Azizan, a national bowler, committed statutory rape with a 13-year-old girl three years ago. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years’ jail.

The Court of Appeal last week allowed Noor Afizal Azizan’s appeal against the High Court decision to sentence him to five years jail.

The Court of Appeal substituted the jail term with “a bound over for good behaviour for five years.”

The Court, in its decision, agreed with counsel representing Noor Afizal that public interest would not be served if his client was given a custodial sentence when he had a bright future.

Noor Afizal was 18 years old when the offence was committed.

According to New Straits Times’ report, Noor Afizal, now 21, represented Negeri Sembilan between 2004-2010, and also Malaysia in the National Youth Category for five years – 2004-2008.

He is expected to represent Kedah in several upcoming tournaments such as the KL International Open Championship 2012.

There was public outrage over the grounds for the decision.

Many have called on the judiciary to clarify its judgment. They include Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) which was reported as saying it was troubled by the grounds for the decision.

“If this (having a bright future) was the sole influencing factor in the judgment, then the JAG expresses regret over the court’s decision to release the perpetrator on probation of good conduct.”

Many are questioning: “Does it mean that an individual who is perceived to have no future would get a heavier sentence?”

Some are also asking: “If you are a star, you can get away after committing a crime?”

At home, The Borneo Post reported Mohd Syafarudin Isa, 24, a painter from Kuching/Serian Road, was sentenced to eight years’ jail and ordered to be given three strokes of the whip after he pleaded guilty to a charge of raping a minor under Section 376(10) of the Penal Code.

Still fresh in the memory of many Malaysians is the case of 44 men being charged in court for having sex with a minor, a 16-year-old student who was moonlighting as freelance prostitute for an online vice syndicate.

The 44 included many who have “bright future” or are even enjoying a “bright future” now.

Among them are nine civil servants, a senior banker, a company director, a senior vice-president of a private company, a senior police officer as well as a scholarship recipient, aged between 21 and 48 years.

To date, two of the accused have pleaded guilty to the charges and both had been sentenced to nine weeks in jail.

Have the grounds of the sentence in the national bowler’s case failed to send out a correct signal to would-be perpetrators of offences of such a nature, thereby losing the desired deterrent effect?

The rapist has a future because he is a national bowler. The poor 13-year-old has to step into an unknown future carrying the hurt.

Is there a missing link in the information available to the media and the public on the grounds of sentence?

If so, then there is a need for the judiciary to keep Jemima, other rape victims and the public informed in order to stop the speculation, and the subject from being politicised further.

Until then, Jemima and many other victims of child sexual abuse are asking: “What about our future? Who cares about our hurt?”

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