Don’t send wrong signals on rape against minors
Posted on September 1, 2012, Saturday
OPRAH Winfrey was sexually assaulted as a young girl. She became pregnant at 14. Even with her superstar status years later, Oprah held back her shame and came out in the open to tell her story.
America’s richest and most well-known talk show host regularly brought up the ugly, violent incident in her life during her show. She had good reasons for doing that.
Rape, in Oprah’s own words and nightmarish experience, is a heinous crime which leaves permanent scars, both physical and emotional, on the victims. Therefore it is important for victims to be prepared to testify against their molesters in order to see that justice is served.
There is no doubt that Oprah has been a great influence, and an effective one at that, in bringing perpetrators of sexual crimes to book and seeking redresses for victims.
To Oprah, it does not matter whether it was a man raping a girl or a woman raping a boy. In one of her shows in 2010, a man who said he was raped by his mother when he was a boy, shared details of his horrific childhood. His story inspired even more victims to come forward.
“That is exactly the reason why I wanted to do these shows,” Oprah said. “To get people to step out of the shame, to come forward, to tell somebody. Rape is dirty. If committed against innocent children, it’s the worst crime ever.”
Back home, rape against minors became a topic of great interest and intense debate this week when two young men were bound over after being found guilty of raping their underaged girlfriends.
I cannot recall such judgements in our courts in recent times. So it must have been quite extraordinary cases to fuel a national debate of such intensity. Almost every group has a thing or two to say about it.
The two men in question were former national youth squad bowler Noor Afizal Azizan and Penang electrician Chuah Guan Jiu.
Noor Afizal took his 13-year-old girlfriend to a hotel to spend the night with while Chuah ‘coaxed’ a 12-year-old schoolgirl to his flat instead of to school. Both the two men are 21.
Noor Afizal and Chuah were found guilty of raping the underaged girls, but were not jailed. They were bound over for five years and three years respectively on an RM25,000 good behaviour bond. Their young age was said to play a major role in their ‘light’ sentences. Noor Afizal was 19 when he committed the crime.
Most of us will not be able to fully comprehend the decisions of the two judges but any layman will know that in this country, and indeed in any civilised community, it’s a crime to rape another person, let alone a minor. The law on statutory rape in Malaysia is clear.
Section 375(g) of the Penal Code states unequivocally that a man has committed statutory rape if he has sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 years of age, with or without her consent.
It is rooted in the presumption that girls below 16 have not attained the mental maturity to consent to sex, and this law was enacted to protect children from abuse. It places the onus on those around her to not have sexual intercourse with her, even if she gives consent, because she is not deemed mature enough to give consent.
With this Penal Code section as clear as daylight, the growling voices coming from across the board against the lenient sentences were understandable.
Suhakam, NGOs, politicians, lawyers, women’s and children’s rights groups have expressed their surprise and disappointment. Even Bukit Aman seemed uncomfortable with the judgement, although the IGP diplomatically claimed that the police were not demotivated by the lenient sentences.
That these cases may set a precedent in future is a legitimate concern which warrants a second, serious look at the whole issue.
It starts a precedent that it is all right to have sex with minors. Hey, people it’s okay to have sex with those below 16 as long as it’s consensual. Young people can now have sex openly because if you’re caught, you would not be jailed. Just bound over – so lenient, don’t worry! Is this the message we are sending out to sexual predators out there?
Let me create a familiar rape scenario in Sarawak. If a 19-year-old timber camp worker were to rape a 12-year-old girl in the Baram, it’s okay lah! The guy is young, has a bright future. He is a breadwinner for his family too. No point to jail him lah. Let him go.
The conclusion: The rapists have bright futures, the victims have bleak futures. No one will probably speak for the girl who was raped just as not a squeak was heard for the 13-year-old girl Noor Afizal took to a hotel to spend the night with, or the 12-year-old schoolgirl who was ‘coaxed’ to go to her 21-year-old electrician boyfriend’s flat instead of to school because he said he was too sick to take her.
Let it be made abundantly clear to all, whether we are humble laymen or judges who can virtually decide whether we live or die, one fact that stays – the girls were only 12 and 13. Are there not still considered children?
To me, it does not matter whether they were prepubescent girls who were deemed to have consented to sex with the older boys they were dating. I find it impossible for kids that age to decide whether it’s right or wrong to engage in sexual activities.
Seriously, they are not even old enough to consume alcohol, legally buy cigarettes, or even obtain medical treatment if they have contracted sexual transmitted diseases.
I’m glad that the public outcry over the light sentences has prompted the government to sit up and take notice.
The Ministry of Women, Family And Community Development said on Thursday that the government will re-evaluate existing laws on statutory rape to ensure victims are adequately protected and perpetrators receive sentences that match the crime.
“The ministry respects the decision of the courts in sentencing the two adult men who were found guilty of statutory rape recently. But at the same time we view seriously the views of the public who consider the sentences light and not commensurate with the crime,” it said in a statement.
I hope the matter would be placed as a top priority in the ministry’s agenda because it would be fatal to send the wrong signals to the public.
Sadly, the Oprah Winfrey Show is no more. After 25 years of history-making, life-changing television, Oprah bade farewell to her show in May last year.
Otherwise, I would love to have the foursome (rapists and “consenting” victims) brought before Oprah.
And surely, the vocal TV host would have a thing or two to say of the lenient sentences.
You know, some things are better said by those outside the country, including ticking off the bench.
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