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LETTER | Sexual harassment is a crime and should be treated as such

LETTER | Agora Society of Malaysia finds the recent decision made by the police following the Attorney-General’s Chamber’s (AGC) advice to not file any charge against an associate professor at the Universiti Malaya for sexual harassment unfathomable.

We also find the reason given to the public absurd. Such a decision has inevitably raised more questions than answers, and we call for both the AGC and the university to be forthcoming with the following questions:

1. Are disciplinary actions taken by the university against the alleged perpetrator equivalent to legal actions against a criminal act? Is it just and legal for law enforcement to be exempted or substituted by disciplinary actions carried out by non-legal institutions such as universities?

2. As the university has asserted that disciplinary actions have been taken, and proclaimed the accused as “the perpetrator”. Does that mean concrete evidence of misconducts have been substantiated? Were the alleged victim and the accused granted a fair hearing? Is the university withholding evidence of sexual misconduct from the police? Why did the university not lodge any police report over such a serious matter?

3. Is the alleged perpetrator a repeat offender, as suggested by the Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)?

4. Why can’t the university disclose the specific disciplinary actions taken against the perpetrator when questioned? If disciplinary actions are carried out in the dark, how can the public be aware of impunity or abuse of power? How can disciplinary actions exert a deterring effect if they are not seen executed?

Our society has never been immune to criminal acts such as sexual assaults and sexual harassment. On numerous counts, the public has witnessed incidence of lewd comments targeting at female MPs in the Parliament, sex scandals and even rape that implicated prominent and powerful politicians, harassment of female journalists by politicians during interviews, students or young interns sexually harassed or assaulted at public-funded institutions such as schools and hospitals.

Statistics released by the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) reveals that there is a total of 1,218 cases of sexual harassment between 2013 and 2017, with 79 percent of which involved female victims, while 21 percent involved male victims, many of whom were children.

The statistics on rape in our country during the same period shows an even worse situation, with the annual total number of reported incidents that have never been lower than 1,000 for the last two decades. On average, more than three victims are raped every day. Obviously, our society has not made our public space a safer place for everyone, and it is high time that our society acts decisively.

Sexual harassment is a crime and it should be treated as such. As insufficient as our laws in protecting victims of harassment might be, we still have Penal Code (Act 574), Employment Act 1955 (Act 265), Industrial Relations Act 1967 (Act 177) and Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 (Act 514), which the police can use to investigate the matter. The public deserves a satisfactory explanation from the AGC, the police and the university.

AGORA SOCIETY MALAYSIA (Agora) is a loose network of intellectuals, writers and activists who advance democratic progress in Malaysia through critical analyses and propositions based on the principles of democracy and good governance.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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