LETTER | Rape threats should never ever be referred to as 'jokes'

Awam et al

Modified 28 Apr 2021, 7:10 am

LETTER | All Women’s Action Society (Awam), Bulan Sisters, Nalisa Alia Amin, Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis (Women:Girls), Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Tiada.Guru would like to address the Royal Malaysian Police’s (PDRM) press statement that was issued in response to public criticism of the statement by Deputy Inspector-General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani in a press conference on Monday that described a rape threat against a teenager as a “possible joke… which she couldn’t accept (“mungkin gurauan… yang beliau tidak boleh terima”).

PDRM’s press statement claimed that the DIGP’s words “possibly a joke” was taken out of context by Malaysiakini and China Press to mean “only just a joke”, and as such that it was an irresponsible action by both news portals that could “cause public outrage, tarnish the credibility of police investigations and create negative speculation against the victim in the case”.

We, the NGOs, and the individual listed as well, would like to point out that PDRM’s justification is entirely misplaced. “Only just” that was used by the media is not the issue here; the issue is that civil society is attempting to highlight that the DIGP Acryl Sani (above) as being insensitive to the issue of rape, and in that context of the case where this “joke” issue resides, the DIGP was being extremely gender-insensitive.

Threats are not jokes. “Shred” and “rape” in the audio message clearly imply intent of injury or trauma to the recipient, giving cause for them to fear for their safety. This fear and distress have clearly been communicated by the teenager when she described on social media that she was “scared” and “shaken” upon receiving the rape threat.

Threats constitute a form of violence, and it is recognised as a form of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act 1994 and as criminal intimidation under Section 503 of the Penal Code. Rape threats are no different from criminal intimidation or domestic violence threats. By framing the rape threat as a “joke” when words of violence were clearly used that made the recipient feel unsafe, the DIGP was trivialising the implied violence in the words used by the perpetrator.

Furthermore, there is a difference between providing factual information about a case and making judgments that undermine the survivor. Informing the public that the survivor has filed two reports and that the police are conducting investigations is a fact presentation.

However, saying that the teenager “couldn’t accept” the “joke” casts her as being unnecessarily emotional upon receiving the trivialised rape threat, which detracts credibility from her experiences and further perpetuates existing public narratives that rape and rape threats should not be taken seriously. Worryingly, it also prejudges the results of the police investigation.

Through this comment, Acryl Sani also simultaneously normalises the occurrence of rape threats, essentially giving current and potential rapists a field day in pushing boundaries by exercising a range of non-physical violations before the committal of rape that includes sexual harassment.

All in all, by uttering just those few words “joke” and “which she couldn’t accept”, the DIGP is already sanctioning and perpetuating rape and harassment culture that is already prevalent in our country, a toxic and dehumanising culture that is bent on discrediting and victim-blaming survivors for being raped whilst not holding perpetrators accountable for raping victims and survivors, and trivialising the real fear and anxiety brought about by sexual harassment.

Gender responsiveness is crucial in enabling law enforcement authorities to effectively address cases of gender-based violence (GBV). While it is important carry out detailed investigations, it is equally important to be survivor-centred in approach, and this entails being aware that discourse (i.e. how one talks about and frames issues) has tremendous power in perpetuating or challenging existing public narratives, preconceptions and biases surrounding GBV.

In this case, DIGP Acryl Sani’s few words that indirectly sanction rape culture may be more than enough to prevent more survivors from coming forward, while at the same time eroding public trust in the police’s capabilities in protecting survivors as they seek redress.

We thus strongly urge:

  • DIPG Acryl Sani to issue an official apology for his statement that trivialises rape threats and undermined the teenager’s credibility for her experience and to state that any articulation of physical or sexual violence to another person is unacceptable and will be fully investigated; and

  • For the PDRM to immediately ensure that all staff of the force, from the administrative to the highest levels of leadership, are gender-sensitive in their use of language that does not perpetuate problematic norms and narratives surrounding gender roles and GBV.

This letter is signed by NGOs All Women’s Action Society (AWAM); Bulan Sisters; Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis (Women:Girls); Sisters In Islam (SIS) and Tiada.Guru; and also by an individual, Nalisa Alia Amin.

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