Most annual retrospectives look at “big” stories that grabbed the year’s headlines: war, natural and environmental disasters, celebrity “news”, famous deaths, the busting of confidential US diplomatic cables, to name a few. Few however would chart both the shock and banality of sexual violence committed by men against women and girls in the year gone past. Shocking, because most stories of rape are sensationalised, dehumanising, and strike a collective moral chord about the human capacity for evil. In the shadow of the Julian Assange allegations, rape becomes banal or rather banal-ised by the media when cases involving nobody particularly famous are accorded a few lines of mention, a postage stamp-sized acknowledgment, buried underneath other more “worthy” news and quickly locked up with key thrown away in the annals of a sick society. Indeed, crimes against women’s bodies, particularly of a sexual nature, happen year in and year out with routine-like mechanicality. But there is a rise in trends, showing rapid increase since 2005 (925 cases): over 2,400 cases of sexual violence against women were reported in the first 8 months of 2010, out of which only 119 have resulted in conviction. That’s something worthy of mention for the year 2010, I reckon.
So let us recall the year’s reports on rape in Malaysia as a sobering reminder of what is a fundamental symptom of a patriarchal and misogynistic society, shall we?:
- A man rapes his teenage neighbour in Terengganu after “being overcome by lust over her beauty.”The rapist is reported to have been arrested for investigation. [Berita Harian Online, 18 January 2010]
- “Good looking” serial rapist pleads not guilty in Melaka. [Utusan Malaysia Online, 2 February 2010]
March has a bumper crop of gang-rape reports
- In Ipoh, a 15-year old girl was raped by 15 men. Only two suspects have been detained by the police. [The Star Online, 3 March 2010]
- A college student in Petaling Jaya was raped by “foreign friends“. No suspects were reported to have arrested [The Star Online, 11 March 2010]
- In Johor Bahru, a disabled young woman was raped by 15 men after agreeing to meet a “friend” on a social-networking site. Six men have thus far been detained as suspects. [The Star Online, 12 March 2010]
- Meanwhile, in Sandakan, a 19-year old girl was raped by 4 men and managed only to escape after a fifth man tried to attack her. The police have been reported to launch a hunt for the suspected rapists. [The Star Online, 16 March 2010]
- Four army personnel were remanded for seven days for raping an 18-year old young woman in a hotel in Kuching. [The Star Online, 19 March 2010]
- In Rawang, a 14-year old girl was raped by a classmate during recess in her secondary school. The boy has been remanded and has been reported to be investigated under Section 376 of the Penal Code for rape. [The Star Online, 21 April 2010]
- A 19-year-old youth was yesterday ordered by the Sessions Court in Sibu to be put behind bars for five years and be given two strokes of the cane after he pleaded guilty to two counts of raping a schoolgirl. [The Borneo Post Online, 21 April 2010]
- 27-year old Ahmad Muhaimin Abdullah faces 7 years in prison and 3 lashes for a sex offense committed 6 years ago. [Utusan Malaysia Online, 24 May 2010]
- A taxi driver, Chin Hock Nam, who calls himself ‘uncle’, pleaded not guilty to six counts of sexual assault in Kuala Lumpur. He has been denied bail. [The Malaysian Digest, 21 June 2010]
- A nod to the appalling handling of the sexual assaults committed against Penan women and girls. Sarawak government officials continue to deny, dismiss, and make light of the abuses, claiming that the alleged victims were “very good storytellers“. [Ekklesia, 20 July 2010]
- A man in Pahang has been sentenced to the maximum 5 years in prison in what appears to be the country’s first successful prosecution under a new law against marital rape. [The Jakarta Globe, 6 August 2010]
- In Penang, a couple have been suspected of raping, beating and scalding their Indonesian domestic helper. [NDTV, 20 September 2010]
- Police have detained 5 men in connection with the rape and murder of a 16-year old girl in Teluk Intan. [Utusan Malaysia Online, 21 October 2010]
- A woman has been recorded being raped to protect her daughter in Kampung Melayu Subang, Selangor. The police have reported that they are “investigating the matter.” [The Star Online, 27 November 2010]
- In Johor Bahru, a tuition teacher was detained for sexually assaulting his 17-year old male student on two occasions at his tuition centre in Taman Desa Skudai. [The News Straits Times, 14 December 2010]
- A rubber tapper, Che Mohd Nor Che Long, was sentenced to a total of 24 years’ imprisonment and six strokes of the rotan by the magistrate’s court yesterday for raping a minor in Tanah Merah, Kelantan, two years ago. [The News Straits Times, 15 December 2010]
- And finally, a man pleads guilty but pulled the classic victim-blaming get-out clause by claiming that the 15-year old girl he raped was “wild” and not even a virgin. [The Star Online, 17 December 2010]
While I can understand that listing down these news reports by month may seem like I’m highlighting way too much on the murkier aspects of our society (read: straight men and their male privilege, and an immature attitude towards sex and sexuality) and fuelling yet more fears which are perhaps unnecessary when there is enough awareness particularly where date rape (and subsequent victim-blaming. WCC Penang offers a handy list of myth vs reality of rape to counter all that victim-blaming and shaming nonsense) is concerned, demonstrating a calendar of sexual violence in Malaysia allows us to put the state of gender relations in perspective and throws the enduring question “why?” into sharp relief. Many more incidents I believe go unreported in a victim-shaming culture such as ours, which is why a compendium exhibiting the extent of rape in our country is important not only as stark reminder, but also as a simplified social barometer. What will this year’s calendar of events offer us?
It’s a poor consolation, but at least our newspapers call it for what it is — rape — rather than stupid things like “forced sex”. Sigh.