Moral policing reflective of longstanding obsession with what women wear, says Awam

05 Feb 2023 11:44pm
Kajang police has confirmed that a woman was denied entry into the police station because her attire did not comply with its dress code. Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Kajang police has confirmed that a woman was denied entry into the police station because her attire did not comply with its dress code. Photo for illustrative purposes only.

SHAH ALAM - The police should prioritise on receiving reports, conducting probes and sending their investigation reports to the public prosecutor's office without making any judgments based on the appearance of the complainant, human rights advocates have voiced out.

In a statement today, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) said the police cannot use such reasons to prevent any party from making a report and they should not be moral policing or causing or preventing complainants or victims from lodging a report.

"We do not agree with the statement made by Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Acryl Sani saying that relaxation of dress code in police stations is only allowed in emergency cases and is limited to 'life and death' situations," the statement said.

"This situation should not exist because how do the police determine such an assessment and decide whether the situation is 'life and death'?," it questioned.

The organisation also said that it is responsibility of the police is to accept every report made by any party unconditionally as it believes that the people who come to the police station are those in need of help or protection immediately.

Suaram added that this action raises several questions about the service of the enforcement unit, including the denial of the right to file a complaint on the grounds of inappropriate attire, delaying the investigation process and delaying justice.

It added that such action not only violate the fundamental rights of Malaysians but also violate the principle of equality in Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia which states that "all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law".

Suaram also reminded the new government to maintain its stance and issue an official notice like what Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman said in a written answer in Parliament in 2015, which is that there is no dress code for the public when dealing with the department and government agencies.

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"This policy needs to be explained in the public sector including the police regardless of rank," Suaram stated.

All Women's Action Society (Awam) Senior Programme Officer Lilian Kok said that the moral policing is reflective of a longstanding obsession by society at large with what women wear.

"This obsession is both discriminatory and dehumanising as it allows the public and community free rein to cast unjustifiable judgments about an individual’s worth, character, capabilities and morality based on attire," she said.

Lilian also recalled in 2015 where the Prime Minister’s Department has clarified in Parliament that there is no enforceable or statutory dress code for the public when it comes to government departments and agencies but each department is given discretion to only advise the public on the dress code while on an official visit.

"In relation to this, IGP today insisted that the public should abide by the dress code when visiting police stations except in cases of emergencies," she said.

"We trust that our authorities have the fundamental judgement of what is considered an emergency nevertheless, providing a brief or memo to all police stations to provide a unison understanding on how these emergencies are defined," she added.

She also explained that in cases of rape, survivors are told that they must not change their clothes or wash themselves after the incident to preserve the evidence.

Timeliness is of an essence in rape cases and due to that survivors are strongly urged to get medical assistance and make a report as soon as possible as law enforcers have a 72-hour window to gather as much evidence as possible and start an investigation.

"By no means should there be an expectation for the survivor to change their attire before making a police report and this is also applicable if the survivor visits any Emergency Department in public hospitals or One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC)," she told Sinar Daily.

"In the case that the perpetrator did manage to escape with the survivor’s clothes, we recommend the survivor to put on a loose and clean clothing item which will lessen the risk of contamination and help preserve as much of the bodily evidence," she added.

She echoed Suaram's view, saying that this issue should be made clear to all personnel in the civil sector regardless of rank, preferably in briefings or in the form of policy that is accessible to all civil servants that there is an expectation for government departments and agencies to deliver quality services to the public.

"Such policies or briefings should also be accompanied by effective reporting mechanisms that are easily accessible, with swift and accountable action/repercussions taken against civil servants who continue the practice of unnecessary dress policing," she pointed out.

"Additionally, gender sensitivity training should be held regularly for front line officers to ensure that they do not engage in any gender discriminatory behaviours and are able to empathise with the survivors who come to seek help," Lilian said.

Earlier this week, a woman claimed she was refused entry into the Kajang district police headquarters (IPD) to lodge a police report following a car accident because of her attire.

However, the woman claimed she was wearing Bermuda shorts that covered her knees and was only allowed to enter the police station after her sister brought her a pair of long pants.

Kajang police later confirmed that a woman was denied entry into the police station because her attire did not comply with its dress code.