Child Sexual Abuse: Doubt in justice system leads to cases go unreported

25 Oct 2023 10:49am
Photo for illustrative purposes. Inset: Shahul Hamid, Zalmizy Hussin
Photo for illustrative purposes. Inset: Shahul Hamid, Zalmizy Hussin

​SHAH ALAM - Distrust of the justice system as well as a feeling of doubt about how the protection and justice process will be handled by the authorities is the main reason why people opt to "remain silent" as opposed to reporting cases of child sexual abuse.

Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) Center for Applied Psychology, Policy and Social Work (SAPSP) Senior lecturer and criminology expert Dr Zalmizy Hussin said most neighbours or members of the public felt that the justice system was inadequate or effective in dealing such cases.

"They see examples where similar cases do not get the justice they deserve. This reduces their confidence to be a witness in reporting the case.

"Complaints that are often ignored as well as the system's reluctance to take firm action also contribute to a lack of trust in the reports that will be complained about," he told Sinar.

In addition, Zalmizy said that most people chose not to report cases of child sexual abuse because they were afraid of the consequences if they were to be involved in the case.

"Perhaps there will be a feeling of fear of retaliation, discrimination or harassment from the abuser. An imbalance of power in family relationships can also cause victims to refuse to report incidents to the authorities.

"Some cultures encourage the concealment and withholding of sensitive information about such incidents because they want to protect the good name of the family or community," he said.

He added that societal stigma, wrong beliefs about the victim's actions and concerns about reputation or equality may keep them silent.

"It is possible that they also do not know how to manage and report this case to the relevant authorities. Some of them also have no knowledge of the law protecting children from sexual abuse.

"This issue needs a multi-faceted approach in terms of education, community awareness, as well as the involvement of experts to help victims get justice and proper protection," he said.

On Monday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Legal and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said she would hold a meeting with the children's commissioner to raise awareness of sexual offences against the groups involved.

She was concerned with the fact that many people knew about sexual abuse of children whether at home, school or in the neighbourhood but failed to report the case.

Azalina, during a press conference, said that if someone was aware of an incident of sexual abuse of a child and did not report it, it became an offense under Section 19 of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.

Meanwhile, independent criminologist Datuk Shahul Hamid Abdul Rahim said that the whistleblower's identity would be protected if they reported a case of sexual abuse of the child under the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010.

He said relayed information was important to combat such crimes.

"They don't need to feel scared because the police will protect those who give information and make complaints.

"Most of them keep these things because they feel ashamed and defend the dignity, reputation and good name of the institution and family. To me, it is wrong because as long as there are no complaints, the criminals are not caught and things like this will spread.

"The victim will also be traumatised forever. So, when action is taken, at least they can breathe a sigh of relief because the criminals are finally brought to justice," he said.

Shahul Hamid shared that parents, teachers and people around the children need to be sensitive to emotional changes which are the main symptoms of children suffering from sexual harassment.

"When children experience emotional changes such as depression and sudden withdrawal, those are signs of a possible case of abuse or sexual harassment.

"In addition, there may be effects such as bruises, wounds or pain that they show (to the parents). Therefore, the parents need to be aware and continue to take them for a health check-up in addition to making a police report," he said.

Symptoms of children suffering from sexual abuse:

Physical signs:

  • Injury to the genitals or anus, such as bruising, cuts, bleeding or pain
  • Sexual infections, such as genital warts or HIV
  • Pregnancy
  • Other health problems related to stress or trauma

Emotional signs:

  • Significant mood changes such as being sad, anxious, fearful or angry
  • Significant personality changes, such as becoming quiet, low-spirited or aggressive
  • Bad dreams