White flags have been raised all across Malaysia by those in financial distress. They hang dismally— lining our windows, front porches and apartment balconies. In light of this movement, the rakyat has taken matters into its own hands by initiating food drives and relief efforts from the grassroots. Made possible by Malaysians’ generosity, these organisations are able to distribute food, groceries and other essentials to families in need.
However, not all forms of distress can be alleviated by the raising of a flag. As the world becomes increasingly distracted by the pandemic, more obscure and complex issues have arisen in the shadows. They emerge behind closed doors, and in virtual spaces— together, they form the uglier underside of our ongoing crisis.
Shadows Cast By The Pandemic: Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
In the fight against COVID-19, we often forget that stay-at-home measures render many women and children trapped in abusive households, unable to seek help. The Women’s Aid Organisation’s (WAO) domestic violence helpline revealed a staggering fourfold increase in the number of calls during MC0 1.0. On top of that, a total of 4,349 cases of child abuse were reported in 2020 alone by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry. These numbers are expected to rise even more due to prolonged lockdown periods.
Heightened stress due to slashed incomes and job losses perpetuate negative coping strategies. This puts wives and children in households with existing power imbalances at risk of being wrongfully treated as outlets for economic frustration. A dangerous dilemma arises: staying home could prolong abuse while escaping could put them at risk of contracting the virus. What happens when your home is not a safe place, and neither are areas outside your home? Where do you go?
Violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, this threat looms largest where they should be safest— in their own homes. – António Guterres (UN Secretary-General)
Negative psychological repercussions arising from violence and abuse are long-lasting. Physical scars may heal, but emotional scars haunt the abused for years on end. It is pivotal to get these women and children to safety as soon as possible and to protect them from continuously falling victim to their abusers.
Domestic violence survivors are at greater risk because they are trapped in the house all day with the abuser. It is also more dangerous for them to seek help, as the abuser may be monitoring their every move. When we receive such calls, we advise survivors on steps they can take to leave safely. – Tan Heang-Lee, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
Be Vigilant For Others
In these difficult times, remember to check in on your friends and coworkers. You never know if that one phone call is all they need to gain the courage to seek help. We must also be more attentive to our neighbours. Natasha Dandavati (Head of Campaigns, Women’s Aid Organisation) suggests that for people who know someone who is being abused or hears a neighbour being abused, they should find a way to safely intervene. For example, by discreetly offering them assistance by slipping them a piece of paper containing hotline numbers.
Undeniably, there is a lot at hand at the moment. However, we should not turn a blind eye to the sufferings of our fellow women and children. Neglecting their plight will only cause the perpetrators to take on an ever-greater sense of impunity.
Get Help For Domestic Violence And Child Abuse
If you’re experiencing domestic violence or child abuse at home or if you know someone who’s hurting in their homes, here are some resources that may help you.
Immediate Hotlines for Domestic Violence, Sexual Harassment and Abuse
- Talian Kasih: Call at 15999 or Whatsapp at 019 261 5999 (24 hours)
- Women’s Aid Organisation Hotline: Call at +603 3000 8858 (24 hours)
- Think I Need Aid (TINA): Whatsapp at 018-9888058 (24 hours)
- Women’s Centre for Change (WCC): Whatsapp at 016 448 0342
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM): Call at 03-7877 4221 or 03-7877 0224
What to do next? Contact Authorities & Apply for Protection Orders
Obtain an ‘Emergency Protection Order’ (EPO) from the Social Welfare Department (JKM): An EPO prohibits your abuser from entering your shelter or place of protection and prevents them from committing acts of violence towards you. You can obtain an EPO by calling Talian Kasih (15999) or visiting the nearest JKM office.
Lodge a Police Report and Apply for an ‘Interim Protection Order’ (IPO): Lodge a police report, and inform the police officer that you would like to apply for an IPO. An IPO is a court order to stop the abusive husband, parent or relative from committing further acts of violence against you. The IPO is temporary and valid as long as investigations are carried out by the police.
NGOs You Can Reach Out To For Free Legal Aid & Counselling
Wanita MCA’s Legal Advisory & Women’s Aid Centre (LAWA) provides free legal consultation and counselling for women who suffer domestic violence and sexual harassment. LAWA can be reached from Mondays to Fridays between 8.45 am and 5.30 pm at 03-2203 3884 and 012-386 3884.
Sisters in Islam (SIS) provides free legal consultation regarding Islamic family law. You can contact them by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling them at 03-7960 8802 (Talian TeleNisa).
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) provides free well-being counselling for victims of gender-based violence and legal information based on the victim’s unique circumstances. Contact them at 016 237 4221 or 016 228 4221.
Explore Our Sources:
- Tengku Nur Qistina. (2020). Community responses to Gendered issues during Malaysia’s fight against COVID-19. The London School of Economics and Political Science. Link.
- Hasbullah, N.E. & Chong, S. (2021). Do more to protect women, children from abuse during lockdown. Malaysiakini Link.
- United Nations. (2020). Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19 – UN chief video message. YouTube. Link.
- Arumugam, T. (2020). MCO Linked Domestic Violence Increases. New Straits Times. Link.
- Women’s Aid Organisation.Getting Help For Domestic Violence. Link.
- Lai, A. (2020). Wanita MCA to aid abuse victims. The Star. Link.