In a recent statement by Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Rina Harun, victims of domestic violence were advised to obtain medical reports before approaching the police, to ensure that police are unable to turn away these cases.
While we welcome governmental awareness toward persisting systemic issues, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) would like to highlight that this advice may result in counter-productive practices — as medical reports are not a prerequisite for a police report.
The government must pursue three essential practices to strengthen our collective response to domestic violence.
First, more resources must be allocated to the sexual, women and children’s investigations division (D11) unit of the police which handles the bulk of domestic violence cases. The D11 unit has reported issues relating to a lack of manpower and resources and, as such, should be supported through these means.
An allocation of RM13m for this purpose had been announced by the Ministry of Finance in October 2021; however, there has been no update on how it is being utilised by the ministry. The WAO seeks clarification from the government on how this allocation is being utilised and if there are monitoring processes in place.
Secondly, survivors of violence must not be expected to adapt to gaps in accessing formal support. One-stop crisis centres located in public hospitals across Malaysia offer a comprehensive range of care and support services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and child abuse and neglect – including a seamless transition between medical care and police action. There must be mandatory standards that are clear and comprehensive on the management and response to cases of gender-based violence.
While the garis panduan keganasan rumah tangga (domestic violence guidelines) framework is an essential document outlining protocols for attending frontline personnel, they are only guidelines and therefore, sometimes regarded as optional. These standards must be strengthened and made mandatory to ensure that survivors of violence are supported every step of the way.
Unfortunately, police refusal to take survivors’ reports of gendered violence has been a longstanding issue that has been brought to the attention of authorities and the government in attempts to stir action towards this urgent issue for decades. It is unacceptable that some survivors are still being turned away when reporting or made to jump through hoops in accessing essential services when in crisis.
In ensuring the sustainability of these changes, one-stop crisis centres must also be supported by ensuring sufficient staffing and by providing comprehensive training for all staff to efficiently respond to and manage cases of gender-based violence.
Thirdly, recognising and responding to domestic violence cases involving psychological, emotional, and financial violence must be incorporated into frontline personnel training. Emotional and psychological violence are the most prevalent forms of intimate partner violence in Malaysia. However, perceptions of violence still heavily centre on the presence of visible injuries, bruises, and broken bones – with the unseen effects of psychological and emotional violence remaining poorly understood and under-recognised.
Survivors of non-physical forms of violence often struggle to obtain medical reports, police reports, and protection orders as a result – leaving them vulnerable to abuse and long-term injury and hindering their full access to justice despite these forms of abuse being criminalised and recognised as violence in the Domestic Violence Act.
The government must step up and work to ensure that ALL survivors of violence are able to access support services and rights as basic as lodging a police report in times of crisis, without needing to adapt and adhere to ad hoc procedures, like producing medical reports, to be taken seriously.
The WAO champions access to justice for survivors of violence and has expertise in providing survivor-centric training programmes for frontline personnel, from police officers to healthcare professionals. We are happy to work with the government to ensure that crisis response does not diminish, minimise, or underestimate the experiences of survivors across Malaysia. – WAO