PETALING JAYA: Amidst raging debate over the controversial sentences meted out to two statutory rape offenders recently, one wonders if we’re missing an important point here.
Perhaps it is time that we admitted that teenage sex is an issue that needs urgent address.
The fact is that sex among young people – minors – are much more prevalent than we think.
The police and social studies statistics are “shocking” and most people randomly surveyed by FMT were unaware of these numbers.
Last year, for instance, there were 3,301 reported cases of rape in the country. Of this number, 1,450 were victims between the ages of 13 and 15.
The statistics also showed that in every 10 rape cases in the country, seven involved girls below 18 years.
This has been the average numbers every year, for the past five years.
And if we look at only statutory rape, then it would involve about half of the reported cases.
In 2011 alone, 28 rape victims were below six years of age; 48 were between six and nine years; 126 were between 10 and 12 years; 767 between 16 to 18 and 882 were above 18.
And these did not include the 342 cases of incest, 174 cases of sodomy, and 1,941 cases of molest that the police also investigated.
These also did not include widely accepted estimates that for every one reported case of rape, nine others go unreported.
In an interview with FMT recently, Bukit Aman Investigation of Sexual Offences and Children division head ACP Hamidah Yunus said that underage sex has become a “worrying trend”.
“There many cases of young girls and boys who are involved in, mostly consensual, but underage sex, and this has been a worrying trend for a few years now.”
’10-years-olds sexually active’
Hamidah said it seemed like the offenders were getting younger by the day and from her observation, such cases had become especially prevalent since 2007.
“Now we have 10- to 12-year-olds being sexually active. Having group sex when these youngsters hang out is not something new anymore,” she said.
The perpetrators, or suspects, are usually older than the victims.
Most of them were 18 years and above and prey on youngsters, said Hamidah.
She added that these rape cases, more often than not, involved people that the victims know.
Asked about the root causes of teenage sex, she admitted that it is not a problem that the police can solve or prevent.
What Hamidah said may strike a familiar cord as a judge from the Appeals Court in Penang had also asked: “Is a custodial sentence the only safeguard to ensure similar offences of consensual sex among teenagers will not happen?”
This was the same controversial judgment which allowed a national bowler convicted of statutory rape of a young girl to be let off with being bound on a five-year good behaviour bond.
So, is this more than just a criminal problem, then? Apparently not, as according to Hamidah, “it is a social problem”.
“One thing is that parents give too much freedom to children to mingle… going to each other’s houses without their parent’s monitoring.
“Parents are very busy nowadays. In many cases both parents go out to work leaving only a maid in the house,” she said.
But with the current laws in place, Hamidah vowed that the police would do all they could to help, provided that the public agree to work hand-in-hand with them.
“It’s hard for us to prevent human nature [to sin], stop these ‘urges’. We must educate the public on the big picture.
“Most cases involved people the victim knows, many might be consensual. But statutory rape is statutory rape.”
“However, when there is any incident where the girl is clearly attacked, please come to us. We don’t want these kind of people to be walking free without being punished, ” she added.
Worsening ‘moral decay’
Hamidah said the problem that police have is the reluctance to lodge reports and the tendency for people to drop cases.
“Sometimes the girl makes a report, but when the case comes up in court, we find that she’s already married. The family then would write to the deputy public prosecutor to ask for the case to be dropped.
“I’m angry about these rape cases. If possible, we don’t want the people to go through something terrible like that. I feel frustrated when we are powerless.”
Hamidah said she felt sad when she heard her officers talk about cases of incest where the mother would protect the father.
“That’s not right; if you are a mother and your daughter is going through something like that… why are you still defending your husband?”
She urged the public to be “very cautious and prepared” and not to take complaints from loved ones lightly.
“We can’t even fully trust adults, because we’ve got cases of fathers, religious men, academicians even, doing unthinkable things.”
Universiti Sains Malaysia psychologist and criminologist Geshina Ayu Mat Saat said that “moral decay” has worsened throughout the years.
She said that the current outlook of the situation may not be sufficient as reported cases may or may not reflect what is actually going on.
“We believe it is merely the tip of the iceberg or about 20% to 25% of what is actually happening.”
She said that a lot of cases were only reported when the girl becomes pregnant or a third party such as a teacher or family member finds out.
“Another reason a report is made is when a girl feels that she wants to get back at the boyfriend,” Geshina said.
However, most rape reports from the under-age are seldom seen in courts.
“In some of the cases, children sexually abused by their own family members even feel signs of appreciation for them [the suspects],” she said.
Most cases consensual
According to Geshina, the higher or lower reporting trend can reflect either more cases happening or more awareness among public.
“There are conflicting reports. The numbers differ between the different government agencies.”
She said it was more likely that the peak in the numbers of cases between 2007 and 2008 was due to the media reports highlighting sexual crimes.
“The interest now is in other types of crimes. The media, I believe, sets the agenda,” she said.
Citing a 2008 study she did on 57 incarcerated convicted rapists aged between 18 and 51, Geshina said it showed that more than half of these cases were “with consent”.
“We found three categories. Girls who had sex and later changed their minds. Those who consummated their love but parents did not agree to it. Or those that somehow were found out by a third party,” she said.
Geshina said there were many teenagers who said it wasn’t rape and didn’t want to send the men to jail.
“Thirty-five of the convicts [interviewed] said that the acts were borne out of sexual desire [with consent], three said they were drunk, two said they were naïve, two others said they were betrayed, and others [were for ] unknown [reasons],” she said.
Geshina said her study also showed that 62% of the convicts blamed drugs, alcohol and watching pornography for their acts.
Most of the acts were done either at the rapist’s house, and to a lesser extent, the victim’s house.
“Another aspect the study found was that many of the men showed signs of aggression.
“They were angry and wanted to be sexually active, they want to be a dominant person to express their anger. They were likely also abused,” she said.
Another study Geshina did on the pofile of sexual offenders in March 2009 of 99 men showed that 76% were Malay, 13% Chinese and 11% Indians.