Silent victims of the pandemic

Abuse does not discriminate. It cuts across all ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. It comes in many forms and harms people physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Jul 17, 2021

Jacqueline Tegjeu


By Jacqueline Tegjeu

In the Gospels, we hear how Jesus showed love and compassion for everyone and, as His followers, we are encouraged to imitate His works, demonstrating His love and compassion to those around us.

So, imagine this scenario … you hear loud banging noises followed by screams coming from your neighbour’s house or apartment. Instead of asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’, let’s ask, ‘What would you do?’ Would you look out of your window or perhaps step out to check on what’s going on? If the screams and shouts are so bad, would you call the police?

While those who have been financially affected by the pandemic have the White Flag movements and food banks to turn to, there are others who, unfortunately, remain silent victims with no one to turn to for help.

The Movement Control Order (MCO), which have been in place in various forms since March 2020, have led to an increase in domestic violence. It was reported by the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) of Malaysia in their 2020 Annual Report that before the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, it was estimated that one in ten women in Peninsular Malaysia were, or had previously been, in situations of domestic violence. However, during the first two months of the MCO period, there was a 278 per cent increase in distress calls and a 116 per cent increase in SMS and WhatsApp enquiries.

In today’s context, domestic violence has become a pandemic within a pandemic. Stayat-home orders intended to protect the public and prevent widespread infection have left many victims trapped with their abusers.

Abuse does not discriminate. It cuts across all ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. It comes in many forms and harms people physically, emotionally, and mentally. It affects children as well as adults. When one person intimidates, hurts, or continually puts down the other person, it is abuse.

Some women face obstacles causing them to feel pressured to keep problems within the home and to keep the family together at all costs. Some fear that they will lose face in the community if they leave, others fear they will lose their children, and many believe that they will be unable to support themselves, much less their children.

As a volunteer of WAO, one of the cases that tugged at my heartstrings was a woman who had endured physical and emotional abuse by her husband throughout their 14-year marriage. Despite making multiple police reports against her husband for domestic abuse, no action was taken. Instead, they encouraged her to talk things out with her husband amicably. One day, her husband held a knife to her throat and said that he would take her life if she refused to give him money. She finally sought help for herself and her nine-year old son at WAO. Investigations were opened with WAO’s assistance, and her husband was charged in court for domestic violence a few months later. She and her son went through counselling sessions where they learnt healthy coping mechanisms and worked on their fears and traumatic past. She now has a new life with her son far away from the violence they once endured.

Not all domestic violence cases have a positive ending as in the case above. One such fatal case was that of a woman who had endured a decade of physical and psychological abuse. She would, in the past, often return to her mother’s house after her husband hit her, but would then go back to her husband after he persuaded her to do so. In the end, he beat her to death, leaving horrendous injuries all over her body. Her husband was sentenced to the gallows in 2017 and their four children were left without parents.

I believe her death could have been prevented if the family, community, and authorities had done more. It was reported that the authorities refused to arrest her husband even though he violated the Interim Protection Order (IPO) and repeatedly harassed her and her family. The surrounding community also failed to reach out, dismissing domestic violence as a personal family matter. Her mother blames herself for not being able to save her daughter from death.

Many of us take a step back when it comes to getting involved because we say it is not our business and/or it is a domestic issue. But how does one ignore the cries of someone clearly in need of help? Does one need to be in an abusive situation to know what it feels like to be a victim? Does one turn a blind eye because one does not want to “cause trouble”? How about those who blame the victim for the abuse and defend the acts of the abuser?

Flora Jessop, an American social activist puts it in perspective, “To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the perpetrators.”

The truth is, when you get involved, you are saving a life. The phrase #kitajagakita is a reminder to Malaysians to take care of each other during these challenging times. As a community of faith, let us also look out for the silent victims of the pandemic.

As Jesus expressed His compassion for the poor and the oppressed, including the women of His time, may we be seen as compassionate people ready to help victims of domestic violence free themselves from their pain and suffering. May those who live in darkness and fear find light and courage in our midst.

If you know or suspect someone is being abused, here are some options to get help:

Option 1: Contact the WAO Hotline: +603 3000 8858 (24 hours), SMS/ WhatsApp TINA: +6018 988 8058 (24 hours). They can provide advice, explore options, and/or schedule a face-to-face consultation with the victim. Victims can also access WAO services such as shelter and crisis support.

Option 2: Go to the “One Stop Crisis Centre” at Government Hospitals.

Option 3: Obtain an ‘Emergency Protection Order’ from the Social Welfare Department (JKM).

Option 4: Make a police report and apply for an Interim Protection Order at the police station. Details are provided at: https://wao.org. my/getting-help-for-domestic-violence

–Jacqueline Tegjeu is an Office Manager at a law firm in Kuala Lumpur. She began volunteering as a Crisis Support Officer with Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) in 2014. She was subsequently elected to the Executive Committee of WAO in 2019 and remains a member to date.

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