After over six months of research, interviews and undercover operations for Predator In My Phone, the R.AGE team will be working with Unicef to try to put an end to child sexual exploitation.
We have been working closely with the police’s D11 division (Sexual, Women and Child Investigations), and we’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to compile enough evidence to charge and convict a child sex predator.
Many online sexual predators now spend weeks “grooming” young victims for exploitation. They gain their trust and manipulate their feelings until they let their guards down, and that’s when the abuse begins.
R.AGE encountered many such groomers while filming Predator In My Phone, but there wasn’t much we or the police could do without laws criminalising such behaviour.
But laws against sexual grooming is just the start – Malaysia needs more comprehensive legislative reform to catch up with sex predators who are increasingly aided by technology.
To achieve that, Unicef – with support from NGO Women: Girls and Digi – is hosting a townhall meeting on June 25, where all the various stakeholders will be discussing the best way to move forward.
The police and Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development have already pledged their support for the campaign. Women, Family and Community Development minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim will be present for the townhall discussion.
Others who have been invited include the Women’s Centre for Change, P.S. The Children and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Young advocates and student leaders from Unicef’s various programmes will also be there to offer their perspective, so any action plan formulated will be kid-approved.
Unicef Malaysia representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh said there is a need to review and enhance legislation to better protect children, given the rapid expansion of communication technologies and the Internet penetration in Malaysia.
“Online abuse and exploitation most often takes place in the deep privacy of the mobile phone, the computer, or any other electronic device. It can move anonymously from the private to the public sphere, and across countries and borders, quickly,” she said.
And that’s why input from the children is so important. The way children use technology is changing every day, and it’s impossible for the relevant authorities and agencies to keep up without their advice.
For example, D11 principal assistant director ACP Ong Chin Lan said children now are engaging with people overseas, and the police have received reports of cross-border online sexual exploitation.
“With the Internet, our children are not only vulnerable to local perpetrators, but also those who are overseas,” said Ong.
She also said there is a new trend of “travelling sex offenders”, men who would travel to countries like Malaysia and find victims through mobile chat apps. As they could be in the country for only a matter of days, the police cannot do much to stop them at the moment.
Malaysia actually does have laws in place to protect children against harassment and exploitation. The Penal Code, Child Act, and Communications and Multimedia Act covers things like inciting a child to gross indecency, physical harm or abuse towards children and sending or receiving obscene material.
But newer, technologically-enabled crimes like grooming often fall in a grey area, making it hard to charge the perpetrators, and even harder to get a conviction.
Neighbouring countries like Singapore and Australia already have comprehensive laws against sexual grooming, where the perpetrators can be charged even before they physically meet their victims.
The townhall on June 25, which will be held at Makespace, Quill City Mall, Kuala Lumpur, will also highlight the importance of digital safety.
While introducing news laws would deter and punish the perpertrators, educating children on digital safety will help avoid them from being exposed to the perps in the first place.
Women’s Centre for Change programme consultant Dr Prema Devaraj said digital danger is one of the biggest threats against children today.
“Young children are technologically-savvy and, unfortunately, this is where the sexual predators are too,” she said.
Technology has given them direct access to their target group.”
The #ReplyForAllMY townhall will take place on June 25, 10am at Makespace, Quill City Mall, Kuala Lumpur. Pledge your support for the campaign for new laws against child sexual exploitation at rage.com.my/predator.
FIVE THINGS WE NEED TO PREVENT CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
Based on our interviews with the police, NGOs, survivors and yes, even sex predators, here are five changes we need to combat child sexual exploitation in Malaysia.
1. Laws against sexual grooming
The police shouldn’t be made to wait until actual sexual exploitation has occurred. A predator should be charged even if he has shown intent to exploit a child.
2. Sex offender’s registry
It feels like we’ve been talking about this forever. Sex offenders, especially those who have committed crimes against children, should be registered and monitored, both by the authorities and communities they live in.
3. Defining age
In many developed countries, a child sex offender can be charged as long as he/she believed the victim was underage, and can’t reasonably prove otherwise. This allows police officers or undercover journalists to collect evidence.
4. Worldwide protection
Cyber sexual exploitation often takes place across borders these days, thanks to the Internet. The law should state clearly that it is a crime even if the exploitation takes place overseas.
5. Actually criminalise child pornography
Malaysia doesn’t actually have specific legislation on child pornography, or sexual exploitation, for that matter. Simple possession of child porn may not be a punishable offence in the country.
Why we need anti-grooming laws
We approached the Malaysian police and various NGO’s for their comments on why it’s important we have anti-grooming laws to protect our children.
“With anti-grooming laws, we can take action against the perpetrator when we know that the victim is innocent and ignorant to the threat the perpetrator poses.”
– Bukit Aman Sexual, Women and Child Investigations Division (D11) principal assistant director ACP Ong Chin Lan
“Mass use of the Internet and new technologies have amplified the production and circulation of child sexual abuse materials and have increased the incidence of grooming for sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation. There would always be a need for new policy and legislation in keeping up with new technologies.”
– Selvi Supramaniam, Unicef Child Protection Specialist
“The internet is a shopping mall for predators, who woo the child and lulls the child into a false sense of security before taking it offline.”
– Natasya Saufi, board member of P.S. The Children
“For laws to take effect, someone has to report the crime. Anti-grooming laws will ensure a clear legal obligation for people in duty to report a suspect to the police so that investigations may take place.”
– Goh Siu Lin, president of Association of Women Lawyers
“Child grooming is dangerous because it is not something you can spot immediately. The child can be manipulated into a situation where they are then sexually exploited.”
– Dr. Prema Devaraj, programme consultant of Women’s Centre for Change
“Keeping in mind the transnational nature of online child sexual exploitation (CSE) and the fact that the Internet knows no borders, ASEAN countries are no exception to the need for laws on online grooming and other manifestations of CSE.”
– Bindu Sharma, Asia Pacific Policy Director of International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC)
Grooming laws around the World