KUALA LUMPUR: An NGO is concerned that the procedures for the government’s marriage tribunals, which are necessary for those seeking divorce, are placing domestic violence victims at risk.
In a report on domestic violence, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) highlighted procedures of the National Registration Department’s (JPN) marriage tribunals which it said could cause a domestic violence victim to suffer “great fear and trauma”.
The case study report titled “Perspectives on Domestic Violence” was released in conjunction with International Women’s Day today.
The JPN procedures highlighted by WAO include a requirement for domestic violence victims to attend tribunals in the area where they last resided.
WAO said this was usually where a domestic violence victim would have lived with her abusive spouse.
“In domestic violence situations, this can be very problematic when a survivor has moved away from her last address to escape the abuse of her husband.
“To make the survivor travel back to the area where the perpetrator resides can cause great fear and trauma for the survivor, and also puts her safety at risk.”
WAO added that this may also put a strain on a victim’s finances and career, as she would have to take time off work to travel back and forth.
The report noted that in one case it handled, the victim was also called to attend the tribunal with her abusive husband even though it was not necessary for them to be there at the same time.
“This is crucial, as many women, and even JPN officers, judges, lawyers, and social workers, are not aware that it is not a requirement for the parties to appear together at a JPN tribunal.
“Despite this, in WAO’s experience, most of the time women are called to appear at the same time as their husbands, even in domestic violence situations,” said the report.
WAO also noted that people can seek exemption from the marriage tribunal but the legal fees involved – around RM5,000 to RM6,000 on average – were costly for most women.
The report also highlighted the lack of sensitivity demonstrated by the authorities in some cases of domestic violence where WAO helped the victims.
In one instance, a woman named Sarah (not her real name) filed twelve police reports on abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband over the years but no investigation paper was ever opened, the report said.
“The police simply called Sarah’s husband and gave him a warning. Even worse, however, was that when Sarah returned to the police station to file another report, the police asked her why she was still getting pregnant, without actually acknowledging the domestic violence she had endured,” read the report.
It noted that this lack of sensitivity and awareness was also demonstrated by a JPN officer involved in the case. It said the officer advised Sarah to think about what was best for her children and return to her husband.
“Such remarks indicate a reluctance to view domestic violence in a serious manner, and a mentality of placing the blame on the victim.”
Between January and October last year, some 4,000 domestic abuse cases were recorded, including incidences of physical abuse, rape and child abuse.