Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Stiffer penalties for sex offences apt

NEWS over the past few days must have set women's rights groups  rejoicing, and rightly so.

Stiffer penalties for those who assault or use criminal force against spouses, gang rape being made a new, separate offence, increased jail terms for incest between 10 and 30 years and lengthier jail terms for inciting a child to an act of gross indecency. All these and more are among proposed amendments to the Penal Code.

The amendment bill had its first reading at Dewan Rakyat over this past week, and news of it must have been much welcomed.

Women's Aid Organisation director Ivy Josiah lauded the move to have stiffer penalties for assault or the use of criminal force against spouses. She told the New Straits Times the move was long overdue, however, with women's organisations pushing for it for some time now.

It is no wonder she feels that way. For the longest time, people were of the opinion that what happens between a husband and a wife should stay between a husband and a wife. It's not something that should be aired in public. Marital problems are not to be brought to the attention of anyone outside the family.

But, marital problems are marital problems. Assault, rape, coercion and force are not. These are crimes, no matter who does it or who the victims are. In fact, if you look at it from a different perspective, it is an even bigger sin if the perpetrator and the victim are married to each other.
Should not a husband protect his wife, after all? Should not a wife be more loving to her husband than anyone else?

(Yes, spousal abuse works both ways. There are cases out there, though few and far between, of wives beating up their husbands.)

Then there is the amendment which will see minimum jail terms for rape increased from five years to 10. This and news that another amendment will put an end to concurrent prison sentences should be taken as a triumph by women's groups.

Rape, despite the fact that it is classified as a sex crime, is not merely about sex. It is about power. It is violent and leaves the victim terribly traumatised.

Having a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for rape is befitting. It shows that the government deems rape a horrible crime indeed. And, this is only strengthened when you do not allow prison sentences to run concurrently.

Why? Let's say a man is charged with two counts of rape. If the court finds him guilty on both counts and sentences him to the minimum amount required by law on each charge but rules that the sentences should be served concurrently, then he only serves 10 years and not 20.

It is somewhat akin, you can say, to a person purchasing two units of the same thing, but paying only for one.

This was the problem in 1997 when an Indonesian man with permanent resident status here was arrested on suspicion of having raped several women.

The story then was that police were in a quandary because at that time, courts were inconsistent when meting out jail sentences for rape and tended to hand out concurrent sentences for multiple counts of rape.

The rumour also was that this suspected serial rapist was one who could not control his urges. The story goes that he was taken to hospital for a potency test. As a nurse walked by, he nudged the cop to whom he was handcuffed and told him that if he had been loose, he would attack the nurse.

Because of these factors -- again, as the story goes -- police were sure he would get out in only a matter of a few years and be back to his ways in no time. They were at a loss.

 The policemen would not have had to worry if the minimum sentence then had been 10 years and sentences had to run consecutively.

As an aside to that story -- whether or not it is true -- the investigators' worries were all for nought, thanks to the actions of the suspect himself.

He claimed he had murdered one of his victims and buried her in a secondary jungle. He was brought to the area with his hands cuffed at the back, as is standard operating procedure.

When they came to a hill, however, police detectives had to cuff his hands in front so he could make the climb. At the top of the hill, a detective uncuffed him so he could again have his hands cuffed at the back, but he then tried to escape.

In a scuffle with one detective, he managed to grab the policeman's revolver, but as he pointed the gun at the detective, another policeman shot and killed him.

 A search of the area later, however, found no body buried there, as claimed by the suspect.

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