Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

by Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
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Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia
Refuge for abused women in Malaysia

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) continues to assist survivors in their journey to live a life free from abuse, especially during a global pandemic where a survivor's safety is not guaranteed during lockdowns. Just as with the number of COVID-19 cases increasing in Malaysia, cases of gender-based violence -- domestic violence in particular -- continues to spike as well. Our social workers work tirelessly to ensure that women and child survivors are able to seek safety.

Below is the case study of Phoebe*, who is a survivor of domestic violence, and it details her journey in successfully leaving her abusive home with her children. 

 

Content warning / Trigger warning: Mentions of violence, abuse and child sexual abuse.  

Phoebe; a Domestic violence survivor, reached out to WAO for assistance as she was in an abusive marriage with her husband for 24 years. The abuse started within the first year of marriage. Phoebe went through various forms of abuse throughout her marriage; physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and also social abuse. He has also picked her up and dropped her on the floor “like a doll” as Phoebe would describe it during the abusive incidents previously. The physical abuse resulted in bruises on her body and also a swollen head. Phoebe endured the abuse as she wanted her children to have a complete household. Phoebe stayed and forgave her husband multiple times.

Late last year, Phoebe found out and started suspecting that her husband has also been sexually abusing their daughter. Phoebe felt worried and knew that staying with this man is not an option anymore as it will not only harm her but may put their daughters in danger as well. 

Phoebe decided to call WAO to seek assistance as she has decided to leave the abusive situation because she wants her children to grow up in a healthier and safer environment. She would also like WAO’s case management so that she can take action against her husband for both domestic violence and child sexual abuse. Despite being able to reach out to WAO, the client could not leave the abusive situation immediately due to a few hurdles. One reason being her every movement was monitored and controlled by her husband. Also, Phoebe’s daughter was also in the midst of preparing for her national examination and the idea of escaping now due to the abuse was more terrifying for the child as she already felt pressured for the national exams in the midst of a pandemic. Knowing that Phoebe was not able to escape immediately, WAO social worker came up with a safety plan to check in with Phoebe every Saturday’s by sending her a text message pretending to be someone else and a safety planning was also done to ensure if an abuse occurs again throughout this period what were the immediate steps that Phoebe can take for herself and her children. If Phoebe replies, then it means she is safe, but if Phoebe does not reply after 12 hours, it means she is not safe and WAO can call the police on her behalf. This safety plan was implemented and executed for about 2 months duration until Phoebe was able to finally leave the abusive household this year. 

After a few months, WAO social worker remotely assisted Phoebe with her escape by guiding her on when to leave and what important documents to bring with her. Phoebe left the house when her husband went out briefly. Once Phoebe managed to escape safely with her children, WAO assisted her in terms of successfully lodging a police report and seeking medical treatment for her and her daughter. WAO also successfully assisted her in obtaining an interim protection order for her and her children. WAO is still currently assisting the survivor in following up with her Domestic violence, child sexual abuse case and also divorce proceedings. Although Phoebe’s case's final outcome and justice has not been confirmed, Phoebe and her children are living independently free from violence and despite Phoebe having to move to an unfamiliar state for her safety, she has persevered in taking charge of her own life despite the struggles of finding new jobs, schools and a support system. Phoebe got herself and children into therapy to deal with their traumas from the years of abuse and is currently undergoing counselling still. She eventually found herself a stable job and has reconnected with her family and friends that she could not keep in touch with when she was controlled by her husband before. Phoebe often mentions to her social worker that she feels like WAO is her very own family as WAO made her feel heard and accompanied throughout this journey. 


*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the survivor

 

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The Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed in Malaysia had created worries among survivors of domestic violence; many feared that they would not be able to have access to justice due to the strict restrictions. The case study below depicts a survivor’s journey to obtaining a protection order during the MCO period with assistance from Women's Aid Organisation.

 

Case Study: IPO Delivered during MCO

Trina and her husband had been married for 7 years. They are both foreign nationals living in Malaysia under the Malaysia My Second Home program (MM2H) since 2018. They have 2 children, Jessica (5) and Annie (3). Jessica and Annie also have Hong Kong citizenship.

Trina’s husband was physically and verbally abusive towards her. He would throw household objects and insult Trina for practicing her religion. He also locked her out of the house on several occasions. Trina would have to wait outside until he let her in. He would often tell her that she could not get help in Malaysia as it is not a crime for men to hit their wives. He told her that she is his possession, and threatened to beat her so severely that she would have to be admitted to the hospital.

He also abused Annie. Once, when Annie was crying, he hit her repeatedly with an electronics cable, leaving scars. Trina saved pictures of the abuse.

Fearing for her life, Trina got her own apartment and moved out together with her two daughters. She and her daughters all experience nightmares from the abuse.

Trina saw a women’s doctor for a healthcare check-up, and confided some of her marriage issues with the doctor. The doctor gave her WAO’s number. Trina met with a WAO social worker who advised her that her husband was lying to her; that domestic violence is a crime in Malaysia and he can face charges for the abuse towards them. She is also eligible for protections under the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), such as protection orders. Even if he tried to get the embassies involved, he would still have to follow Malaysian law.

Trina was still considering her options when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed in Malaysia. Although Trina was not living together with her husband and he did not have her location, he still sent her abusive text messages. In some of the text messages, her husband threatened to hurt her for leaving him.

At WAO’s advice, Trina lodged a police report. The Investigating Officer (IO) called Trina in for a statement the following day. She was immediately given a referral letter for an Interim Protection Order (IPO). Trina brought the referral letter the nearest welfare department office. Trina also brought Annie for a medical check-up as part of the investigation process.

11 days after lodging the police report, Trina, Jessie, and Annie were all granted an IPO.

Trina and her children are receiving counselling to deal with their trauma from the abuse, while they await the outcome of the criminal case against the perpetrator. However, Trina said she also feels better knowing that there are legal measures to protect her and her children.

 

Notes

  • The process of delivering the IPO to the survivor was very smooth. At each stage, the police, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (Social Welfare Department), hospital, and court performed their functions as per the Garispanduan AKRT, despite the extraordinary circumstances of the MCO. 

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Case Study 1: Nellie, 21 years old

Nellie, a 21-year-old domestic violence survivor contacted WAO hotline at 9.30pm on May 19th, 2020 requesting for shelter. She was afraid to return home earlier in the evening, after being forced by her family to withdraw a police report she made against her husband, for domestic abuse. After a quick assessment to get more information on the case, WAO learned that Nellie was forced by her very own family into an arranged marriage. She was married off on March 14th, 2020, just four days before the Movement Control Order (MCO) - lockdown in Malaysia - was enforced. The abuse started on the fifth day of marriage when her husband hit her on her chest with his head. It didn’t end there as the abuse only got worse. 

A day before she contacted WAO, her newly-wed husband had pushed her and pinned her against a wall. He then punched her on her chest and hit her with his hand. Nellie suffered injuries to her head and chin; her hand was bleeding. Her husband threatened to hunt her down and kill her if she tried to run away from him. Fortunately Nellie found the courage to make a police report after going to stay with her cousin in another suburb the next day. She said she found it difficult to leave her abusive marriage as her family was in favour of her husband; they had, after all, arranged her marriage. She couldn’t confide in them and received no support from them either. 

Three hours after returning home from her cousin’s, Nellie called WAO to say that she could not leave her abusive marriage and would be uncontactable thereafter, as it was unsafe for her to connect with us. But the following day, she called a WAO Social Worker on duty at 4pm, expressing her intention to leave that night. A safety plan was drawn up and WAO briefed her. She in turn said she would inform WAO when she found a safe time to leave that night. A WAO team on standby did not hear from Nellie that night. We could not call the police either as WAO respects a victim’s privacy and decision as they may not be ready to leave a situation yet. 

On May 21st, 2020, a WAO Social Worker on-call received a message from Nellie saying she had a window of opportunity to make an escape but had to leave specifically at 3.30am. She snuck out of her flat, under the nose of her unsupportive mother who was at home. WAO made arrangements for a taxi to wait for her near her flat and ferry her to a WAO Shelter. 

On arrival at the shelter around 4.30am, Nellie was seen to be unable to walk and had to be carried into the shelter. It was visible that her leg on one side was completely twisted and was swelling. When probed, she said in order to escape, she had to jump from the balcony of her flat on the first floor. Arrangements were made for Nellie to be taken to the hospital where we were informed that she required surgery having suffered multiple fractures on her four toes. She was discharged from the hospital after a few days and is in safe hands at a WAO shelter where she is cared for and is being assisted with case management.

 

Case Study 2: Eleana, foreign spouse, rescued by JKM

Domestic violence survivor Eleana, a foreign spouse made a crisis call to Talian Kasih and was rescued by the JKM in early September. She was referred to WAO for shelter and case management assistance. When she was referred, Eleana did not have any valid visa/pass because her husband did not apply any spousal visa for her. Without a proper documentation, she could not have access to any protection mechanisms like lodging a police report and applying for a protection order, as the client feared being detained by the police for immigration related offences.

With the assistance of WAO social workers, the survivor was able to appeal to the immigration department to allow her to remain in Malaysia for the sake of her 3 children. She may still potentially be required to pay a compound. WAO is working on an appeal to waive the compound.

With her immigration status being sorted, the client was able to lodge a police report and get an interim protection order. WAO is also actively assisting the survivor to generate some income by selling cookies that the survivor bakes. With the intervention from WAO, the client finally gained a renewed zeal to keep moving forward towards a life free from violence. She hopes to resolve her divorce, custody and immigration related matters with the assistance of WAO.

Very often, foreign spouses that suffer from domestic violence not only have to worry about their children or escaping the situation but their primary concern also becomes their immigration status as their spouses often use this to threaten them. Just like in Eleana’s case, their spouse who are also the perpetrators refuses to renew their visas making them undocumented thus fearing them to not go to any authorities. WAO focuses on ensuring even foreign spouses are protected in the Domestic Violence Act thus accompanying them to lodge a police report and getting medical check up safely. WAO also engages with the immigration on this matter and tries to support the women as much as possible to ensure she can safely return to her country with her children. 

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“Nellie” (not her real name), a 21-year-old domestic violence survivor contacted WAO hotline at 9.30pm on May 19th, 2020 requesting for shelter. She was afraid to return home earlier in the evening, after being forced by her family to withdraw a police report she made against her husband, for domestic abuse.

After a quick assessment to get more information on the case, WAO learned that “Nellie” was forced by her very own family, into an arranged marriage.

She was married off on March 14th, 2020, just four days before the Movement Control Order (MCO) - lockdown in Malaysia - was enforced.

The abuse started on the fifth day of marriage when her husband hit her on her chest with his head. It didn’t end there as the abuse only got worse.

A day before she contacted WAO, her newly-wed husband had pushed her and pinned her against a wall. He then punched her on her chest and hit her with his hand.

“Nellie” suffered injuries to her head and chin; her hand was bleeding. Her husband threatened to hunt her down and kill her if she tried to run away from him. Fortunately “Nellie” found the courage to make a police report after going to stay with her cousin in another suburb the next day.

She said she found it difficult to leave her abusive marriage as her family was in favour of her husband; they had, after all, arranged her marriage. She couldn’t confide in them and received no support from them either.

Three hours after returning home from her cousin’s, “Nellie” called WAO to say that she could not leave her abusive marriage and would be uncontactable thereafter, as it was unsafe for her to connect with us.

But the following day, she called a WAO Social Worker on duty at 4pm, expressing her intention to leave that night. A safety plan was drawn up and WAO briefed her. She in turn said she would inform WAO when she found a safe time to leave that night.

A WAO team on standby did not hear from “Nellie” that night. We could not call the police either as WAO respects a victim’s privacy and decision as they may not be ready to leave a situation yet.

On May 21st, 2020, a WAO Social Worker on-call receives a message from “Nellie” saying she had a window of opportunity to make an escape but had to leave specifically at 3.30am.

She snuck out of her flat, under the nose of her unsupportive mother who was at home. WAO made arrangements for a taxi to wait for her near her flat and ferry her to a WAO Shelter.

On arrival at the shelter around 4.30am, “Nellie” was seen to be unable to walk and had to be carried into the shelter. It was visible that her leg on one side was completely twisted and was swelling. When probed, she said in order to escape, she had to jump from the balcony of her flat on the first floor.

As a representative of WAO and a woman myself, I was totally lost for words that a 21-year old woman had to jump to save herself from her abusive husband during the lockdown.

Arrangements were made for “Nellie” to be taken to the hospital where we were informed that she required surgery having suffered multiple fractures on her four toes. She was recently discharged from the hospital and is in safe hands at a WAO shelter where she is cared for and is being assisted with case management.

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WAO recognises the right to safety at all times.
WAO recognises the right to safety at all times.

Mei Lee and her two kids Shi Hui, 9 years old and Shi Liu, 6 years old were admitted to WAO shelter in June 2019. A had been exposed to physical and financial abuse since 2015. Although her children, Shi Hui and Shi Liu were not directly abused, they witnessed the abuse at times. As a result of being in an abusive environment and trauma exposure, when Mei Lee and her family first came to WAO, she felt very vulnerable and fearful, as her husband had tried to contact her friends she was previously staying with to find out her location. He additionally threatened he would harm her friends, and told them he would kill her if he managed to locate her. She hoped that coming to WAO shelter following receiving this threats would increase her feeling of security for her and her children.

When Mei Lee and her children came to WAO, her primary concern of safety and security was acknowledged and proactively addressed. WAO managed to obtain an IPO and then a PO that covered both Mei Lee and her kids. Following getting this protection, she gradually regained her sense of security for her and her kids, and progressively felt like she could start taking control of her life once again. She actively participated in counselling sessions as well as empowerment programmes, and her kids were delighted to have the opportunity to be homeschooled, and be involved in the various sports and other intellectually stimulating and skill building programmes.

With secured legal protection for Mei Lee and her kids and the skills they had learnt from their participation in WAO programmes, Mei Lee soon gained the confidence to start looking at places she could move to outside of the refuge to build a future for her and her kids. She developed a plan with her social worker and acted on the plan by visiting a few places and engaging her friends to help her secure a place. When she and her children left the shelter, they felt empowered and supported. It was evident that the combination of a safe refuge, legal protection, and psychosocial, physical and intellectual programs had thoroughly benefited A and her family in terms of supporting and empowering them as a family unit to be able to move forward with their lives.

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Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)

Location: Petaling Jaya, Selangor - Malaysia
Website:
Project Leader:
Sumitra Visvanathan
Petaling Jaya, Selangor Malaysia
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