A 2013 study by World Health Organisation revealed that 1 in every 3 women worldwide is a victim of domestic violence. In recent years, the highest number of domestic violence cases have been recorded in Selangor, with nearly 1,713 cases in 2021.
In Malaysia, several laws protect the victim from domestic violence. The primary one is the Domestic Violence Act 1994 (“DVA”). Before DVA came into force, domestic violence cases were dealt with under the Penal Code or by obtaining a restraining order through the court system. After its implementation, the law enforcement bodies (police and social welfare workers) must investigate any reported domestic violence incidents under the DVA and Penal Code.
Definition of Domestic Violence under DVA
Domestic violence (“DV”), also known as domestic abuse, is a pattern of behaviour which involves violence or other forms of abuse by the abuser against their victim in a domestic setting. It refers to a wide range of acts, from verbal abuse to threats to marital rape and murder, in the privacy of an intimate relationship, often in the marital home.
In Malaysia, DV is a criminal offence legally defined in the DVA. Examples of DVs may include the following actions:
- Attempt to cause fear or physical injury
- Inflicting bodily harm
- Forcing the victim to perform a sexual request against their consent
- Confining or holding the victim against their will
- Damaging victim’s property to cause distress or annoyance to them
- Psychological and emotional abuse towards a spouse
- Causing the victim to become delusional by forcing the usage of any intoxicating substances without the victim’s consent
As listed above, the types of abuse classified as domestic violence are not limited to physical aggression. DVs include sexual abuse, emotional abuse, controlling or domineering behaviour, stalking, threats, and economic deprivation.
Who is the victim under DVA?
According to Section 5 of the DVA, DVA aims to protect the complainant, a child or a disabled adult from domestic violence.
The DVA also protects “de facto spouses,” referring to couples who have undergone a religious or traditional marriage ceremony according to their customs or adat but have yet to register their marriage. DVA, however, does not apply to unmarried couples living together.
Complaints of Domestic Violence
- Complaints of domestic violence may be made either to a police officer or a social welfare worker where the victim lives OR where the abuser lives OR where the alleged abuse occurred, OR where the victim is temporarily located.
- Section 18A makes all domestic violence cases to be seizable offences. Seizable offences are described as serious crimes in which the abuser uses “dangerous weapons or means” to cause injury or serious bodily harm (hurt that causes permanent loss of vision or hearing, broken or dislocated bones)
- Due to the classification as seizable offences, police can investigate the complaint as soon after receiving a report. They may arrest the abuser without a warrant.
- To assist the investigation, the victim must include the details and nature of the abuse done towards them.
- The police will conduct a further investigation based on the report that has been filed. Evidence such as medical reports and witness statements will be collected, and depending on the evidence, the police may refer the case to the prosecutor’s office.
- The prosecution will decide whether to press charges against the abuser or dismiss the case.
- If the abuser is charged in court, the trial will begin to determine whether they are guilty or innocent of domestic violence.
Two types of protection orders are designed under DVA: emergency protection orders and interim protection orders.
Emergency Protection Order (EPO)
An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) is issued by the Social Welfare Department (JKM) officer instructing the abuser to stop committing acts of violence towards the victim.
The amended DVA allows the Director General to authorise in writing a welfare officer to issue an EPO if the abuser intentionally or knowingly inflicts bodily harm on the victim or when they attempted to place the victim in fear of bodily harm.
Steps to obtain EPO
- An EPO can be obtained at any time by calling Talian Nur (15999), which is available 24 hours a day; OR
- EPO may also be applied at the nearest social services agency, Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM).
Upon receiving the application for an EPO, the authorised welfare officer may issue the EPO within 2 hours of the application. When issuing an EPO, the following orders may also be attached:
- Order prohibiting the abuser from committing domestic abuse against the victim; or
- Order prohibiting the abuser from inciting another person to commit domestic violence against the victim; or
- Order prohibiting the abuser from entering the victim’s safe place, shelter, residence, shared residence or alternate residence.
Although neither a police report nor a petition for court protection is required for an emergency order, an emergency order is valid only for seven days from the date of its issuance. It is enforceable only if a copy of the order has been served on the abuser.
Interim Protection Order (IPO)
IPO is an order issued while the investigation is ongoing and expires after the end of the investigation. After its expiry, the victim must seek a protective order under Section 5 of the Act.
Suppose the court determines that the victim’s protection and personal safety are in jeopardy. In that case, the court may order one or more orders under Section 6(1) of the Act, which may be included in the protective order.
Additional orders under Section 6(1) may include the followings:
- To exclude the abusers from the shared home to protect the victim
- To prohibit the abusers from entering the residence of a protected person, which includes their workplace or school
- To prohibit the defendant from contacting the victim without the presence of a law enforcement officer or other person appointed by the court
- To permit the defendant to enter the common residence if they need to retrieve their belonging BUT only in the presence of the law enforcement officer.
- To require the defendant to avoid any written or telephonic communication with the victim
- To permit the victim to continue using their vehicle, which was ordinarily used before, during and after the abuse.
- To issue any orders necessary to carry out and related to the above orders.
What are the effects of domestic violence on women in Malaysia?
Ability to form and maintain healthy relationships.
Victims who have experienced abuse may struggle with trust issues and have difficulty opening up to others. This can make it challenging for them to form intimate relationships and maintain friendships.
In addition to the psychological effects, domestic violence can have physical consequences.
Women who experience domestic violence may suffer from physical injuries, chronic pain, and other health problems.
Low self-esteem and a negative self-image.
They may blame themselves for the abuse and feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help. This can lead to a cycle of self-blame and further abuse, making it difficult for women to break free from the cycle of violence.
What resources are available for women who are victims of DV in Malaysia?
Women who experience DV in Malaysia can seek help from various resources and support systems. One of the most prominent organisations that assist victims of domestic violence is the Women’s Aid Organization (WAO). WAO offers a 24-hour hotline service, counselling, and shelter for women facing abuse. They also provide legal advice and assistance in obtaining protection orders.
Another organisation that supports domestic violence victims is the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM). AWAM offers counselling, legal assistance, and referrals to other organisations that can provide additional support. They also conduct public education and advocacy programs to raise awareness about domestic violence and its impact on women and society.
- Under the DVA, victims of domestic violence can apply for a protection order at any time, either on their own or through a lawyer.
- Protection orders can be granted on an interim basis and last up to six months. The orders can also be renewed or varied if necessary.
- Any protective order under DVA is intended to protect a victim, child or incapacitated adult from being harmed by the abusers.
- Violating a protection order is a criminal offence and can result in imprisonment or a fine.