It’s almost the end of another year but the shadow of sexual assault still looms over Malaysia. Even as movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp take flight around the world, local men have proved more reserved when it comes to meaningful engagement of the issue.
In this environment, we salute the ladies who front topics still unfamiliar to the general population, e.g., agency and consent, in order to educate and organise the masses against sexual assault. We’re relieved to have them around, because judging from Twitterjaya, the patriarchy is at best capable of contributing dubious manels on female empowerment to the conversation.
The Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) in George Town, Penang, helps women and children who are abused, raped or sexually assaulted by offering free and confidential counselling, temporary shelter and legal advice. Established in 1985 as the Women’s Crisis Centre, it plays a vital role in women’s welfare in Penang.
But in a crowded digital sphere, marketing WCC’s services is tricky. The organisation conducts many outreach programmes and also raises awareness via social media visuals (some of which could be deemed triggering). One of their more recent campaigns splashed posters of domestic abuse victims on social media—a potentially disturbing experience for viewers, let alone the models involved.
This week, WCC dropped a video titled The Shower in conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November). The quietly burning short film follows two young women texting each other from their own homes. As the story unravels, we observe how assault survivors are shut down and silenced with victim-blaming.
“Victim-blaming culture is unfortunately still commonplace,” noted WCC Communications Officer Masya Zabidi. “Survivors are blamed and shamed for their choice of attire, activities, and other flimsy factors.”
Directed and edited by Loo Que Lin, The Shower stars Nurul Shahirah Jamalludin and Radziah Othuman Sahib. The unsettling film, which also features a vocal cameo from dance icon Aida Redza, was made possible with support from the German Foreign Office at the German Embassy Kuala Lumpur.
“The online comments in the scene where Laila is on the computer are quotes taken verbatim from the comments section of one of our Instagram posts,” Masya added.
“Some people were so outraged that we had the audacity to blame rape solely on rapists. We had to stop checking our notifications for a bit because the comments we received justifying rape and harassment were a misogynistic dumpster fire.”
The Shower follows WCC’s illustrated online publication on child sexual abuse. Shared in four different languages back in September, Lisa and Her Secret opened the floodgates—more women began writing in about their abuse, something they never did because of the times they shouldered the blame.
“In Malaysia, a majority of sexual assault survivors are teenage girls or children below 18. We need to empower these individuals to come forward and bravely speak out,” Masya concluded.