THE pandemic period that we are in now has not only created a massive upheaval in people’s lives economically but also socially, as child sexual abuse and domestic violence cases are on the upswing.
In relation to this, Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) service manager S. Mangleswary has raised her concern about these social issues which are becoming more prevalent especially the incidences of child sexual abuse.
“Out of the 328 Hotline calls that we had received from the beginning of the year till April, 14% are on child sexual abuse.
“In 2020, we had a total of 8% percent of calls involving child sexual abuse, and the increase definitely has a significant relation to the pandemic period,’’ said Mangleswary during a phone interview with Buletin Mutiara team recently.
Mangleswary said the lockdown imposed as a result of the pandemic has forced everyone to adapt to doing new things in a virtual environment, including children who have to participate in online learning.
“Since we are in a lockdown, we stay connected by relying on ‘digital communication’. For children, besides being engaged in online learning, they spend much time online in leisure activities.
“While they are online, they might befriend someone through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WeChat for fun.
“And this is where they are exposed to danger and may fall prey to online sexual predators. There were cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse before the pandemic, but now, the cases have increased,’’ added Mangleswary.
Mangleswary, who is also among the social workers who conduct counselling services, urged parents to know more about cybercrime issues and to educate their children.
“Parents must sit down with their children and teach them the do’s and don’ts when they go online.
“They must give their children a proper explanation why certain things are not allowed so that they will be more aware of the harm and dangers of the cyberworld.
“Ultimately, it is important for parents to keep monitoring their children’s online activities.
“Based on our data as well as the Police’s statistics, children who become the victims of sexual abuse and exploitation fall mostly under the age group of 13 to 15.
According to Mangleswary, there was a spike in the number of calls to the centre’s hotline after the Covid-19 outbreak last year March.
“We would normally receive 600 to 700 calls per year, but last year we had a total of 1,156 calls and about 40 percent of the cases involved domestic violence.
“Now, we have also dealt with cases where the husbands would install mobile location tracker applications on their wife’s handphones for tracking and spying purposes. Some also monitor their wife’s WhatsApp messages from different devices.
“We can term this as ‘online violence or even e-stalking,’’’ she added.
Mangleswary said that, prior to the lockdown, the centre gave counselling via hotline and face to face but now they have added online video counselling as an alternative for face to face counselling.
“The drawback of this service is the unstable internet connection due to the network coverage or client’s limited data.
‘’And also, lack of ‘safe space’ for the callers to express themselves as they may be stuck with their abuser due to the lockdown.
“We have a total of nine social workers who are involved in the counselling service,’’ said Mangleswary.
Apart from that, Mangleswary said WCC has teamed up with the state government to take part in the ‘First Support Point’ programme (‘Penang Safe Family Policy’), an initiative by state executive councillor Chong Eng.
Under this program, WCC conducted training for government officers, state representatives’ service centres staff and community-based NGO volunteers to assist victims of domestic violence. So far, four training workshops have been completed.
“And we are also hoping for further collaboration with the state government to conduct more training sessions,’’ she said while urging women who are victims of domestic violence to not hesitate in seeking assistance from WCC.
WCC is a non-profit organisation that is working towards eliminating violence against women and children as well promoting gender equality. It provides free and confidential counselling for the victims.
Contact them at WCC Hotline :-
WCC Penang 011 -3108 4001 / 016-418 0342 or
WCC Seberang/Pusat Perkhidmatan Wanita) 016 439 0698 / 019 410 0698
Story by Tanushalini Moroter
Pix courtesy of WCC