A Malaysian senator apologized on Thursday after proposing a law that would protect not the victims of sexual assault, but their male assailants — an idea that was met with swift fury by activists and other lawmakers.
The comments by Mohamad Imran, a member of the governing coalition’s People’s Justice Party, were an unsparingly direct expression of a victim-blaming trope that spans the globe: women who are sexually assaulted are at fault.
Speaking to the Senate on Wednesday, Mr. Imran proposed creating a “sexual harassment act” that would enable men to “deal with the acts, speech or dressing of women that could seduce men” into committing sex crimes, according to Reuters.
Men, he said, “need to be protected, because due to what women wear, we are seduced and end up breaking the country’s laws and face prosecution.”
He backtracked on Thursday, after his proposal was roundly criticized.
“While my intentions were sincere, I did not expect it to be seen as a huge mistake that has offended many women and no less men who considered it insulting,” Mr. Imran said.
The idea that sexual assault victims share responsibility for the attack — redirecting blame from the perpetrators who actively chose to carry out an assault — is widely considered a myth with destructive consequences. Many activists say it is a major reason that so many sexual assaults are not reported.
Mr. Imran’s comments were quickly condemned by activists and other politicians.
Wan Azizah Ismail, a deputy prime minister and the minister of women, family and community development, said in a statement that she welcomed the apology but that the senator should go through gender sensitivity training “so that the causes and consequences of violence against women can be better understood together.”
“To blame women for the bad behavior from men is not acceptable,” she said.
Sisters in Islam, a women’s rights group in Malaysia, said in a statement that “men should police their own thoughts, words and actions and not take crimes committed by men against women lightly.”
Nor were men happy with their depiction as out-of-control primates unable to control themselves.
“As a man, and I would like to think a full-blooded male, I find it preposterous and even insulting that you think that men are so easily seduced into committing a crime of a sexual nature,” Dharm Navaratnam wrote in an open letter published in The Malay Mail.
The questioning of victims’ choices, down to the clothing they wear, is a common occurrence during criminal trials around the world. Last year, a defense lawyer in Ireland cited a 17-year-old’s lacy underwear as a sign of consent in a rape case, prompting international outrage. In India, a 11-year-old girl was blamed for her gang rape.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said in a speech last year that “as long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.” His spokesman said he had been trying to make a joke.
For more than a year, Malaysia has debated a sexual harassment bill that would protect women in the workplace. No law has been approved.
A survey released this week by the Center for Governance and Political Studies found just 35 percent of Malaysian men correctly identified a verbal “yes” as consent for sex. About 13 percent of men considered “body language,” including eye contact, to constitute consent, while 4 percent said non-objection sufficed, and another 4 percent thought being in a relationship was enough.
Daniel Victor is a Hong Kong-based reporter, covering a wide variety of stories with a focus on breaking news. He joined The Times in 2012 from ProPublica. @bydanielvictor
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