Malaysian Teen Threatened for Revealing Her Teacher Joked About Rape

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-05-06
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Malaysian Teen Threatened for Revealing Her Teacher Joked About Rape Malaysian teenager Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam uses her phone to check the comments on her TikTok video, in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia, April 29, 2021.
[Reuters]

A 17-year-old Malaysian girl who complained on TikTok that her teacher had joked about rape is now receiving threats and afraid to return to school, she told opposition leader and former education minister Anwar Ibrahim at an online forum on Thursday.

Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam’s video went viral, sparking a nationwide debate on sex education and institutional misogyny, with many girls raising their voices over similar incidents. But many people criticized her too.

“I am afraid to go to school. This is a school that I used to love, with teachers that I love,” Ain said at the forum organized by Anwar and moderated by political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ul Haque, who’s better known as Zunar.

But amid backlash from her viral video, she said she had asked herself: “Where are those teachers that I care about? Don’t you care about me as your student?”

Ain, who is a senior, described what happened at school in a TikTok video she made and posted on April 24. She said that a class on health education led by a male teacher was discussing how young people have a right to stand up against sexual harassment.

“He was making a couple of jokes, but it seemed normal at first. Then we were talking about how there are a lot of laws protecting minors from sexual abuse or sexual harassment,” Ain said in her narration, according to a transcript by the Reuters news agency.

“And then he said, guess what, ‘If you want to rape someone, do not rape those below 18 years old, rape those above 18 years old.’ He really said that. And the girls were like, quiet, but the boys, they were laughing, like it was so funny to joke about raping someone.”

The video was widely watched, and, overnight, Ain became a household name. Scores of girls began to contact her talking about similar incidents, she said.

Many told her they feared being shut out by their schoolmates if they complained, she said. Some said they did report sexist incidents but no action was taken, Ain said.

Then Ain, too, began to be ostracized by her schoolmates after she filed a police report about her teacher. One student threatened to rape her. Ain filed a police report about that threat as well.

Others, like Harry Tan, secretary-general of the National Union of Teaching Professionals for Peninsula Malaysia, described what happened to Ain as an isolated incident.

“How is this a widespread problem? Where’s the data, how many schools are we talking about?” Tan retorted when asked about the issue in a TV talk show on Astro Awani on Wednesday.

And days before he became Malaysia’s police chief, Acryl Sani Abdullah – then the deputy police chief – said the rape threat against Ain “may be a joke by her classmate.”

‘Needs to be immediate action’

Education Minister Radzi Jidin had said last week that his ministry would not tolerate jokes about rape and that the matter was being taken seriously.

But Anwar, who was education minister from 1986-1991, said Radzi should have strongly condemned the incident from the start.

“I have not heard them say that such behavior is not acceptable. … I have not heard any stern warnings be issued,” Anwar said.

“When there is a fear of going to school, there needs to be immediate action. It should not be ignored, as if it’s the student’s own problem for missing out one or two weeks of school.”

Anwar said he would start “making noises” if he did not hear by next week what action the ministry or the police were taking.

He lauded Ain for speaking out.

“We should applaud Ain’s courage in raising awareness and continue to talk about these issues. Education must teach morals and values,” he said.

During the forum, which was broadcast live on Facebook, people posted comments criticizing Ain for appearing with Anwar and accused her of politicizing the issue. She responded saying sexism was a universal problem.

“This is not about politics, this is about all of us together, you adults out there coming together to help us kids because schools nowadays are not safe,” she said.

“You as adults need to take responsibility and ensure that schools are safer for us, that’s all.”

Ain’s been supported by scores of citizens, equal rights groups and NGOs and lawmakers.

“We, the undersigned are extremely disturbed and appalled by the horrible and dangerous comments and threats made by the public towards Ain,” said a statement signed by 50 NGOs, 821 individuals, 14 members of parliament, and two opposition political parties, that was shared online on May 1.

Still, Saiful Nizam Ab Wahab, Ain’s father, said his daughter may have to move to another school.

“It’s just that after all that happened, there are many things that Ain has to consider, so that she can continue to study in a conducive environment” Saiful told news site Malaysiakini on Wednesday.

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