Crime Law Politics

How this tiny team of journalists changed child sexual crime laws in Malaysia

Amazing things happened in Parliament on 4 April 2017… the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill was passed, marking a landmark victory for the country! Score one for the children of Malaysia, zero for child sexual predators.

This event also saw 115 MPs coming together from both sides of the divide to unite against sexual crimes upon children. In Malaysia, we don’t often see our MPs agreeing on a lot of issues, but this time they really stood together for the common good.

But what sparked all of this? Who got Parliament to band together to create a whole new law? This is an awesome story of how one news team managed to change Malaysia for the better…

 

One year ago, R.AGE started a campaign to expose child sexual predators

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R.AGE team with Editor Ian Yee holding up their 2016 Asian Media Awards award. Image from rage.com.my

You all know R.AGE right? The team of 12 is made up of bunch of young journalists who are dedicated to publishing in-depth stories on stuff Malaysians need to know. They believe that “good journalism is about telling stories that matter, that make a difference, that hold people accountable, that give a voice to those who don’t have one.” It is exactly this kind of work that has earned them numerous awards.

So, a year ago, early June 2016 R.AGE started a campaign, called Predator In My Phone as an experiment.

“It came up with a very unlikely meeting with the police. We were there to investigate something about date rape drugs. As they shared statistics, we found this bit of statistics which is mobile chat apps. They have become the number 1 tool of sex predators. And from there we just took it on.” – Ian Yee, R.AGE Editor, The Star

r.age predator in my phone video

Chat apps have become sexual predators main operating base in Malaysia. Click to watch interview with Ian

A few journalists posed as 15-year-olds on WhatsApp, Facebook, WeChat and other mobile chat apps, to see how many sex predators would approach them. Guess what? A LOT of freaky people approached them!!

“Within half an hour, I’d received over 10 messages, all from men. And according to their profiles, they were mostly middle-aged, but definitely over the age of 18.” – Clarissa Say, R.AGE Journalist on Predator In My Phone, Episode 1

After chatting with these men, they would ask to meet up. The team would spend HOURS with hidden cameras in hotels, restaurants and such (one predator even asked to meet at his house!). Watch their video here.

The investigations alone lasted six months, with every sting operation painstakingly planned out to protect their undercover journalists. For them, the most traumatising part was the conversations they had with the predators. 🙁

Screencap of the R.AGE Predator in my Phone video.

R.AGE journalists posing as 15-year-olds in Predator in my Phone

“We’ve had some pretty close encounters and safety is a huge priority for us. What a lot of people don’t see behind the scenes is how much effort and time it takes to set something like this up. We have to make it everything is 100% foolproof. We have to get the person to meet in a public place, we have to make sure the place is safe, that the rest of our team can be stationed nearby, we have to make sure there is enough security.” – Ian, The Star

Naturally the police knew about the whole thing, so everything was done legally. Ian revealed that the unit in charge of investigating stuff like this does not have the most resources, that’s why they need help.

Predator In My Phone taught Malaysians a lot of things about paedophilia in the country. Within a week of releasing Episode 1 of their series, the engagement R.AGE received has been massive. Concerned parents were commenting on the story, and there was a lot of outrage, according to Ian.

Of course, years before R.AGE began their campaign, lawmakers and NGOs have always been hard at work lobbying for policies to protect the interests of children. One example is the task force led by Minister in the PM’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said. Predator In My Phone simply got the ball rolling.

Between this campaign and the widely publicised cases, such as the Richard Huckle one, the MARA student, and the paedophile WhatsApp group exposed by activist Syed Azmi, it was reaching a tipping point for the Malaysian public.

But for the R.AGE team, their efforts didn’t end there…

 

The reporters actually called MPs to get their pledges to support the Bill

star journalists help r.age call mp support

Star2 journalist N. Rama Lohan calling Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz on a Friday evening. Image from The Star

Nope! Exposing this issue wasn’t enough for the R.AGE team. They one upped it by first consulting a bunch of experts and NGOs to draft a sort of proposal for the Act.

predator act campaign expert ngo

Click to read. Screenshot from predator.my

But they were not done!! They also called MPs to get their support for the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill.

“All of us have been assigned a bunch of numbers to call. These are MPs we are calling to ask whether or not they’ve pledged their support for the new Child Sexual Crimes Bill. So the whole office has been buzzing. We’re just picking up phones and calling them and it’s kind of like a telethon.” – Clarissa

Plus, they created a platform where the public could tag their MPs:

tag your mp child sexual offences bill

Screenshot from predator.my/

By October 2016, 34 MPs had pledged to support laws against child sexual grooming. By February 2017, the team managed to secure 62 MPs pledges… But they needed more! Technically, Parliament would need 111 votes to make it official, half of the total of 222 MPs. So R.AGE journalists decided to send out an SOS to their colleagues throughout Star Media Group.

Overall, 30 journos from The Star, Star2, StarMetro, The Star TV and mStar volunteered to help. After a weekend push, the #MPsAgainstPredators campaign hit 112 pledges on 20 March. But as we know now, 115 MPs in Parliament voted YES that day.

“It was a great feeling having our colleagues from across the company help push us over the finish line. We had asked for volunteers to help us call MPs on Friday night. Many of them spent the entire weekend following up, which shows how dedicated they are as journalists, not only to their jobs but to important causes as well.” – Ian

Watch the video below:

That’s some commitment man, the fact that they went beyond reporting and actually mobilised MPs to support this cause!

 

And because of their efforts, they even managed to unite Parliament

MPs united on child sexual offences bill 2017

We go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong. Image from The Star

In Malaysia, we don’t often see our MPs agreeing on a lot of issues. However, on 4 April, MPs from opposing sides were able to put aside their differences and stand in solidarity against child sexual predators. Across the floor, the MPs gave a resounding “aye!”.

“Although we might have had our differences before on other fundamental issues, today we are able to talk about the future and our obligations in protecting the children.” – PKR MP Nurul Izzah

Heck, they were all also collectively furious at one guy, we’re sure you know who – Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya for saying:

shabudin yahaya remark rape victim marry

Even his Umno colleagues sounded him. Screenshot from Free Malaysia Today

The Sexual Offences Against Children Bill, which went through three hearings over two days, has been a long time coming. Between R.AGE’s campaign and the other cases we mentioned earlier which outraged the nation, we are finally putting our foot down! This new law covers more things than the existing Child Act 2001, which ensures greater protection for anyone under 18.

Very briefly, the key things to note are that the act of grooming a child is now illegal. Next, the law now protects ALL Malaysian kids against any local or foreigner, whether the crime happened here or abroad. Additionally, making, possessing and distributing child porn is now illegal. And this is only the beginning, the MPs are planning a follow-up to enhance the Bill. Read here to know more.

After the first hearing was over, the MPs stood shoulder to shoulder with Azalina to speak to reporters.

“My final statement is, to all the perpetrators out there, you can run but you cannot hide. We will go after you. We as all the MPs will be united when it comes to this issue. For me the conclusion is very simple, those who don’t support this bill, I define them as perverts.” – Azalina Othman, The Star

It has been a long, tough journey for the people involved, but one year on, this tiny team of journalists has made history by make the nation a safer place for Malaysian children.

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