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A SAFE HAVEN

The Malay model

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These centres are located in inconspicuous, private rooms within the hospital. This also keeps the victims out of the reach of the perpetrators who often try to threaten or persuade them into dropping charges.

Malaysia's one-stop crisis centres where victims of violence are treated with dignity and sensitivity show the way for India.

A battered woman lying unattended in a hospital corner, a rape survivor forced to re-live her trauma several times over, the Indian criminal justice system is fairly inured to the suffering of women who are victims of violence. It is to cut out such systemic apathy that a one-stop crisis intervention has been proposed by various government committees, courts and international agencies.

After much public outrage over the Nirbhaya case and the many that followed it, the government is now taking baby steps towards establishing one-stop crisis centres (OSCCs).

The Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) will operationalise 100 such centres in urban areas on a pilot basis and has set aside a budget of Rs 10 crore in 2013-14 for their implementation, minister Krishna Tirath promised the Lok Sabha in March.

But is it a case of too little, too late? A look into criminal justice systems around Asia reveals that India has much catching up to do. Malaysia, which pioneered OSCCs way back in the nineties, now boasts of 200 such centres across the country. Similar systems have been instituted subsequently in Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.

A visit to one of the developing world's first OSCCs in Kuala Lumpur reveals how survivors of violence can get due dignity and better justice, if there is political will. "OSCC is not about a room but a holistic system based on humanitarian values, gender sensitivity and basic human rights, " says Dr Abu Hassan Asaari B Abdullah who founded the OSCC in the 3, 000-bed Kuala Lumpur Hospital in 1993.

In scenes reminiscent of India's response, Dr Abdullah cites how in the past, battered women would sometimes wait up to six hours in the hospital to receive medical treatment. They would then be made to wait another few hours for the social worker and queue up separately for policemen of the appropriate jurisdiction to attend to them. This, while being constantly subjected to the disapproving glare of society. "We decided to put an end to this by creating a focal point for all the services, where even if there was a marginal delay, the survivor is out of the public glare, " he explains.

The uniqueness of Malaysia's system lies in the fact that these aren't one-off localised initiatives by voluntary organisations, but comprehensive governmentinstitutionalised systems of scale that have integrated various agencies. India too has experimented with localised models - Mumbai has Dilaasa centres for victims of domestic violence in two public hospitals, but the government initiative promises a wider reach. Unlike India's proposed centres which will cater only to women, the Malaysian model offers succour to men, women and children subjected to any crime such as rape, sexual assault, sodomy, child abuse, domestic violence, intimate partner violence and abandonment.

A walk through the bustling public hospital reveals lessons India could learn. OSCC centres are located in private rooms inconspicuously referred to as "Rose Room" or "Lily Room" within the hospital. This also keeps the victims out of the reach of the perpetrators who often try to threaten or pacify them into dropping charges.

The reasons for the system's success are evident. . .
Skilled male and female paramedics manning the emergency entrance are trained to watch out for troubled victims - such as a woman with a black eye (usually a sign of domestic violence) - so that they needn't queue up.

Patient files are colour-coded to indicate the type of violence (for instance, red markings for rape victims) so that staffers know what they're dealing with and don't insensitively refer to survivors as "rape case" or "sodomy victim".

Survivors are not subjected to the probing hands of multiple doctors but examined only once by a gynaecologist and evidence is retrieved by a forensic expert.

Plain-clothed policemen are called in to record the testimony of the victim that is simultaneously videorecorded so that it can be shared with appropriate authorities.

The centre also liaises between the victim and social workers to help arrange shelter for the victims who have no place to go. Legal aid is also provided under the same roof, all at the State's cost.

What might serve as an inspiration to India is the fact that the conviction rate for sexual assaults increased by 30 per cent in the country ever since the OSCCs were first set up. However, there is no denying that the system is evolving, even after two decades. Haslinah Yacob, president of Malaysia's Women for Equality Association, a voluntary organisation which works with victims of violence believes that OSCCs protect women from a runaround, but are yet to iron out many glitches.

"The availability of appropriate medication is a concern, " she says and recalls how a client, a rape survivor, had to face a shortage of emergency contraceptive at one of the centres a few years ago. She also believes OSCCs need to be better publicised among citizens.

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