2 cases in 6 years: is Malaysia doing enough to prosecute sextortion?

By Nicholas Cheng IACC Young Journalist 

Graft fighting agencies were given a lesson on sex at the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC). 

But they were learning about a totally different kind of STD – Sexually Transmitted Degrees.

Or discounts, or waivers or promotion or favours – anything a person in a position of authority can dish out to a vulnerable person in exchange for sex.

“It can be many kinds of injustice,” said International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) senior adviser Nancy Hendry. 

“A woman in Ecuador who was propositioned by a judge while deciding on her claim for child support, or prison officials in Uganda who were demanding sex from the wives of prisoners for delivering necessary food and medicine to their husbands, or in Central America where border guards demand sex in exchange for women crossing the border.”

This newly recognised form of corruption – or as graftbusters call it, “sextortion” – is as old as the crime itself, where sex rather than money is the currency of the bribe.

But anti-corruption agencies are lagging behind on sextortion investigations and data, said Hendry – their questions on sexual favour cases were narrow and indices such as Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer only focuses on cash payment as a form of bribes.

Statistics were also scarce and the IAWJ relies mainly on news reports to keep abreast on the number of sextortion cases.

“The number would be even greater if sexual bribes or sextortion were part of the analysis,” she added.

Case in point – for IACC host nation Malaysia, its national anti-corruption body says it has the laws needed to investigate and prosecute sextortion cases but said it had only had two cases in its six year history.

Partly this is because many victims do not know that what has been done to them is corruption and investigators face a hard time proving the commission of a sexual bribe, said Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) research chief Datuk Han Chee Rull.

The two cases MACC dealt with involved a university lecturer who solicited sex from a student in exchange for better grades and a woman who claimed an immigration officer asked her out on a date while trying to cross into Singapore.

“In Malaysia there are certain statutes that may apply where there is an act of abuse of authority that can be prosecuted as criminal assault or criminal force to outrage a person’s modesty.

In the Penal Code it may be punishable as rape and there is also a provision that covers rape by a person of authority or in a position of trust,” he said. 

Even if there was consent, he explained, Malaysia would still consider it rape if the “consent” was judged to have been coerced through an abuse of official power. 

However, Malaysia still lacked more comprehensive laws for the MACC to deal with cases involving private individuals, he said.

For instance, MACC cannot investigate cases like loan sharks soliciting sex from debtors as they were not in any official position of power

“Those cases will probably be investigated as rape and not corruption,” he added.

The investigation process was held up as another issue. Agents face the daunting task of proving a physical crime that has already happened, Han said

“Its a dilemma for us, sometimes when the victim comes and says someone demanded sex from them, we ask them if they can convert that demand into money. Because it’s easier to prove money.

“How do you prove the commission of that offence? Most of the time it may require the admission of the accused himself,” he said.

The MACC has also tried setting up “traps” to prove the offence, by having the victims voluntarily submit themselves again to the offenders with the aim of recording a second attempt at sextortion as evidence.

But that risks putting sex victims through more trauma and officers must also be wary of not setting up situations that set up the evidence against the alleged suspect, he added.

Categories: 16th IACC, Corruption, IACC Young Journalist, Sextortion

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