Thoughts

[39/365] The Rights of a Criminal

To what extent do we consider criminals human?

Here in Malaysia, there’s a fair bit of uproar over a convicted rapist’s return to the country. Selva Kumar Subbiah was convicted in 1997 of 19 counts of sexual assault, 28 counts of administering noxious substances i.e. drugs, 10 counts of various kinds of assault, and other offences including extortion. After serving jail time for 24 years in Canada where he carried out his crimes, he has now been released and returned to Malaysia, where some say he is now living in the Klang Valley. Reports of his victims tally to 1000 girls; apparently he rated them from a scale of 1 to 10 in a book and would drug his victims before raping them.

He’s not the first sex offender to have returned from overseas after serving jail time there. Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin was a scholarship student who was sentenced to a five-year jail term in Britain after police found child pornography material in his laptop. Many of the 30,000 images found on his computer were Category A, meaning they showed some of the most extreme forms of child abuse, and some were said to have been taken by Nur Fitri himself. After serving a mere nine months of his sentence, he’s since returned to Malaysia under a cloak of silence and is presumably living a normal life here (source).

That’s not including the hundreds if not thousands of sex offenders right here in the country itself – forget overseas criminals, here we have plenty of sex offenders who either escaped prosecution by marrying their victim or simply through shoddy police work. No offense to the hardworking cops out there saving lives, but there’s something to be said when a 15 year old girl who was allegedly raped by 38 men was arrested herself as part of investigations. What does it say? It says we have a culture of blaming women for crimes committed against them, that women will always be at fault when violence is inflicted on them. But perhaps that’s a topic for another time.

The real issue here is the distinct lack of a sex offender registry in Malaysia.

Selva Kumar’s case was one that haunted many – not only his victims, but also the investigator working the case. In 2016, a parole hearing found that Selva Kumar was highly likely to reoffend once released and posed a high risk to other civilians, with a veteran Crown prosecutor dubbing him “the most dangerous person” he had ever prosecuted. What does this mean? It means we’ve identified that at least one person out there is a convicted sex offender who poses a real threat to other people around him; he will most likely commit the same crimes again. We know he’s out there. We know the likes of him and Nur Fitri are walking around freely in this country.

But without a sex offender registry, there is a real chance that we won’t be able to know that before it’s too late. Give it two or three months and all this panic over a remorseless convicted sex offender walking around the Klang Valley will fade from our memories. We’ll forget, because that’s what people do. They forget. A criminal can change their name. Their face. Everything is possible, with plastic surgery to lawful change of identity. Without a sex offender registry, there’s no way for us to keep tabs on convicted criminals like them, and that’s worrying.

Some say a sex offender registry is likely to be of no substantial help, due to our loose laws on sexual offences against children and minors. It’s likely the laws themselves that need to be rectified, with more stringent laws defining precisely what is considered sexual assault and what is not, laws preventing sexual assault victims to marry their assailants thereby letting the assailants off the hook among others. There are many things to be considered, but I personally reckon a sex offender registry would be a step forward in that direction.

Others say a sex offender registry will ruin the future of these criminals, especially if they were made available to the public. Criminals should be given a chance to reform, it is argued, and a sex offender registry would diminish chances of that happening greatly. Criminals are people too – they are human beings, and they are entitled to basic rights just like any other person does. That includes privacy and a shot at a second chance in life.

But here’s the question: to what extent do those rights apply to criminals, especially those who have ruined the lives of many, and especially those who have been identified to be high-risk reoffenders? Here we have a man who has ruined the lives of hundreds of women, who has traumatised them for life and shattered their illusion of a safe world. This man ruined people. He and many other sex offenders inflict long-lasting pain and suffering on their victims. We say they are entitled to their privacy, but what if they revert to their heinous under cover of their ‘privacy’? We say they deserve a second chance in life, but what right do they have to that when they’ve permanently ruined the lives of so many others?

Perhaps there are distinctions. A murderer may be justified – a serial killing and a murder committed in self-defense are two different beasts altogether. Sexual assault is nothing but a violent display of power, of greed, of hunger, of violent lust and sadistic desires. There is no justification in sexual assault, and it’s hard to think of sexual offenders as people.

Maybe it’s just me. What are your thoughts on this issue? Let me know in the comments.

Til next time.

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