It sucks when you’re suffering from Baby-Face Syndrome. You always need to show your ID when buying booze, you have trouble getting into R-rated movies, and your boss might ask you to go on dates with child predators. Clarissa found out about that last part after she joined R.AGE, the youth desk for The Star – Malaysia’s largest English newspaper.
In 2016, the paper conducted an investigation where they had their reporters pretend to be underage girls on popular chat apps and see how many adults would ask them out. Short answer: way too many, and Clarissa—being one of the few people in the office who could pass for 15—was eventually chosen to go and meet these men in cafes etc and secretly record all the creepy stuff they said to her. This is what she’s learned along the way:
5. The Numbers Are Horrifying
“To find our profiles,” Clarissa explains, “we set up multiple fake accounts on WeChat and BeeTalk apps and turned on the ‘People Nearby’ feature … [We] started receiving messages and friend requests from over 40 men almost within the first hour. After chatting for a while, some began asking us sexual questions and sharing pictures of their penises.”
”Most weren’t bothered by the fact that the girl they thought they were chatting with was 15.”
That’s a creep-speed of over 40 predators per hour, or 1.5 Losses of Faith in Humanity per minute. Speaking of depressing numbers, these early findings by R.AGE seem in line with most official statistics. Between 2005 and 2010, there were nearly 10,000 reported cases of underage rape in Malaysia, and according to a statement from Malaysia’s federal police, the vast majority of the victims knew their attackers from the internet.
That’s why Clarissa had to take many necessary precautions while on her stings. “One of the rules we had set for ourselves was that we couldn’t initiate anything, including invitation for a date … Most of the time, I met them at a cafe near our office [while wearing a hidden mic]. A handful of my colleagues would take up the nearby tables on the off chance that things would go south.” Thankfully they never did because child predators survive by being able to pass as normal human beings in public. Instead of what they really are: a bunch of cockroaches in a human suit.
4. The Abusers Were Very Candid
“I’ve heard a lot of awful things from the guys I spoke to, but they’re usually unimaginative and run along the same lines: Do you touch yourself? Have you watched porn? Do you mind the age difference?” Again, the “age difference” these people are talking about (waaay too nonchalantly I might add) is between an adult man and a girl they think is 15.
Clarissa goes on: “One guy we met even bragged about sleeping with girls of every age between 13 and 17,” and within minutes of meeting Clarissa’s colleague, another R.AGE undercover journalist, he asked her if she’d like to become his girlfriend/statistic.
“Another guy made it his solemn duty to impart his sexual knowledge on me, leading to golden nuggets of pseudo-information like how my vagina was going to expire, so the best time to have sex is between the ages of 14-15. He also admitted to having had sex with a minor before,” and it’s really telling that “I had sex with an underage girl” somehow ISN’T the weirdest thing that this person said to Clarissa. (Although I’m using the word “person” very loosely here.)
3. What These Men Were Doing Wasn’t Technically Illegal For A Very Long Time
With all the footage they obtained during their stings, you’d think that R.AGE should have gotten a prison named after them because of how many pervs they put away (and also because “Rage Prison” sounds super rad.) But so far, not a single one of the guys they investigated have been convicted in court. One has been arrested, but it was for sending out pictures of his schlong. In his defense, they might have been pictures of his face.
“Even if the men get convicted, it will only be for a minor offense.”
“[It used to be] a bigger crime to send penis pics than to proposition a child for sex. Section 509 of the penal code (outraging of a person’s modesty through words and actions) can extend to things like indecent photos or calling someone a slut. But in order to press those charges you have to prove your modesty was outraged.”
For years, Malaysia simply didn’t have any grooming laws on the books. Grooming is the technical name for when an adult befriends a child and tries to manipulate him/her into fulfilling the groomer’s twisted sexual fantasies. The tactic is super illegal in several countries, but it only became illegal in Malaysia very recently thanks to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017. However, the child predator problem still persists because many Malaysian people refuse to acknowledge that they even have a child predator problem.
“Our Inspector General of Police has even said that a separate registry for sex offenders was redundant because ‘It’s not a problem for us … we already have a criminal registry.’” This attitude has sadly allowed many predators to escape justice, like the guy I mentioned earlier, the one who was arrested for sending out pictures of his tallywacker. Yeah… he was eventually released on bail and is currently free.
2. People Love To Blame The Victims
“Our videos disappointingly but unsurprisingly drew in trolls and genuinely ignorant people who believed that no ‘proper’ 15 year old girl would meet up with a stranger,” because the internet is a series of tubes and most of them are filled with human crap.
“One of them said it was the rapist’s fault, referring to one of the victims we did a story on, but ‘if she was my sister I would scold her. I worry about her. Who asked her to do this?’”
In the end, all the negative comments came down to that tired old cliché: “She [that is, any one of the thousands of raped underage girls] was asking for it.” But if we try to run these guys over, no one will ask “Why didn’t he just jump out of the way?”
And it’s depressing enough when regular people blame the victim, but when the police themselves get in on that, it really makes you wish for a giant meteorite to come and cleanse this toilet of a planet. “Sometimes, the victim-blaming comes from special victim’s units,” Clarissa explains while simultaneously shedding light on why there has never been a Malaysian remake of Law & Order: SVU. “When one of my friends was raped and tried to file a report, the police said it’s [her] fault. Then they wanted to ask her questions like: ‘Did you like it? Did he not pay you? Why did you wear shorts?’”
If you’re already on the edge of giving up on humanity, I recommend you skip the next paragraph because I don’t want to get blamed after you snap and start massacring people in a skull T-shirt.
“We got one comment that said the best solution to this problem was child marriage.”
“Some families still believe that once a girl loses her virginity, she’s is essentially tainted. The only way to ‘cleanse’ her is by making the sexual act legal in the eyes of the Sharia law through marriage. Just recently, a Malaysian man escaped jail by marrying his 14 year old victim,” which was sadly only one of Malaysia’s 9,000 children marriages in the last five years. But please do not let his distract you from the fact that…
1. Things Are Getting Better
Early on during this interview, I asked Clarissa why she agreed to risk her safety during these stings. Was it part of her job, or did she just have too much hope for humanity and needed to offload it fast?
“I’m so sick of this culture of fear and victim blaming, and I wanted more light to be shed on the guys who take advantage of the underage girls we’ve interviewed.”
”Over time, that motivation obviously has changed to take the bigger picture into account. We’re looking at better sex education, child protection laws, and getting the public more involved in the legislation process of the country.”
“So far, we’ve been receiving a flood of stories from actual victims, whom we advise and redirect to the relevant authorities. We recently received the world’s best Young Reader News Publisher award from WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers for this project … But most importantly, our project has been able to make actual, real-life changes in Malaysia’s legislation. We got our readers to lobby their MPs for laws against child grooming and last year were invited to give a presentation during a task force meeting for better child protection laws by the Malaysian government.”
With time, these efforts resulted in the passing of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017, which saw rare, unanimous support from opposing parties in the Malaysian government. The new law hasn’t just made grooming illegal. It also compels people to report abuse, imposes extra punishment if the abuser is someone the child trusts, and recognizes that abuse can be non-physical. It seems things are heading in the right direction in Malaysia. Let’s hope this trend continues.