#MeToo on the other side of the world
A brave teen reported her teacher’s rape jokes—now she's the one being investigated by the police
On April 24 this year, Ain Husniza, a 17-year-old Malaysian, returned home from school and immediately posted a video to TikTok recounting the rape jokes a male teacher allegedly made in class that day.
The P.E. class had been discussing sexual harassment, self-care and consent when the teacher began to make subtle jokes which she described as “normal…but then it started getting weirder”.
The punchline was the teacher advising the boys that if they were to commit rape they should target those above 18.
The girls were silent as the boys around them laughed.
The papers picked up Ain’s story and she became an overnight symbol of Malaysia’s #MeToo movement and, for a while, the nation had hope. Her father lodged a police report and kept her from returning to school, her friends created a #MakeSchoolASaferPlace hashtag which was viralled by Malaysia’s extremely engaged youth movement, and MPs demanded a probe. Eventually, the notoriously sexist and sluggish Malaysian police began an investigation into the teachers’ remarks.
After three months of investigation, however, the police revealed last week there is “not enough criminal element” to charge the teacher over the alleged rape joke, with 17 present classmates allegedly saying the teacher, in their opinion, did nothing wrong. The police announced that although what the teacher said was insensitive towards the feelings of the school girls, what he did was not enough to satisfy the elements of crime to charge him in court.
Twitter users took to the platform to protest the “stupid mindset” which influenced Ain’s classmates and Malaysia’s wider culture.
Ain herself is now the subject of a police investigation under Section 504 of the Penal Code for intentionally insulting with the intent for such provocation to threaten public peace. The report was lodged against her three months ago and, if guilty, she faces imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both.
The teacher is also suing for RM1 million ($237,000) in defamation damages, claiming the comments made by Ain and her family caused him mental distress to the point he suffered depression. Ain’s parents have hit back with a RM5 million ($1,181,195) counter-suit on the basis Ain has been subject to emotional distress.
Speaking to press outside the Sg Buloh district police headquarters last week, Ain said: “I was very nervous and scared, as much as any 17-year-old would feel, when I was called in by police. I did not intend to insult, defame or degrade any party. All I want is for schools to be safe.”
Three female MPs appeared alongside her in a show of solidarity, with MP for Petaling, Maria Chin Abdullah, warning that the police choosing to press forward with this investigation against Ain sends the message that the teacher’s behaviour is acceptable.
“This action is no different than ‘killing the messenger’. I hope the police report will be revoked as all this is unnecessary.”
Despite the huge support for Ain online and within Malaysia’s opposition party, Pakatan Harapan, her story has not triggered the same institutional reform as was seen when #MeToo exploded in the West. Instead, her bravery is being subsumed by a culture of abuse and sexism, a telling example of #MeToo outside of the privilege of Western borders.
As our own collective movement learns how to attack the roots of sexism in the upper echelons of society, so many women and girls around the world have not the same capacity to strike, no matter their numbers, because their institutions guard not just the interests of the powerful few, but of the cultural majority. Virginia Guiffre is closer to taking down Prince Andrew—the most protected alleged sex-offender in the world—than Ain is to ridding her classroom of harmful jokes.
The great progress made in the name of safety and equality around the Western world over the past four years is rightly celebrated and, with every case, the learns to become more effective and demanding. Many people around the world would stand with Ain if only they knew her story. The Malaysian authorities can only silence her, and anyone inspired by her bravery, if her voice remains trapped within their borders.
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