KUALA LUMPUR: In December 2014, a Malaysian non-governmental organisation received an email from the British police. That was the first time Protect and Save the Children heard of paedophile Richard Huckle, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday (Jun 6).
“They asked us to be a part of safeguarding activities in relation to this case with the communities who were affected, from 2014 pretty much until now,” interim executive director Mariza Abdulkadir recalled.
Protect and Save the Children were not told much initially – only that there was a travelling sexual offender and that these communities in Kuala Lumpur may have been exposed to him.
Ms Mariza and her team have since been working in the affected areas, educating residents about child sexual abuse.
Until today, however, Ms Mariza does not know who the victims are.
“We (only) know the areas and the communities who were given to us by the British police to work with,” she told Channel NewsAsia. “We were given a couple early on in the year and more in April so we were able to expand our activities to much larger number of communities.”
As far as Ms Mariza was aware, the Malaysian police were not involved.
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN HERE?
When news broke in Malaysia last week that a British man had sexually abused dozens of children in Kuala Lumpur for years, there was national outrage.
English daily The Star blew up an image of Huckle on its front page. “This monster defiled our kids”, was the caption in large white letters.
The question everyone was asking: how could this have happened here and for so long? The answer may not be straightforward.
Malaysian police seem to have been left out of British investigations until only a month prior to Huckle’s conviction.
“No comment,” Ong Chin Lan, assistant director at the Royal Malaysian police’s sexual, women and child investigation division, had said when asked on Friday if Malaysia had received information from British authorities.
Just the week before, Assistant Commissioner Ong had told local news agency Bernama that police had repeatedly requested for information, only being told about the case by their UK counterparts a month before the news broke.
Victims and their families had not approached local authorities for help either.
“The police can only act when people lodge a report, meaning to say people come forward and say something happened to my child,” said president of the Malaysian Association of Social Workers Teoh Ai Hua.
But with Huckle’s victims including even babies, the children may have been simply incapable of telling someone what was going on.
Many of the victims came from vulnerable, low-income communities too. They had allowed Huckle into their lives, believing his guise of an English teacher and a Christian philantropist.
When Protect and Save the Children began engaging the adults and children in these areas, many could not accept what they were being told about him.
“When we first went to all of the communities, most of the time we received just denial, said Ms Mariza.
“Most people don’t think it applies to them,” she added. “They think, ‘It’s not my family, it must be somebody else’. You have that element of denial and that’s in the vast majority of them.”
None of them had anything negative to say about Huckle.
“When they were asked about him, they really said only nice things about him,” said Ms Mariza. “Not a single person said he was a horrible person or did evil things or anything – nothing.”
Malaysian police tell Channel NewsAsia they will not be investigating these communities, but are focused on rehabilitation.
“What we are doing is rehabilitating victims (if found) and awareness of community (sic),” said Assistant Commissioner Ong when cont…