Unimas research finds most women with disabilities have experienced ‘mate crime’ victimisation by ‘friend’, ‘close acquaintance’ in Sarawak

The different types of mate crime that a disabled individual may experience.

KUCHING, April 6: Research conducted by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) has found that most female respondents of persons with disabilities in Sarawak aged between 18 and 28-years-old have experienced ‘mate crime’ victimisation, particularly financial and sexual abuse.

Dr Tharshini Sivabalan, a lecturer in Unimas’ Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, explained that ‘mate crime’, a relatively new terminology in the field of crime studies, denotes a heinous action perpetrated against individuals with disabilities by people who are considered ‘friends’ or ‘close acquaintances’.

In her research study titled ‘Mate Crime Offending Against People with Disabilities: An Exploratory Study in Sarawak’ involving 151 individuals with various disabilities including hearing, learning and physical from various organisations in Kuching, Kota Samarahan and Asajaya, it shows that individuals with disabilities are highly exposed to mate crime compared to their non-disabled counterparts.


Data shows that:

  • Approximately 21.2 per cent of the respondents with learning disabilities revealed that their friends had shared pornographic content through social media platforms (eg. WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook).
  • Approximately 14.6 per cent of the respondents conceded that their friends had used all the credit on their mobile phones without informing them
  • Around 13.9 per cent of the respondents with hearing disabilities disclosed that their friends had attempted to touch or kiss them without their consent.
  • Around 11.3 per cent of the respondents revealed that their friends would only visit them when benefit money is received from the Malaysian Social Welfare Department.
An infographice explaining research findings on mate crime victimisation in Sarawak.

Dr Tharshini pointed out that most cases related to mate crime victimisation are under-reported as such incidents occurred in private spaces like homes rather than public spheres and are instigated by people whom the victim trusts.

“Mate-abused victims might display multiple behavioral shifts such as weight loss, self-isolation, and frequent mood swings. Apart from the immediate psychological and health impacts, such individuals may also suffer from low self-esteem, depression and anxiety in adulthood.

“Besides, several studies have demonstrated that sexual abuse is more prevalent in disabled children and women following multiple risk factors such as limited sexual education, social isolation, communication barriers, and reduced physical defences against abuse,” she said in a statement today.

Warning that stereotypical perspectives that categorised individuals with disabilities as “vulnerable” and “powerless” would amplify cruelty and exploitation against this population, Dr Tharshini stressed that the data obtained from this study should be utilised as a starting point to empower people with disabilities and locally monitor mate crime victimisation cases.

Dr Tharshini’s published findings on mate crime in Sarawak. 

Multiple-level approaches, she stressed, must be implemented for optimal reporting and investigating mate crime victimisation among people with disabilities, particularly in Sarawak.

“It is essential to impart self-protection skills, such as knowledge of seeking support when abused by friends or close acquaintances.”

Furthermore, Tharshini also emphasised that the Federal and Sarawak government as well as local authorities need to develop an inclusive mainstream service by including mate crime training at the school level to optimise information access and encourage individuals living with disabilities to lodge reports if abused.

“In decreasing mate crime victimisation rates, a collaborative approach with the disabled community, social justice system, and social service providers are necessary for a standardised practice to ensure zero tolerance towards mate crime victimisation among people with disabilities,” she added.

Dr Tharshini emphasising the dire need for a collaborative approach to stop mate crime in Sarawak.

Tharshini wants to acknowledge all the respondents and social service agencies, including the Sarawak Society for the Deaf, Sarawak Cheshire Home, Sri Satok Community Rehabilitation Centre, Petra Jaya Community Rehabilitation Centre, Penrissen Camp Community Rehabilitation Centre, Asajaya Harmoni Community Rehabilitation Centre, Mental Health Association Sarawak, Kuching Autistic Association, CBR Centre Kuching, and Bengkel Seri Sarawak for allowing her to conduct this study.

The researcher also thanked Unimas for approving this research under the Small Grant Scheme and for financially supporting this project. — DayakDaily

An infographic explaining mate crime victimisation in Sarawak.
An infographic on the facts and statistics of mate crime against people with disabilities by the National Autistic Society (2014).