'Don't give crime an opportunity'

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Last Updated: 7:05am, May 22, 2014

PETALING JAYA (May 22): Audrey Melissa's rape and murder 15 years ago on May 17 shocked and outraged Malaysia. The 17-year-old was found raped, battered and strangled. All that is known of the incident is that she was likely attacked while passing a secluded area at about 7am on the way to the Methodist Girls' School in Jalan Cenderasari, where she studied. Till today, he case remains unsolved. Looking back, safety activist Captain K Balasupramaniam, or more fondly known as 'Captain Bala', said that the setting, time and location had given room for the crime to be committed. "When it happened, I remember I went to the area a few days after the incident. "It was very dark and the school children had to go through a tunnel to get to their school. The space was also small. So, there is always room for an attack to happen," he said. Bala is known for giving talks and organising workshops on safety. His talks on women and street crime awareness are well-attended. As long as criminals are not given the opportunity and time, Bala noted they cannot commit a crime. Therefore, design factors play a crucial role. Design with safety in mind "Schools should be built in places that are safe, void of any abandoned areas or places where children can be kidnapped or taken advantage off," he said. Risky areas to look out for include overgrown bushes, quiet and isolated areas, and abandoned buildings. "Town planners must really look into the safety aspects before designing or building schools especially all girls' schools like the one in Jalan Cenderasari. "It is wiser to construct schools next to a police station, community centre or areas that are not vulnerable to attacks," he said. At the same time, school administrators should also rethink school hours. "Criminals look for two things before they commit a crime; time and place. These two factors combined will give them the perfect opportunity to go ahaed with their plan," he said. Bala believes that 7am is too early for school to start. Most students will have to leave their homes as early as 6am. "At such hour, anybody can stop and grab a pupil," said Bala. 'Don't overburden teachers' When a crime occurs, particularly involving school children, Bala said more often than not fingers will point at the school and its teachers. Teachers are already responsible for students' safety inside the school, so Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) should play a bigger role on overall student safety outside the school compound, he suggested. For example, parents could become volunteers by taking turns to monitor and ensure students arrived safely at schools. "The parents can take a day off and go to school with their children. They must study their children's route to school such as the location to take the bus, the seating position and the do's and don'ts," he said. Bala's tip when taking public transport is for children to sit in the aisle seats instead of by the window. Aisle seats allow room for escape and for other passengers to take notice if anything untoward happens to a child. PTAs could also sponsor the cost of a survey on the risk factors surrounding their school. "If a school has already suffered a tragedy, instead of letting the case go cold, it should be taken up as a case study to examine factors that contributed to the crime. Just imagine the good it will do for the future," he said. The Education Ministry could also be doing more to audit all schools for safety  and crime factors before tragedy strikes. "Find out how crime can be prevented and tackle other schools that have similar issues," he stressed. Although there may have been studies done in the past, there was little follow-through and no plan of execution. Bala added that even small initiatives such as the peer counsellor system or 'Pembimbing Rakan Sebaya', or a complaints box, could make a difference during an emergency. "Prior to a crime, a student may have suspected something amiss and alerted a prefect or a friend. "With a complaints box, students who feel they are at risk can put it in writing if they feel threatened. There are those who are afraid to voice their concerns openly." Ultimately, everyone has a part to play by decreasing opportunities for crime to happen.

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