Kembara Kitchen exposes sexual grooming claims

PETALING JAYA: A soup kitchen in the Klang Valley has claimed that two of its female volunteers were victims of sexual grooming by another volunteer.

Kembara Kitchen founder William Cheah claimed that a male volunteer, aged in his 30s, attempted to groom a 14-year-old female volunteer via private messages on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Cheah displayed screenshots that were taken of the conversation between the two volunteers on his Facebook page.

It showed the man wanting to meet one of the victims but the girl had refused, saying she was not comfortable with meeting him.

He continued to engage with her despite being rebuffed.

He said the issue came to light during a discussion with a team of volunteers for their upcoming community event.

“What she said shocked us. She said she felt very uncomfortable with him. She showed us the messages he had sent her, and I can tell you that it's not appropriate for an adult in his 30s to be sending those kind of messages to a then 13-year-old girl. Especially someone you just met during a community service event,” he said.

He added that another young volunteer, who is 20, had encountered the same situation last year.

He expressed shock at the harassment, saying that Kembara Kitchen nor the team knew of these acts of harassment which has taken place during their activities.

“I am very ashamed to say that some of it occurred during activities we organised. In everyone of our activities we strive for positive wholesome goals in a safe environment.

“Yes, we cannot control the actions of some of our guests or volunteers, but never in my worst fears did I expect an adult veteran volunteer to behave in such a manner.

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“If there is any of you who encountered such a situation with him during any of the events organised by us, do let me know please.

“Further to this, he is banned and barred from attending any event organised by Kembara Kitchen or which we are affiliated to. Such behaviour has zero tolerance with us.

“I cannot speak on behalf of other NGOs and organisers, but should you choose to include him and run a risk of exposing your guests, volunteers and beneficiaries to such predatory behaviour, then that is your choice. Just let me know ahead of time so I know which event to avoid.

“Such things must not be swept under the carpet. Such behaviour is not condoned,” he added.

The church also issued a statement in response, saying that the church leadership was aware of the circulation of social media postings “and reports of an individual who has been attending our church services, allegedly conducting himself in an inappropriate manner towards certain females.

“We do not condone such behaviour and are very disappointed that all our past warnings, counsel and advice to him have fallen on deaf ears.

“The church has always been a place that is open to all in need of God's love. However, as the church leadership, our utmost priority is and will always be the protection of the 'sheep' of the Lord in our church.

“The leadership views this matter with grave concern. Hence, we have unanimously decided to first, inform and warn our members against such individual's behaviour. His words and behaviour are not representative of our church and Jesus' teachings, in any way.

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“The said individual had previously been banned from being involved in any church ministries. We now take the stand to announce that he is no longer allowed in our congregation until further notice.

“We will not hesitate to take further stern action as and when deemed necessary,” they added.

Meanwhile, a senior church leader here, whose parishioner is embroiled in a sexual grooming allegation, said they are mulling on whether to lodge a police report against the man who has been accused of grooming the two Kembara Kitchen female volunteers.

“We will need to discuss with the committee on this matter,” the church leader told theSun today.

Child sexual grooming was not a crime in Malaysia until 2017 when the Sexual Offences Against Children Act came into effect on July 10.

Section 13 defines child grooming as “any person who communicates by any means with a child for the intention of committing an offence under the Act”, and carries a maximum punishment of five years imprisonment and whipping.