Since the #metoo hashtag blew up over the past week or so, I’ve been going back and forth about whether I wanted to contribute to the movement. This is a late admission, but here goes.
At 14-years-old, I found myself the victim of sexual assault.
In just a few moments, I went from an anime-obsessed geek who wore goofy-looking glasses into a statistic—did you know that one rape happens in Malaysia every 35 minutes?
In my story, I’m removing any details that might incriminate my perpetrator, because despite it all, I still have an ongoing relationship him and I’m not ready to rock the boat yet. But more on that later.
I was alone and asleep when it happened. I had been half-awakened by the opening of the door and footsteps, but thinking nothing of it, I fell back into sleep.
In my next waking moments though, I felt a weight on top of me, and pain—massive pain.
I wasn’t stupid. Being an internet-exposed middle-class teen, I knew exactly what was happening.
But I froze on the spot, eyes shut, shocked and not knowing what to do.
Meanwhile, my perpetrator was still trying to force himself into me, into a part of me that no man had ever touched before, and instinct finally took over. I thrashed and pushed him off me.
For all the words that are usually associated with perpetrators—forced, pushed, dominate—he spooked easy. He immediately jumped in shock and bolted out of the room.
It was then I realised, he thought that he could do this without me ever finding out.
I sat up, trying to process what happened, when I noticed that the door was slightly ajar, and a face was peeking in.
By then, I hadn’t actually seen who it was, so I rushed to the door to yank it open, only to be greeted with a familiar face. A face that I trusted. It crushed me.
“I heard a noise and I wanted to check on what happened,” he said, but I knew that he was lying. I’d never screamed, I never even made a peep. He was just checking to see if he could get away with it.
But here’s the thing: I did let him get away with it.
He never threatened me, never held a knife to my throat and swore me to secrecy. He only slunk away and pretended nothing ever happened, perhaps assuming that I never made the connection that it was him.
14-years-old and alone, it was my own fear and shame that kept me quiet.
I was afraid that my parents and family would look at me differently, that I would never again be able to go back to a normal life.
I thought that if this ever got out, they would look at me and see the dirty thing that I felt like I was.
Stupidly, I had been afraid that if I ever told anyone, I’d lose the relationship I had with this perpetrator.
Stupidly, I thought it would be easier for everyone if I zipped my mouth and things might go back to normal.
Maybe then, I could forget that it had ever happened. I would never have been a ‘victim’.
All I had with me were memories, and a rude reminder of what happened every time I sat down for about a week or so. I even had to wear pads for the duration of three days as I bled out from that act of force, quietly telling my mother that my period had come out of schedule that month thanks to school stress. She never saw anything amiss.
Afterwards, if I was ever in a pinch, I always kept him in mind as someone who would bail me out of trouble, knowing in my gut that he owed me for stealing a part of me away.
He was always the “helpful” sort of person who would put his own comfort aside for others, so I knew that he would come if I asked.
And I used him, because every time that he was inconvenienced by my requests, a small part of myself felt vindicated.
So why did I choose to share the story now?
A part of me just felt like this was cathartic. Another part of me just wanted to add a little nuance to the discussions too.
When there are more varieties of stories getting shared online about this issue by Malaysians for Malaysian eyes, with vivid detail of how it might impact that woman’s life, the conversation in Malaysia might start moving in a healthier direction.
That’s important: variety.
All stories are relevant and can be shared, even if your “only” instances are catcalls or inappropriate flirting.
Because what this campaign should highlight is that all of these stories aren’t isolated incidents—they’re very much cultural and very much happening because of our cultural approach towards sexuality.
Perhaps the shame and push to silence a 14-year-old me felt once upon a time happened partly because of the overall societal messages influencing me subconsciously to remain silent.
Every woman—and disgustingly, even underaged ones—can share a story about street harassment, inappropriate touches or catcalling.
Living in Malaysia, this was a daily reality for me ever since I turned 11, and I fully believe that all of this does contribute to the prevalence and silence that empowers sexual assault to happen and keep happening, without the perpetrators even realising their transgressions.
- 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.
- It’s often too easy to compartmentalise and repress any a sexual assault instance into the back of your mind than to relive it for your Facebook or Twitter friends.
- Even if it’s not your fault, sexual assault is “shameful”.
- Not everyone is going to want to air their worst memories out in the open for everyone to see, to judge them with—not in this society that still tries to push the blame onto the victim for their own assault.
Part of the issue with the #metoo campaign is one that’s already been spoken about—the victims might feel pressured to speak up, to relive what was probably one of their most painful moments.
Social media can be cruel.
That was partly why I decided to bring my own lowest moments to light; if you’ve been quietly harbouring a similar secret, or guilt over what happened, I want you to know it was not your fault.
I hope that someone who has gone through something similar can see and know that they’re not alone. Perhaps in my failure to report on my own perpetrator, another might find the strength to bring their own demons to justice.
I do think that this conversation needs to happen in Malaysia.
I and many in the international circuit are appalled that the onus on saying #metoo and that this drive to get people to understand the magnitude of the problem lies in the victims. As if we still have to prove that sexual assault is even happening in the first place.
Just to add on a little touch of insult to injury, did you know that Malaysia doesn’t even have properly defined sexual assault laws?
There were talks about making these laws clearer just April this year, and as for now, results for that are still pending.
Meanwhile, what we currently have in Malaysia is Section 509 of the Penal Code, meant to punish those who “insult the modesty of a woman” with up to five years in prison.
There’s also what is called the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment (Code of Practice) for offices, but in 2010, only 400 of 450,000 registered and active companies have adopted and implemented the code.
No, I don’t think a hashtag movement is going to solve sexual assault in Malaysia.
But if it is one small stepping stone to changing the culture and mindset for victims in Malaysia, then it’s a step forward.
If one less man catcalls on the streets, or makes casual rape remarks towards a female colleague, then perhaps it’s one small thing to make the world a better place.
What is important though, is that these conversations keep coming up in Malaysia.
In a political sphere with strained racial tensions lately, let’s not forget about those in Malaysia who have been pressured into silence.