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Kampung Compass Points Letters Sexual harassment: Break away from silence
Sexual harassment: Break away from silence PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 30 July 2010 07:05

There are harrowing sexual experiences women everywhere go through but not many get told. Victims of sexual harassment usually bury their misery deep within, and the screams for help that come from them are only on the inside. Because they stay silent, no one knows the torments they struggle to deal with by themselves. And so no one can help in the critical healing of a wounded heart.


FARIDA JIVAMALA IBRAHIM, a victim of sexual harassment down the years, had to deal with yet another sexual harasser a few months ago. For the first time, she writes openly about her experiences in the hope that other victims will know it is never their fault when they become the unwitting target of a sexual predator.


This is her story.


sabm-sexharI HAD never met him before. He was there as a guest at our function. Because of the pelting rain, we had delayed starting on time out of consideration for latecomers.


I had not heard him the first time he spoke those demeaning words, I was later told. So he had said them again, this time loud enough for me and the others around him to hear: “Farida, if you don’t start the movie promptly, I am going to strip you naked.”


Even the years of being a victim of harassment had not prepared me for this. Never before had I been confronted so publicly. His was a full frontal attack and without doubt he intended to hit, to hurt and to humiliate.


Yet I was able to say, just as loudly, "If you are going to talk like this, I’m going to send you out of this place. We do not entertain that kind of talk here."


"I was only joking," he replied. Others looked at me, perhaps waiting for a rebuttal. I had none to give. I walked away.


That night, I went home with the thought that the experience was over and done with. I was wrong.


When morning came, the full impact of what had happened hit me like a ton of bricks. I had won a verbal victory, yes, but I nevertheless felt violated, stripped, outraged and exposed.


And then the innermost part of me gave way and I cried and I cried. Everything that had been bottled up on the inside kept rising to the surface. Memory after memory resurrected itself from the hidden places in my heart. The past came back to haunt me and I spent an entire day in recollection and in tears....


****


There was I, again a schoolgirl, sitting at a window seat of a bus, my books on my lap. Something under my books began to stroke and stroke my thigh. I looked. It was the hand of the passenger next to me. And on his own lap was a little boy, possibly his son. I pushed away the hand with my books, anger rising within me but never spilling over into words. The hand came back. It stroked and it stroked. I stood up, knowing defeat, and stepped out into the aisle.


****


I was on a beach in Turkey with a journalist friend. I headed up the slope to use the restaurant’s toilet facilities. These were out in the open, separated from the building proper.


The cubicles for women were in a straight row, back to back with the men’s. No one was around but I found every woman’s cubicle locked except for one. Upon entering it and closing the door, I saw the latch was missing. Desperation kept me inside.


A few minutes later, before I could step out, the door opened and a shirtless, big-sized Turkish man forced his way into the tiny cubicle and defiled me with his touch.


Instinctively, I elbowed him violently and pushed my way out. I hurried down and told Jenny what had happened. Then, sick at heart, I sat there saying nothing, doing nothing.


A furious Jenny marched into the restaurant alone and despite diners being there, questioned an all-male restaurant staff about the incident. Then she came back and hauled me up to identify the offender. I followed her miserably, wishing that I was a million miles away instead.


It turned out that the harasser was the restaurant cook. This time he had his shirt on. The restaurant manager, seemingly the only one who could converse in English, denied his cook had committed the despicable act. Jenny was livid and relentless in wanting to expose the lie, but then she became foul-mouthed when she got no cooperation from any of them. I tried to blot out the ugly scene before me, bewildered by my friend’s uncommon behaviour.


Finally, realising the futility of it all, we took a bus back to our hotel in the town centre. And there, in the privacy of our hotel room, I did what many a traumatised woman would do: I broke down and sobbed uncontrollably.


****


Many stories like these lie buried in the hearts of other women, unspoken because society often points a finger back at them and causes them further humiliation and pain.


Victims of sexual harassment, and particularly of rape, can find themselves facing accusations that they should not have been where they were, that they were dressed improperly, that they were over friendly and should not have trusted their violators. And so hurting women choose to not speak out about their awful encounters.


The perpetrators – including a teenage cyclist asking for sexual favours, a middle-aged man finding exhilaration in exhibiting himself, an arrogant old harasser unable to accept that a woman’s ‘No’ is her final answer – are therefore not held accountable for their misdeeds and are free to find yet another victim.


When will such acts ever come to an end? They never will, not if we women continue to live in silence, accept the depraved conduct and the blame, and hug the shame. They can end if we are no longer fearful to share our stories. They will end if we speak out so that the men who cause our suffering will come to know the assault goes deeper than the physical touch and the verbal insult – that it rips apart a woman’s sense of self.


A man’s willingness to take ownership of his transgression helps in the healing process for women who have been under attack. But it is not enough for full closure.


More crucial for our wellbeing is our willingness to forgive the abusers who trespassed on our private domain. Until forgiveness comes to rest in our wounded hearts, we victims of sexual harassment can never be free of the past.


Forgiveness frees us from the prison of debilitating emotions, closes the door on our false measures of ourselves and brings a kind of healing that enables us to become what we have always longed to be - powerful, liberated and gloriously alive.


=======================


Post-Script:


The person involved in the sexual harassment incident a few months back has since apologised for his uncalled-for statemennts. This was after SABM pursued the matter to bring closure to an unfortunate situation.


Among the Commitments outlined in the SABM Charter is the following:


We, Anak Bangsa Malaysia, herewith undertake to:

2. Engage the Hearts and Minds of our people to rise above the social constructs and divisive forces of ethnicity, faith, colour, class or gender;


=========================

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SAJ  - Respect |2010-07-31 14:37:33
Thanks Farida for sharing something so very personal.

Hopefully it would encourage others to speak up and be courageous in facing up to 'potential attacks' in future.

angel  - Of Friends in need. |2010-08-01 18:25:17
Most women choose to remain silent over their unfortunate experiences, because of the fear factor...especially if the perpetrator is a boss.

So there is need for sexually harassed women to seek out and befriend each other and talk intimately. In this way,they can gain the confidence and courage they had obviously lost.

At the same time, sexually harassed women should be made to feel cushioned by their friends' unconditional support and love, to help them regain themselves.

That was something to talk about Farida...brave indeed!! thank you.





angela ooi  - Sexual Haressment Victims |2010-08-02 21:05:16
My dear Faridah, I feel for you and am so sorry you had to undergo these demeaning acts. However, in sisterhood, I cheer you on for being candid, strong and wanting to turn life's unfortunate lapses into something as positive as this project. Best wishes and God bless.
Hugs,
angela
Estrelita Soliano  - You are awesome |2010-08-02 23:38:05
Straight from your heart. I could feel the tension in each of the situations you wrote about. It must have been awful to have felt so helpless.

I think I know the feeling and so I commend you for opening your wounds. I am sure that many are going to feel a kinship with this sharing.

Only a generous soul can do what you just did.

I've long buried mine but as you say, those feelings never really go away.

Today, I feel stronger and happier for having been touched by your sharing.

Good one, Farida!
farida  - Thank you |2010-08-04 13:26:30
SAJ, Angel, Angela, Estrelita,

Thank you for your warmth,understanding and support. They are much valued.

I'd like to take this to a higher level. What can we do to make this a safer place and world for women and girls?

Angela, you said 'project'. Wanna share more?


Thank you All.







shaku  - Pity too? |2010-08-04 16:26:15
Can one forgive the harasser or transgressor and still expose him/her in an attempt to make others aware?

Once forgiveness is contemplated or given, you don't have the satisfaction of feeling avenged.

Think that if one wants to prevent one's dear friend from going through the same thing, one has to be brave and be prepared to reveal the transgressor's name.
farida  - Shaku's question |2010-08-08 12:05:58
Hi Shaku,
Re your question, I would say'Yes' because there are 2 issues here - (a) forgiveness, which is for the victim and (b)exposing the transgressor,forcing him to face up to his misdeeds - which is for his own betterment and society's.

Forgiveness sets the victim free from bitterness, uncalled-for shame and fear. Therefore, any wanting to be avenged betrays a heart that is not yet ready to be healed.

Forgiveness enables the victim to recognise that just as there are some hideous men out there who attack or see but choose to do nothing, there are also good men and women around willing to play the role of rescuers - had they but known a woman was in distress.

The voice of the victim must be heard - loud and clear - even as a despicable act is going on.












Julian  - Sex-Crimes: Sexual Gratification or Power? |2010-08-06 14:00:42
My girlfriend had experienced a lot of sexual harassments in public transportations as well. Sometimes I believe having a pepper spray in hand is always the best. Such people (perpetrators) have no respect, and they surely don't deserve good manners from you.

I'll be completing a few articles on Sex Crimes in Malaysia on my blog (backed with research). Will be posting it as soon as completed.

Sex Crimes. Is it about sexual gratification, or power? Do you think banning Pornography will help?

I believe that a strong, healthy family is the best foundation for a healthy society. The young must be educated on what is right and wrong, and how to channel negative energy in a positive manner. What say you?
farida |2010-08-08 12:13:34
Hi Julian,

It's common for girls and women to be harassed in crowded public places, especially on buses and LRT.

How is your girlfriend? How does she cope with such experiences and overcome the hurt of being demeaned?

Yes, education is the key to instilling values like respect and honour and the family has such an important role to play as schools have failed us.

What's your blog? Would love to visit.
Ku  - Good Parenting |2010-08-10 00:44:16
Julian.....banning Pornography will not help, as it is human nature to find other ways to reach it.

Quite probably, if at all,it will help to ban violent pornography

Power or self gratification....power mostly as gratification naturally follows.

Agree that constant parental discipline coupled with love are the cornerstones to a well-adjusted adult life.
Shaku  - Forgive and forget |2010-08-18 01:15:49
Many thanks Farida for your piece on mutual forgiveness... if you don't forgive, you don't forget and if one has had such an experience this is the best way....the Divine way.

 

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