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Monday December 16, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday December 16, 2013 MYT 10:58:17 AM
by cheryl hew
More caution needed: A sign pointing to a public toilet at a shopping mall in Ipoh. Many women have expressed fear of using public toilets after a 19-year-old schoolgirl was molested in one recently.
MALAYSIAN public toilets have long been lacking in cleanliness, with locals and tourists bemoaning the dirty and smelly conditions they discover at the loos.
To add injury to their reputation, the recent molestation of a 19-year-old schoolgirl at a shopping mall toilet in Ipoh has ignited discussion on how such public toilets are also unsafe and easy targeting grounds for criminals and sexual predators.
Sales executive Aileen Tan, 25, said she shuddered with fright when she read of the case of “Vicky” (not her real name) who was hugged and kissed by a contract staff at the shopping mall.
“I try to avoid going to public toilets in the country because the ones I find are usually disgusting and not well-maintained.
“The news that a young girl was attacked at a public toilet at a shopping mall I frequent has given me more reason to do my ‘business’ at home,” she told The Star.
Tan said the fact that so many public toilets in the country are dirty might have resulted in them becoming unsafe too.
“A lot of women I know try to abstain from using public toilets because they are disgusted with them, so the lack of people using them creates less surveillance at the toilets.
“Also, if the people in charge of the public toilets are not concerned about its cleanliness, they aren’t likely to give much thought on its security either,” she said.
It was reported on Friday that Vicky had gone to a public toilet at a shopping mall in Ipoh when she met a man believed to be a foreign worker there.
The man switched off the lights while she was in the toilet and then hugged her, later kissed her lips.
Vicky resorted to punching and kicking the man to save herself, causing him to flee. She lodged a police report at the Sungai Senam police station later that night.
Engineer Nurul Jasliza Jamaluddin, 34, said security at public toilets was often overlooked by the authorities and the shopping mall management, making them ideal spots for unsavoury characters to hang around in wait for victims.
“Public toilets are usually tucked behind or at a distance away from eateries or public venues, so there are less people in its vicinity to notice if anything fishy is going on.
“Perhaps for privacy reasons, I rarely see closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras around the toilets too.
“While I am definitely against video surveillance in the toilets themselves, the authorities should consider putting CCTV cameras at corridors outside the toilets or nearby areas to keep an eye on suspicious people,” she said.
Customer service officer B. Pavittra, 31, said she would consider having friends accompany her if she had to use public toilets in the future.
“The hygiene aspect of public toilets puts me off, but there are situations where I have no choice but to use them anyway.
“I never felt safe in public toilets but I never took much precaution when using them.
“The molest incident has definitely served as a wakeup call to me and I will try to get someone to accompany me should I need to go to public toilets next time,” she said.
Perak Women for Women Society president Dr Sharifah Halimah Jaafar cautioned women to stay vigilant whenever they use public toilets, even if the toilets are located at busy shopping malls.
“It is not safe for women to walk alone nowadays no matter where they are, so at least try to get a friend to accompany you if you have to use the loo.
“If you are alone at a shopping mall, you could even get a security guard to accompany you to the toilet entrance and ensure the lights are switched on.
“By having someone act as a lookout, it makes you a less easy prey in the eyes of predators,” she said.
Dr Sharifah Halimah said women could consider carrying pepper sprays or personal alarms, but prevention was better than having to whip out tools to defend against an attacker.
“It is common for women to panic when they are attacked suddenly and they might not be able to use the defensive tools in time.
“Therefore, it is better to be wary and make sure your surroundings are safe instead of taking the risk of facing a predator,” she said.
Dr Sharifah Halimah also pointed out that the authorities and shopping mall management could play a big role in ensuring the safety of women who use public toilets.
“Basically, lighting in and around public toilets need to be improved as making the area highly visible would make it harder for predators to conduct their deeds unnoticed.
“Shopping malls should also stop the practice of letting male workers clean female toilets and screen their workers to make sure those with criminal backgrounds are kept away from the public.
“Women need to take steps to ensure they do not become gullible victims, but the authorities need to play a proactive role in protecting the public too,” she said.
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Utilities, Community, Northern Region, public toilet ipoh
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