Staying alive in the face of danger

The ability to survive a bad situation is a skill all women must acquire.

RAPE, snatch theft, robbery, murder. Not to put a damper on your life, but it’s good to be a little paranoid because these things do happen. And not only to other people.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you might be — you could be a victim. There have been cases where grandmothers were raped and young ladies kidnapped from supposedly secured places. Criminals don’t discriminate.

“Saying you have AIDS or you’re having your period won’t deter a rapist,” revealed safety activist Capt K. Balasupramaniam, founder of Malaysian Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association (MVFRA, “And don’t think that you won’t be a target if you don’t dress sexily. Some rapists only like ladies in tudung while others like overweight women.”

His words were a shocking revelation to the strictly female audience at a City Survival interactive workshop organised by Yayasan Bakti Nusa Malaysia and Persatuan Belia Rakan Nusa.

The workshop, supported by the Women, Family & Community Development Ministry, was part of the ministry’s Child and Women Protection Programme: 1Malaysia Social Caring Initiative.

Bala was chosen to structure the programme as he had done case studies on violent crimes against women in Malaysia for more than 11 years. With his experience, he was able to give valuable tips on how to avoid, face and survive dangerous situations.

“We can’t completely stop crimes from happening but it is our duty to acquire life-saving knowledge and techniques to safeguard ourselves and our loved ones. For example, if robbers want to tie you up, tightly wrinkle your eyes shut before they blindfold you so you can open them later or try to bare your teeth when they put a plaster on your mouth as it will not stick to teeth.

“If they stuff rice or tissue in your mouth, it is very important to push them to the side of your mouth as these may expand in your throat and choke you,” advised Bala.

To drive home his point, Bala used graphic images of rape and murder victims (shown with the consent of the victims’ families) in high-profile and lesser-known cases.

The most heinous crime which left an impression on everyone was that of a raped and murdered young girl back in the 80s who had a broomstick shoved up her private parts.

Other victims were burnt, drowned and strangled. And then there were the well publicised cases of Canny Ong, Nurin Jazlin and Audrey Melissa. Little Sharlinie Nashar is still missing. It makes you wonder how one can inflict such horror on another human being.

As each case study was highlighted, we were shocked to learn that a great number of cases remain unsolved and that many suspects were not charged and even set free for lack of evidence. One is currently working in Kuala Lumpur. It sends a shiver down one’s spine to know that such monsters are walking freely amongst us.

Bala said perpetrators usually get a thrill out of being in power. Thus, they like victims who are helpless such as women who are alone, so it is quite important to put up an act.

“I always say that a good pretender is a good survivor. Don’t feel self-conscious pretending. It might save your life,” he said.

Women who are home alone, for instance, should pretend that there are lots of people around. If you keep getting prank calls with no answer or heavy breathing at the other end, pretend to talk to people or imaginary dogs in the background and turn up the volume on the TV. Don’t let on that you are scared.

You can also invest in a loud hailer to create noise when there’s a break-in.

“Don’t just shout help. Nobody will know where you are. Shout out your address as well or use the loud hailer to pretend that the police have arrived at your place. Create as much noise as possible to frighten away the intruders,” said Bala.

If you have to fill up at a petrol station at night, always choose the pump nearest to the counter as it is the brightest and would be covered by CCTVs.

Don’t go for dates in quiet, secluded areas and don’t fall for bogus Jabatan Agama officers. Authentic ones would have female officers accompanying them.

If you’re using a taxi, don’t feel compelled to get in the cab if you don’t feel right. Give some excuse like you forgot your wallet or handphone.

If you start getting bad feelings when you are already in the taxi, call someone and inform them of your whereabouts and the taxi that you are in. Make sure the taxi driver hears your conversation.

“One of my participants, who is in her mid-20s, felt uneasy as her cab driver was making inappropriate conversation and he was driving in circles. She called her family to tell them where she was, the cab she was in and when she expected to arrive at her destination. After her call, the driver said that he couldn’t find the place and asked if he could drop her off so that she could take another cab,” said Bala.

Bala related yet another incident where a participant used the knowledge gained from his session.

“This happened just a few days ago in a bus on the PLUS highway. A guy in his 40s was molesting a young girl. The girl was crying and didn’t know what to do. Luckily, there was a girl in her early 20s, who had attended my session, in the bus. She went up to the driver and insisted that he pull over at the rest stop. She even called me to ask what else to do.

“I’m very angry at the rest of the passengers because they tried to persuade the girl that it was nothing as they didn’t want their journey to be interrupted. They didn’t want the hassle. Victims should be aware of their rights. People who attend my sessions are more mentally prepared. They know to ask for help to prevent further damage,” said Bala.

Other than tips on avoiding and averting undesirable situations, Bala showed us gadgets that could be used to ward off aggressors such as door alarms, pepper sprays and how to turn items in our handbags into weapons.

Pepper sprays should be from reputable sources and preferably water-based with a ring at the bottom.

“Don’t buy China-made ones. The US-made ones are good as they have conducted proper R&D. The ring at the bottom is there for a reason — so you won’t drop it when you depress it. Some China-made ones have their rings on top. It is a self-defense product, NOT a key chain,” stresses Bala.

He also showed us various cameras cleverly disguised as normal everyday objects and taught us how to detect hidden cameras in changing rooms and toilets.

At the end of the session, Bala demonstrated some self-defence techniques and showed us how to escape a grab by targeting the perpetrator’s weak vital points.

“It is more important to free yourself and flee than to fight because most of the time the men can easily overpower their female victims.

“Aim for their soft spots. Don’t bother with their groin area as it is usually too far up to reach. Try for their nose, neck, little fingers or shins instead,” he advised.

For minimal injuries in the event of snatch thefts, you should opt for a handbag with detachable straps. Bala said it was better to lose material possessions than to lose your life.

“If you care for your loved ones, don’t ask him to chase after the thief. Sometimes, it’s just better to let it go,” he said.

Housewife Chow Lai Seng, 44, came for the workshop as she wanted to impart the knowledge to her teenage daughter.

“I feel compelled to protect her by acquiring some knowledge on how to prevent and survive unwanted situations. I’ve learnt the importance of surviving, and not only fighting back. Everything I’ve learnt today would be a great asset to members of my group as well,” said Chow, a member of the Rainbow Single Parents Association.

Executive advisor of Yayasan Bakti Nusa Malaysia, Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat believes crime prevention against women is the responsibility of everyone.

“The City Survival programme is both relevant and useful to the women under the present circumstances. I personally take it as a cross-gender concern and an intervention initiative in view of the escalating threats to women. It should in no way be viewed as merely a feminist concern,” he said.

o More workshops, for women aged 13 and above, are scheduled to be held throughout the country.

Admission is free but a penalty will be imposed on those who fail to turn up after registration. Call Yayasan Bakti at 03-9281 3446 or Allan Tan at 017-398 3455.