PETALING JAYA: A politician “joking” about taking you on as a second wife. Being mailed letters and underwear on a daily basis.
Many women have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
They usually brush off sexual comments, labelling them as “no big deal” while some others choose not to speak about their experiences for fear of being wrongly blamed.
These are just a few stories of sexual harassment that women in Malaysia have experienced in their line of work. Some names have been changed.
Actress Datuk Yasmin Yusuff recalls having a “fan” who used to write her “weird” letters and mail her his underwear.
“I think I got a letter every day. It got creepy, especially because I work odd hours and would be alone in the studio. I have a feeling he followed me as well,” said Yasmin.
“I remember singing in the Federal Lounge and he was waiting for me at the car park. This was after midnight! That was scary,” she said.
Yasmin said she told the man off “very strongly”, adding that she did not think of it as sexual harassment back then. Instead she just thought he was a “crazy weirdo”.
Other than weird letters, Yasmin said she would also receive strange calls from another ‘fan’ on her home phone number.
“That was unsettling because he would call all the time, even in the middle of the night,” she said.
The same man also got in a lift with Yasmin and asked if he could “have a kiss”.
“So I made every effort never to be alone with him,” she said.
In another incident, Yasmin said she was asked to go to Johor to sing.
“I got there and asked about rehearsals but was later told that the client (a Datuk) and his friends wanted me to go to their room,” she said.
“There was no singing job at all! I just said that I wanted to leave right away,” she said.
Yasmin said she considered herself lucky she could get herself out of difficult situations.
“But even today, I am always extra careful when it’s dark or I’m alone. Be prepared,” she said.
Journalist Salmah was on the receiving end of “uncomfortable” messages from a politician.
“I have known this politician for years, since I was a rookie reporter. He was the one who sought me out and sent me exclusive tips, shared insider gossip – which I was initially all too happy about, because that’s what my job required,” she said.
However, Salmah grew increasingly uncomfortable when he started to “joke” about taking on a second wife.
“He would also joke about my boyfriend and taste in men. He also said that I resembled a celebrity that he used to have a crush on,” she said.
“I didn’t tell him off outright, because I was too afraid of conflict and of upsetting him. This person was in a position of power, far older than me, an elected public representative,” she added.
Salmah ignored the inappropriate messages, or replied curtly, hoping that he would “get the hint”.
But things got worse when he kept texting her after midnight.
“He would ask about my day, or share how his day went,” she said.
“When I ignored his texts, he persisted with more texts throughout the day, or baited me with questions that I felt obliged to respond to.”
At that point, Salmah said she felt “very upset and distressed” and would be filled with anxiety and dread whenever he texted her.
“The breaking point came when, one weekend in November last year, he texted me early in the morning asking me what I was up to that day, and where I was headed,” she said.
“I was curt but he still pressed for details, which I ignored.
“Later in the evening he said he checked my social media and figured out where I was. ‘#Stalker’, he joked, referring to himself, with a crying-laughing emoji,” she said.
Salmah did not think the comment was funny.
“I texted him saying that I wasn’t comfortable, and wanted to maintain a professional relationship with him,” she said, adding that he has not disturbed her since.
Salmah did not realise that her experience qualified as sexual harassment until she read an Asian Correspondent article.
“That I was unsure for so long, and thought I should just tolerate this behaviour, really points to a lack of education and awareness within our society on this matter,” she said.
Melanie said she was sexually harassed by the headmaster of the school where she was doing her teacher training course over 25 years ago.
“I had to take two different buses home, and the headmaster would offer to drive me to Petaling Jaya to take the bus. The first four times, I turned him down,” she said.
“But the fifth time, a school activity finished late and I missed the bus. So I took him up on his offer,” she said.
Melanie said she knew something was wrong when he stopped at a quiet lake instead of the bus stop where she was supposed to be dropped off.
“I had no idea where I was. I knew that I had to go somewhere I recognised, or some place with a landmark. So I said: ‘Why don’t we get something to eat?’
“Thankfully, we left and he took me to a restaurant in Damansara,” she said.
While at dinner, Melanie said that he kept pouring her alcohol, hoping to get her drunk.
“I spat out the alcohol into my napkin. I told him I wasn’t feeling well, left my bag at the table, and went to the back to ask the waiters to let me use the phone,” she said.
Melanie called a friend and he agreed to pick her up.
“When my friend arrived, we pretended that it was a coincidence. I told the headmaster I would join my friend,” she said.
After the incident, Melanie said the headmaster seemed to “punish” her by not allowing her to use the school’s photocopier.
She was also given a “D” grade for the training programme.
Many times after the dinner, Melanie said, the headmaster would call her into his office and make sexual remarks.
“He would say how my skin was so fair. He would also talk about not having sex with his wife. I felt very uncomfortable,” she said.
“I felt trapped because the headmaster’s wife was my supervisor, and another supervisor at the school was his college friend. I couldn’t tell anybody. Plus, I had to complete my training,” she said.
Melanie came forward to share her story because she now has two daughters, and wants to raise awareness on the seriousness of sexual harassment.
“It has been almost 30 years since this incident, and it is still a problem to this day. Nothing has changed,” she said.
‘I blamed myself’
Television host Sasha said that sexual harassment in the entertainment industry is prominent, but she revealed that she was “more than just sexually harassed”.
She recalled a time she went out clubbing with some friends and ended up waking up naked in an unfamiliar room.
“I was feeling sore especially around my private areas and I just felt so scared and confused,” she said.
The last thing Sasha recalled before waking up was drinking shots with “some random guy”. That was when she realised she was drugged and raped.
“I kept this to myself because I blamed myself and I was ashamed. I blamed myself for getting raped,” she said, adding that she was 27 at the time of the incident.
Sasha said that she still remembers the man’s face.
When she built the courage to report the rape, Sasha said she hired a private investigator to build a case.
“Since I had not gone for a medical checkup or reported it, and it happened a long time ago, my chances were very slim. But I wanted to see if I could at least nab the guy,” she said.
However, she dropped her hunt for the man once she remarried.
Sasha also recalled an incident where a man masturbated on her while she was sleeping on a midnight bus to Kuala Lumpur during her university days.
“I had semen all over my shirt. But the guy next to me had already left the bus at Puduraya,” she said, adding that the man had stole money from her wallet as well.
“I never took a coach alone again,” she said.
Business journalist D. Kanyakumari spoke on the record about the several instances of sexual harassment she encountered.
While covering a press conference at a political party’s headquarters, Kanyakumari said she was inappropriately touched by a politician.
“While the press conference was going on, he entered the room with his entourage and stood right behind me,” she said.
“He was standing so close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.”
Kanyakumari said she was typing on her phone as the press conference was going on, when the politician put his hand on her waist.
“He then moved his hand down and touched my bottom,” she said.
“When I turned around in shock, he just smiled at me.
“I am pretty sure people saw what happened, but nobody did anything.”
Asked if she considered making a formal complaint, Kanyakumari said she had briefly considered making a police report.
“But I didn’t have proof, and I was dealing with a politician who was quite high up. I was afraid that I would lose my job,” she said.
In another incident, Kanyakumari said she was invited to go “on holiday” with a minister after she had interviewed him.
“An officer asked if I would like to follow Datuk Seri to Sabah. I asked what the assignment was, and the officer said there was no assignment, it was ‘just to follow to have a good time’ and to ‘have fun’.
“I was shocked and confused. When the officer called me later that night for the answer, I told him no,” she said.
Kanyakumari said she was also sexually harassed by a police officer who stroked her thigh and kept calling her late at night.
“I attended a police press conference, and they ran out of press releases. So the officer asked me to follow him down to his car where he had copies of the press release,” she said.
Kanyakumari recalled that he then drove her back to her car and before she got out, he stroked her thigh.
Upon seeing her reaction, she said, the officer told her: “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything to you. I’ll call you.”
“He kept calling me late at night after that, at around 11pm or midnight,” she said.
She ignored the calls, but one day he texted her and said that she “better pick up” his call.
“I remember it was past 11pm on a weekend, and I asked him why he was calling me at this time.
“He replied that this is when his wife and kids are asleep,” she said.
“I told him to stop calling me, or I will find out who his family is and tell them. He stopped calling me immediately after that,” she said.
Kanyakumari related the matter to an editor, only to be told “it always happens” and that it was because she was pretty.
She said these incidents made her feel troubled and violated.
“I later found out that the two politicians had done stuff to other women as well,” she said.
“You feel helpless because these are powerful men, and they know that they can get away with it.”
Not a ‘joke’
Administrative officer Carrie said a “joke” went too far with a male colleague at her company.
“He told a group of us a personal story about his ex-girlfriend and how he wanted sex after she does him favours,” said Carrie.
“After telling that story, he started to use a specific phrase that insinuated sex whenever he saw me,” she said.
Carrie said that he would say the phrase multiple times a day for several weeks.
“At first, it might have been a joke. But a few weeks in, it wasn’t funny anymore,” she said.
“I ignored him at first. I didn’t know how to confront him.”
She said the same colleague also sent her a video of a shirtlesss man.
“It might have been sent as a joke. But I thought it was really inappropriate,” she said.
At the urging of her colleagues, Carrie brought the issue up with her boss.
“After I told her, she just said to ‘wait and see’,” she added.
A few days later, Carrie’s boss labelled the incidents a “misunderstanding” after speaking with the man.
“He hasn’t bothered me since. We just talk about work things now,” she said.
However, Carrie said that even though her harassment was verbal, it should still be taken seriously.
Broadcast journalist Nadia said she experienced a few uncomfortable instances when she was a rookie journalist in the late 1990s.
“I had a bad experience with a colleague while working the graveyard shift from midnight till 9am.
“I was trying to catch a quick nap after my assignment when he tried to get on top of me,” she said.
Nadia recalled exclaiming “Hey, what’s happening?” but he just laughed it off.
“I was very junior and he was a senior. I didn’t even complain. I just kept it to myself,” she said.
Nadia said the man, who had a wife and children, tried to flirt with her after the incident but she ignored him.
In a separate incident, Nadia said a cameraman made lewd comments while they were driving to an assignment.
“He was quite blatant. He would say things along the lines of: ‘Let’s go over to my house, no need to go to the assignment.’
“It got to a point where I told a friend, and that person told the boss,” she said.
The cameraman got a verbal warning and Nadia was not paired with him for future assignments.
She also recalled having to stay away from “touchy-feely” colleagues and being on the receiving end of sexual comments from colleagues and VIPs.
“I just took it in stride,” she said.
Although the incidents did affect her, Nadia said she did not think too much about them.
“I just didn’t let it affect me. It’s a matter of self-preservation, I guess,” she added.
Crime reporter Tania said a particular deputy OCPD had always made her feel uncomfortable.
“He would ogle me and then ask me very personal questions, like whether or not I had a boyfriend,” she said.
“He would ask me out for karaoke and to go drinking in pubs in exchange for exclusive stories.”
Tania said she never agreed to go out with him, but he would text and call her outside working hours to keep asking her out.
“He would ask where I was and would ask me out, offering to pay for my meals,” she said.
Tania said it reached a point where she lied about having a fiancé just to ward off his advances.
She eventually told her superior about the harassment, and was told her that she no longer had to go to that particular district police station.
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