Olympic diver’s revelations spark discussion on how daunting it is for victims

PETALING JAYA: Diving star Datuk Pandelela Rinong says she decided to speak up and share her past experience with sexual harassment as a way of offering support to other victims.

The Olympic medallist, who was questioned why she brought up her past experience with sexual harassment only now, said she also hopes to encourage future victims to be “brave when I wasn’t”.

“I shared my ‘not so nice’ experience to give awareness to the public, and to support victims out there who are always in a dilemma of whether to speak up or stay silent.

“Most importantly, enablers and their backers shouldn’t be glamourised. Others may forget, but not the victim.

“Still totally in support of #RapeJokeIsNotFunny, hoping to encourage the future ones to be brave when I wasn’t,” she wrote on Twitter on Monday night.

Her post came in the wake of a furore over a talk show segment in which actor Fauzi Nawawi described with glee how he got “excited” filming a rape scene years ago with an actress, who was in her teens at the time.

The talk show host and other guests also made light of the matter and joked about rape.

Fauzi first apologised after a video of the segment went viral, but later retracted his apology.

For her part, Pandelela recently revealed that she was bullied by a coach after she confronted him for his lewd jokes, and that the same coach went on to be charged with rape of another athlete seven years later.

Following criticisms after questioning Pandelela’s timing in sharing her past experience with sexual harassment, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu said he was merely trying to get an explanation from all angles before taking action.

“What was said in the press conference on Monday might have been taken out of context by the media.

“What I meant was that we need to get more explanation from Pandelela and those who were involved in the lewd joke.

“I was trying to get a thorough explanation before taking action,” he said in the Dewan Rakyat during Question Time yesterday, responding to Independent MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who had asked about the ministry’s stance on sexual harassment, as he cited the experiences of other athletes such as Cindy Ong and Farah Ann Abdul Hadi who also faced sexual harassment.

During the press conference, Ahmad Faizal was also heard saying that he had been in touch with several people regarding the incident and urged all athletes to speak up on any form of sexual harassment so that the ministry could take immediate action.

However, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) said questioning irrelevant details such as the timing in which survivors spoke out or the manner in which they spoke out is a way of dismissing or minimising the experiences of violence that women have encountered.

WOA advocacy and research officer Anis Farid said questioning why survivors did not speak up earlier disregards the trauma of harassment and other forms of violence and how difficult or scary it is to talk about these experiences.

“Such responses send the message that we do not trust (them) when women speak up about their experiences, which can hinder other survivors from speaking up as well,” she said.

Anis said Pandelela’s decision to speak out now about something that happened years ago does not invalidate her experience at all.

“It is also more timely than ever for the government to table the Sexual Harassment Bill so survivors have a clear option to seek legal recourse if that is what they want.

“Until then, WAO hotlines are always open if you need someone to talk to or if you need help figuring out what to do next,” she said.

Penang Women Development Corporation chief executive officer Ong Bee Leng said it is never easy for victims of sexual harassment to share their ordeal, especially if the harasser is someone in authority.

“The fear of not being understood, fear of not being believed, fear of being shamed, fear of being blamed and even fear of the repercussions from the harasser. All these will prevent victims from speaking about it.

“The reaction from the minister is precisely what the victims fear. Instead of investigating the matter, the minister asked why she brought up the matter only now,” she said.

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