You’ve already seen this all over social media. How many of your friends, whether male or female, have been sexually harassed or assaulted? Do you even have enough fingers and toes to count the number?
It’s appalling, and yet, ask yourself, why didn’t you know this before? Why didn’t your friend talk about it to you? Why isn’t this something more shared openly? Before I can answer those questions, I have to make a confession too. I don’t tell people what I’ve been through. I hide it in the darkness too, hoping I never have to pull it out into the light. Well, what kind of an example is that? How much is my #MeToo worth if I’m not willing to be open about it?
I was sexually harassed twice when travelling alone in Nepal. The first time, a young boy, I would say 13, 14 I guess, offered to take me around a tourist attraction. He was eager and earnest, and he explained he liked taking people on tours so that he could brush up on his English and hopefully become a tour guide in future and earn money for his family. Seemed decent enough a chap. He took me on top of a hill where I captured beautiful photos of the sunset and everything around us. When we were heading down, he kept offering his hand to help me down the hill. But I was completely independent and fine getting myself down, thank you very much. But he kept insisting, and each time, taking the opportunity to stroke my arm. I hastened to escape, but really, it was a hill after all, and there was very little I could do. At one point he told me it was his birthday. “Oh? Happy birthday!” I said. He said I should give him a present. Before I knew it he had tried to kiss me and grabbed my breasts. I wanted to run but he blocked my way, the only way I could go down the hill. He said because it was his birthday that I should give him a present of money. I fumbled in my pocket and gave him money. I don’t even know how much it was. I just wanted to get away. He was happy with the money and so I ran. I slid down rocks and I hurt myself against some branches. But I ran. And I got out of there. After that, I felt so conflicted. Almost as if, I should have known better than to go somewhere alone with a guy? But, then again, he was a freakin’ kid! I felt so awful, he robbed me of my dignity AND I had to pay him for it. What. the. fuck.
The second time it happened in Nepal was on 1 January, New Year’s Day. The street was filled with festivity and partygoers. On that day, to celebrate my survival of the snowstorm on Everest, I decided to go get a tattoo of the mountain on my ankle. (It hurts like fuck, by the way, in case you were wondering.) As I was in the room whimpering like a hurt animal, I heard a commotion outside in the waiting area. A man, demanding they give him a tattoo right that instant, even if he had no idea what he wanted. “Come back tomorrow when you’re not drunk and we’ll do it for you,” they said. But he was having none of that. It took almost half an hour before they managed to chase him out the tattoo parlour. Who knew that he was still lingering outside the shop when my mountain was forever inked on my foot and I was slowly limping home? “Hello miss, you are so pretty, how you like Nepal? You are tourist, I must show you a good time. Come, let me show you Nepal, really show you. Come come.” I struggled out of his grasp and I said, “You’re drunk. Go home.” I must have repeated myself 15 times. He just wouldn’t leave me alone. He tried to touch me everywhere, and I pushed him off repeatedly. I was getting really scared and kept looking around for someone to help, but nobody cared. It was like everyday business here. Finally, I saw a truck which said Tourist Police. Finally. Help. But they too, ignored my shouts. At long last with this guy following my every step and refusing to leave my side, I pretended to want to buy bbq corn from a seller and pleaded with him, “Can you please, please get this man away from me? He is harassing me and I just want to go home. PLEASE.” I’m lucky this corn seller cared. “Oh no I thought he was your friend! Okay, okay, I help!” He pushed the dude around, said a lot of words I didn’t understand, and pointed him in the right direction home. PHEW. I slowly limped straight home.
But the most horrific thing that has ever happened to me happened back home in Singapore. I was single then, and in the dating game. I met a guy who was charming and charismatic, and we had such laughs. It was the first time in a long time I had felt a spark with anyone. He invited me over to his house for a movie. We were going to just talk and cuddle. I brought my Spongebob pyjamas. That’s how not serious it was. But he got seriouser and it became obvious then that he wanted something more. NO, I said. NO. I thought my NO meant something. But I woke up in the morning to find him in me. At that moment, my world fell apart. I didn’t even exist anymore. I couldn’t even move. I was paralysed. In shock? In fear? I don’t know. It felt like I was floating above myself, looking down at myself being raped. I. COULDN’T. MOVE. As soon as I could feel my limbs again I fought and fled. You’d think the worst damage was already done. But the worst part I will never ever forget in my entire life, was when I confided in two friends and here’s what they said to me: “Don’t bluff lah, you wanted it.” “It’s just sex. Get over it already.”
And that’s the culture we live in which urgently needs to change. “It’s just sex.” Even if I said NO. No means No. Don’t you ever let that become something else. PLEASE.