Don’t tell me it’s just a perception!
JUNE 27 — Once upon a time, I used to be more adventurous and care-free.
I spent a lot of time travelling and working alone in the field. I’ve camped out in the jungle on my own, with a parang that I barely knew how to use. I’ve hiked for a day along the coast of southern Sarawak by myself, despite warnings of “Indonesians coming out of the Kalimantan jungles, robbing and murdering.”
I once spent a month in Cambodia, backpacking on my own, and using public buses to travel from south to north into Laos. By the end of the month, I could hold a meagre conversation in Khmer that I was forced to learn in order to get around.
Nothing scares me more than the words, “group travel”, and I find solo travel — whether it’s in South-east Asia, Africa or Europe — more exhilarating and fulfilling than going with buddies.
These days, however, thanks to the speed of social media, and people being brave enough to share their experiences of being harassed, robbed, and almost raped, I’ve gotten a lot more paranoid, and unsure of walking along a lonely beach during dusk. And this bugs me.
Recently, there has been some debate about the public perception of crime, versus actual crime committed in Malaysia.
It does feel like crime is rising in some parts of Malaysia — omigosh, did you hear about that poor, young woman who was almost kidnapped and raped in a shopping mall parking lot in Kuala Lumpur? That celebrity who was stalked by a crazed motorcyclist? The woman’s rights activist who had her handbag snatched from her car?
Their first-hand accounts shared on social media, detailing what happened, have been very compelling and found immediate popularity online.
I, for one, am grateful that they shared their experiences with us. They wanted to get their stories out, to ensure other women remain vigilant and safe. A reminder that we shouldn’t live in a bubble where we think everything is fine, and everyone kind.
As I write this, a few hours ago, I had my own little scare of being stalked by a stranger. I first noticed him following me as I walked down the road — he was honking at me from his motorbike to get my attention. As much as the honking annoyed me no end, this apparently is not uncommon in Kota Kinabalu where many men tend to honk for no good reason at women walking down the road. At least, this has been my experience.
I escaped into a supermarket, and watched him ride off. Relieved, I decided to pick up a few items. As I was examining the yoghurt selection, someone had sidled up a little too close to me for comfort. I turned towards him, and was shocked that it was the same stranger from earlier.
I’m not proud. My first reaction was to loudly say a few choice expletives that would make my grandmother rise from her grave to wash out my mouth. He ran off.
Relieved but a bit cautious, I walked off to another aisle. Ten minutes later, he was back, looking for me.
Angry, I started to take photos of him, using my phone. He immediately turned his back to me, and tried to hide his face. He ran off again.
Even though I was in a public place, and felt relatively safe that he wouldn’t do anything to me, I started to get really scared. I knew he was going to come back looking for me. And so when he did, I took more photos, and this time, managed to get a shot of his face.
At this point, I had had enough and was going to look for the security guard. Part of me was unsure what I wanted but I was sure that I didn’t want him to follow me to my car and find out where I live.
It was another customer who interjected out of curiosity — a kind, brave bystander who saw my agitated reactions and decided not to ignore it, like the other customers did.
He confronted my stalker for me, and that’s when I decided to escape when my stalker was distracted and publicly embarrassed.
Shaking in my car, I found myself tweeting about it on my locked Twitter account.
After all my paranoia about reading crime on social media, my first instinct was to reach out for it for comfort as well, and share my story. (So, sorry to my fellow paranoid kin!)
Part of the debate of perceived crime versus actual crime committed, is that we don’t have available data that we can analyse for ourselves. It’s one thing to be told by a government agency that everything is “fine”, and it’s “likely to be perceived crime” than to be able to examine the data for itself.
Lacking actual analysed data that we can trust, we turn to compelling stories from friends, acquaintances and trusted personalities. And it feels like crime is rising, and the authorities are not taking our concerns seriously, or rather behaving rather defensively.
Certainly, for all my adventurous years, I wasn’t cocooned from any crime at all. I have had my car broken into, and laptop stolen. Sadly, many of my loved ones have been victims of crime themselves. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether crime has risen, or fallen over the past few decades.
However, I can tell you, my confidence in the authorities to take my fears seriously and not write hashtags like #haterswillhate to promote their side of story, has much decreased.
I do, however, hold faith in the common man (and woman). I will remember the kind bystander who decided not to ignore what was happening in front of him, and place himself in a situation that could be potentially embarrassing. Yet, by doing so he could have saved a life.
Now that’s a story!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.