How a Chinese Indonesian girl got away from street harassment

How a Chinese Indonesian girl got away from street harassment
Women wait to board the Ladies Transjakarta Bus at Harmoni Bus stop, Central Jakarta, Friday, November 11, 2016. The bus was provided for women to prevent rampant sexual harassment in public transportation.
PHOTO: The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

"Look, look, there's a bunch of Chinese!" shouted a kid to his friends, who then started whistling and calling us names.

My cousins and I were on our way home from a public swimming pool when we encountered this group of kids.

Being the oldest, I told my cousins to shake it off and just walk faster to pass them by as this often happens around my neighborhood, where there are not that many Chinese Indonesians.

One of my cousins stood up to this group of kids and told them to stop bothering us.

In a split-second, one of those kids touched my cousin's breasts and shouted "Amoy!" to her face.

Amoy in Cantonese is used to address young women, but in Indonesia, it has a negative and degrading connotation against Chinese women.

I still remember seeing my cousin's back as she ran home as quickly as she could.

By the time we arrived home, we found her locked in the bathroom, sobbing.

I was 12 and my cousin was 10.

Being an adolescent girl myself, I did not know what to do, but even then, I knew how traumatizing it must have been for her and my other cousins who witnessed the ordeal.

Not only was it racist, it was also very misogynistic.

We grew up always feeling unsafe whenever we walked on the street and threatened by our triple minority status: female, of a minority race, with a minority religion.

And no, this fear that we have is not without reasons. Street-harassers almost always get away with their act - that is mainly why.

Street harassment is still a taboo topic in Indonesia.

Most people do not even consider street harassment as a form of sexual harassment.

There is no universally standardized definition of street harassment yet, but it has been mostly defined as unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression or sexual orientation.

This includes a wide-range of actions from simply catcalling and whistling, to groping and assault.

This problem is multiplied by a hundred in Indonesia due to the likeliness of it being committed against certain minorities

Catcalling, wolf-whistling and poking women on the street have become a longstanding common practice in Indonesia.

Despite having criminalized fornication and molestation through Article 289-296 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, there is still no explicit provision on sexual harassment.

Any case concerning sexual harassment usually involves an extensive interpretation of the existing articles.

Nevertheless, street harassment is rarely ever reported.

From my personal observation, as a witness and sometimes a victim of street harassment, this tragically common practice is due to the lack of proper understanding about sexual harassment from both the victim and the harasser.

First, due to constant harassment, most victims have cultivated start projecting onto themselves a self-image of victimization.

According to Harriet Braiker in her book How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation, this mentality creates, among others, a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, negative thinking and self-blaming. In other words, victims have come to accept the fact that they are victimized and there is nothing they can do about it.

This victim mentality is also the result of years of dismissiveness. Instead of fighting against harassment, we tend to avoid it and it has become a taboo topic.

Since we were little, especially girls, we have been indoctrinated into thinking that our body is a sacred temple, and should anything happened to the sanctity of it, we should feel ashamed.

This is why children who were sexually abused often stayed silent instead of telling their parents or an authority figure.

In some cases where the child was brave enough to tell their parents that somebody catcalled them, their parents would often tell them to shrug it off and take it as a compliment instead of taking the matter of explaining why it is not okay, especially when it was verbal and not physical.

Parents' perspective on this issue is just as important as the child's, because children usually take their parents' words at face value.

Second, due to this victim mentality of passively accepting street harassment, harassers often have no remorse whatsoever, let alone be deterred from their actions.

With no deterrence, more and more people commit street harassment without even knowing that it is a crime.

Even if they realised it was wrong, they would still do it again anyway, knowing that they can get away with harassing others.

The regularity of this occurrence further establishes the victim mentality.

This creates an illusion of superiority over the victim whenever harassers commit such actions.

Therefore, street harassment has also become a part of some people's routine every time they need to feel better about themselves.

This has to stop.

We need to start telling our children, friends and family that catcalling is not okay and obviously not a compliment.

No form of harassment is ever okay, be it physical, verbal or psychological.

It is time to break this cycle, because when it comes to sexual harassment, silence is definitely not golden.

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