Traumatised after touch

Belle (not her real name) was only 15 when a man molested her on a crowded train.

Now 18, she can still recall the incident with startling clarity.

She had been on her way to school aboard the train during the morning rush hour, and in the cheek by jowl situation, she felt a man rubbing his private parts against her rear.

"It was very crowded. There were so many people that it was difficult to move in or out of the train. It took some time before I realised what was happening," she recalls.

Unsure if his advances were accidental, she moved her bag to cover her rear.

But that did not deter the brazen molester, who shifted the bag away before continuing with his lewd behaviour.

This time, she spoke out: "I told him to stop touching me, but he just glared at me and said, 'Siao ah?' (Are you crazy?)"

It was as if it was her fault.

A fellow passenger who witnessed the molestation attempted to raise an alarm, but the man quickly alighted at the next station and fled.

Immediately afterwards, she tearfully told her parents and even warned all her friends in the same area to be wary of the molester. But she did not report it.

Her story, unfortunately, may not be unique as many do not report these incidents offically.

"I was in a state of shock at how persistent he was," she says.

"I didn't think that any action could be taken since he had already left the train, and I didn't remember exactly what he looked like."

Traumatised, she spent the next few weeks in paranoia.

She is telling her story so more people will stand up against this behaviour.

"I feel that nowadays, most teenage girls lack the knowledge on how to react in such a situation. I believe that sharing my experience is a good way to let more people learn how to handle it if it happens to them," she says.

Ms Wong, 40, a part-time administrative assistant, takes the train twice a week during peak hours and has experienced brushes from strangers several times.

"It's very uncomfortable during peak hours. The trains are packed, people are sweaty and the air is stuffy," she says. But unlike the younger women, she is not afraid to speak up.

"If there is inappropriate touching, I will press the button and raise an alarm. I will not be bullied," she says.

Belle advises young girls to do the same: "If you are faced with the same situation as me, do not hesitate. Take action immediately and seek help."

Advice for commuters

The two major public transport operators, SMRT and SBS Transit, say they are working closely with the police on the situation. Both operators' advice to commuters: Immediately alert other passengers or staff on board the bus or train Bus captains will call operations control centre, which will alert the police Press the emergency communications button, which is able to track the location of the train - staff will be at the next station to render assistance

HELPLINE - Aware runs a Sexual Assault Befrienders Service, which can be reached by phone at 6779-0282 or e-mail sabs@aware.org.sg

 

Unreported cases worrying

The number of reported molest cases on public transport may just be the tip of the iceberg.

According to an article published last week, 42 cases were reported in the first three months of the year.

This is up from 29 for the same period last year, police figures show.

The concern is that many cases go unreported.

In an informal poll of 50 women, 32 per cent said they felt they were touched inappropriately on public transport, but none of them made a report.

Many cite being afraid to speak up, lack of confidence that appropriate action can be taken and uncertainty as to whether the encounter was deliberate as reasons.

"Sometimes you falter despite knowing that something bad has happened, because you don't want to make a scene.

"If he denies it, it will be very difficult and you wonder it was because it's so crowded," says a 32-year-old public relations manager.

"But I wonder if some idiots use the crowd as an excuse to be perverts," she says with a shrug.

Bus ridership rose to 3.4 million a day last year, up by 3.4 per cent from 2012. For trains, ridership rose 3.9 per cent to 2.62 million a day.

Responding to queries by TNPS, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, Mr Seng Han Thong, said that unreported cases are "definitely a concern".

"When victims don't report cases, it makes the culprit more daring," he adds.

He wants to see more efforts at making the severe repercussions of their actions known to potential offenders.

"We need to make it known that the punishment for outrage of modesty is severe. (Offenders) are taking their chances, but they will be caught red-handed eventually."

Ms Jolene Tan, a spokesman for the women-advocacy group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) said they were concerned that women were unwilling to step forward to report these instances.

"We need to do better as a society to reassure victims that they will not be blamed or judged for sexual assault, but instead given the support they need, as the fear of judgment or negativity is often a deterrent to reporting."

She adds: "It is also worth considering campaigns that don't target victims, but instead communicate to potential perpetrators that their behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by others."

Those who commit outrage of modesty against people above 18 years old carries a maximum penalty of a two-year jail term, a fine and caning.

The maximum jail term rises to five years if the victim is below 18.

Reported molest cases

156 (2013)

154 (2012)

114 (2011)

Have you ever been molested?

32 per cent of 50 respodents said they have been touched inappropriately when on crowded public transport.

"I was seating on the inner seat in the bus and a guy sat beside me. I was falling asleep until I felt something touching the side of my thigh. I woke up and saw his fingers stretching out to touch me. I tried to sit further away but he kept trying to come nearer. I then stood up. And he, too, got up and alighted."

- Miss A, 20, student

"I was standing in the train when some guy repeatedly pushed his groin into me from behind. I tried to move a little but he kept at it."

- Miss M, 23, events organiser

"I was on my way to school between the Khatib and Yio Chu Kang MRT stations, when a man in his 40s used his private parts to rub against my rear. That happened in 2010."

-Miss B, 18, student "I felt a hand squeeze my butt in a crowded train."

- Miss N, 19, student

They didn't report the incidents because:

"I was young and afraid."

- Miss K, 19, student

"Too troublesome."

- Miss Y, 19, student

We are not naming the respondents to protect their identity.

This article was published on May 4 in The New Paper.

Get The New Paper for more stories.