Molested? Go ahead, make a scene

I read The New Paper on Sunday's articles on molest cases on public transport that go unreported and thought to myself: 30 years on, and nothing has changed.

I refer especially to the interview with the 18-year-old who said she had been molested at age 15 - and had kept mum.

I too was molested on a public bus at age 15, a teenager in her school uniform on her way to school in the morning.

I had kept mum then too, and for a long time after that as well, save for a fleeting reference in a published column some years ago.

Like her, I was petrified. And like her, I can recollect the scene like it happened yesterday.

I was on bus No. 14 and had the aisle seat. As usual, the bus was packed with uniformed students and those on their way to work.

As usual, I was daydreaming until I felt something rubbing against my upper arm.

An elderly man was leaning in towards me. I thought nothing of it and shifted myself, but he persisted.

He hid his evil deed by clutching onto a green bag. Soon I felt his hand moving too.

I froze, and tried to make eye contact with the passenger next to me, a man who was unfortunately nodding off against the window pane.

I endured the journey until I reached my stop. I got up and realised that most of the passengers behind me had realised what was happening.

Their eyes bore into me.

I was suffused in shame.

On jelly legs and with a frozen face, I made it into my classroom and told a classmate about what happened.

She was mortified. She too had no idea what I should do. Over the next few weeks, I watched out for the man.

But I am not sure I would have known what to do if I saw him. I would probably avoid him, get off the bus and take the next one. But I never saw him again.

Here's a description of the man: An elderly man in his 60s, wearing a striped grey collared T-shirt. I think he should be dead by now.

Now, more than 30 years later, I am trying to analyse why I did nothing then. Tell the bus driver to drive to the next police station? Scream for help and hope my fellow passengers will respond? Elbow him in the groin?

I could have told my father who would have probably throttled the man with his bare hands if he caught sight of him. I didn't.

I guess it was because I led a sheltered life where warnings about strange men were limited to "don't go out with them''.

I'm not sure it was because I did not want to "make a scene''. I just did not know what to do. My mind went blank; my brain shut down.

Perhaps, for those who noticed what was happening, it was a case of "since she is not making a scene, we shouldn't either".

So everybody kept mum, and the molester had his way.

I know there are women who "cry wolf'' and men who are upset that they have to defend themselves against the words of a woman who might have misconstrued their actions or are just plain out to "get'' them.

It seems terribly unfair to them to have the Women's Charter weighted so heavily on the woman's side.

But I ask that they recognise the impact such actions have on women, especially young girls.

If such an "outrage of modesty'' had left such an indelible imprint on me, what more a case of rape? To have to re-play the scene is simply not funny.

I wonder what young girls are being told today about defending themselves against predators. Crowded public transport was such a good cover for perverts, and it looks like it still is.

On a separate note, I wish the Association of Women for Action and Research would delve deeper into our molest and rape laws.

It is doing good work in speaking for victims of sexual harassment and abuse, but it might want to study the State's record of conviction of molesters and rapists.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that too many are repeat offenders.

To young girls today, I say: "Go ahead and make a scene."

The shame is not on you, but on him.

Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson teaches at Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore. She also blogs about current affairs at berthahenson.wordpress.com

This article was published on May 9 in The New Paper.

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