It was the year 1997, and I had just entered Form 1 of secondary school. I went to an all girls’ school in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. My former primary school was only 30 minutes walk from my new school. Being in a new environment, meeting new people and being a junior in school again was an overwhelming experience. I still felt affection for my former school, where I had grew up for six years being around familiar people and surroundings. I felt homesick for my “home”.
It was a lovely Saturday morning, around 10.00 am. Everyone had to go back to school for Hari Gotong-Royong, which is an annual event for the school. Today was extra special because my primary school was having its sports day, and I still recovering from the loss and homesickness, wanted to join in the familiar festivities and celebration. Together with a couple of friends from the old school, Rebecca and Dewi, three of us set off from our new school to our old one. We did not have enough money to catch a taxi that day and furthermore, we wanted to save them to buy stuffs at the meet. So, we decided to take a walk over and considering our excitement and anticipation, the 30 minutes walk would only be a breeze.
The walk took us through housing areas. We awed at the huge and beautiful bungalows along the way and chatting away as any 13 year-old would. The road was quiet and considering that the road was housing area’s lanes and back alleys, cars and other vehicles seldom pass by.
When we were near to the old school, as we climbed the steep road that signifies the last leg of the journey, a car stopped us. The man in the car wanted to know the directions to Federal Highway from there. Rebecca being the most friendly among us became the spokesperson for the group. As she was directing the man, and I still figuring the road map in my head, I noticed Dewi slowly walking backwards. I looked at her questioningly. In my mind I was wondering, in between the road map, what is she doing? Why is she backing off? Rebecca was still talking to the man, giving him directions. I was standing a few steps a way. Suddenly, it all happened so fast… I went frozen for what seemed like ages although it was only minutes. The man grabbed Rebecca’s shirt collar and tried pulling her into the car. Rebecca was struggling and pulling away from him. She started screaming… Dewi sped towards the junction, screaming for help… And I still froze.
For almost one whole minute… I stood frozen in my tracks. When it came to me what was happening, I started screaming for help. Dewi who had ran for help managed to catch the attention of a motorcyclist passing by the junction. Rebecca managed to free away from the man’s grasp. He let her go as he heard the motorcycle coming. He quickly got into his car and drove away. Meanwhile, the motorcyclist tried chasing him but the car got away. The motorcyclist was a dear old Indian man who then accompanied us to our old school. He said luckily he had decided on that road and his presence had somewhat scared the man away. We met our former teacher and told her what had happened. She gave us hugs and said we were lucky we had come together and not alone. But she warned us against talking to strangers, no matter what’s the reason. She also cautioned us about walking lonely roads and passageways. She also told me that it was ok that I had frozen, that was not my fault. She advised us to always be on the alert and to pay attention to our surroundings. Apparently, Dewi had backed away because she had noticed the man’s pants zipper was opened. It was also good that Rebecca had reacted and fought back because it had set the man off, telling him that we are not easy prey.
Later that day, as we tried to put the eventful day away from our thoughts, we found out that another friend was stalked by the same car. Tini had cycled from our secondary school for the sports day at the old school. A car stopped her for directions, but she ignored the man. The man then proceeded to follow her as she cycled off. Tini got scared, as he would not stop following her. When she finally cycled fast into the old school compound, only then he drove away. She was lucky as well considering that she was alone.
The near abduction event of that Saturday in 1997 remained in my mind for a long time. It took me some time before I could let it go. At one point I was scared to look at the last page of my art textbook, because one of the portraits in the book reminded me of the man. Although I was not directly victimized by the man, as Rebecca had, he continued to haunt my thoughts. It was a traumatic experience that left a mark in my life. From that moment onwards, I always remember these few reminders and advice:
When walking on the street,
- Be observant of things and events around you. If someone is following you, go to the nearest store or house.
- Walk near the curb and avoid passing close to bushes, dark doorways and other places of concealment.
- Do not hitchhike.
- Avoid short cuts through parking lots and back lanes
- Walk with a friend or friends if possible. DO NOT WALK ALONE.
- If a car approaches you and you feel threatened, scream and run in the opposite direction of the car.
- Do not jog in secluded areas.
- If you are talking on a mobile phone, be aware of your surroundings. Most times, attackers hit you when you are occupied with something, like when talking on the handphone.
- Fight back or scream or do things to catch attention of others. Unwilling and difficult victims deter an attacker.
- The classic advice: DO NOT TALK TO STRANGERS.
With many cases on sexual offences nowadays, it is necessary for us, girls especially to take more precautions in our daily lives. Do not take things for granted for even what may seem the safest things can be lurking with unexpected dangers. Take note and stay alert. Do not be afraid and be ashamed to share and talk out your experiences. You can help others as well as yourself.
Community Education Officer, FFPAM