Just Saying

When a night walk turned into a nightmare

Why do women have to spend time and energy dodging people and places to avoid 'asking for trouble' from sexual harassers? Women also literally pay to get safely from one place to another. This was something which hit home when a creep would not stop following the writer.

I wish it were a walk in the park.

I wish men can sweetly flirt with their crushes without feeling the need for legal permission slips in their hands, and women thinking about having baseball bats in theirs.

I wish to write calmly about sexual harassment, but how do you do that? Actually, why be calm about something so outrageous? It should be abnormal that harassment quietly gets normalised - like, lighten up, lah, it's just a catcall here, a car honk there, an arm around everywhere.

Not calm

I went for a walk in a park, and it turned out to be anything but that.

I want to write calmly about that night, so I can appear and even feel as if I am in control.

I want to say that in the following social media post, this is already the calmer version of what happened: "the creep came up to my face in a park and harassed me with sick sucking noises then followed me for probably a kilometre no matter how i zigzagged to get rid of him including starting to cross a road then turning back when the creep crossed too following me on the opposite side of the road and appearing behind me to harass me again after i emerged from hiding in a petrol station #%^& may a pontianak ghoul cling to the creep's back and follow him straight to hell"

A doodle by the writer about a man who harassed her in a park, then kept following her no matter how she zigzagged to get rid of him. She later had to take a cab to get home safely.
A doodle by the writer about a man who harassed her in a park, then kept following her no matter how she zigzagged to get rid of him. She later had to take a cab to get home safely. PHOTO: COURTESY OF DENISE CHONG

If you are breathless after reading that monstrosity of a sentence, it is because I was breathless during that kilometre-long low-speed chase. That night, my thoughts and I hurried on without punctuation or pause.

Calm

Slow down, the creep's words were just words. Sticks and stones, etc.

So what if you were afraid that if you twisted an ankle and couldn't get away, he might grab you. So what if you ended up crying by the roadside because you finally felt safer standing behind cabby uncles taking a break nearby.

You're being a big baby.

Right. I blew my nose, had tea, kept calm and carried on.

Then that horrific Weinstein story came up, and it kept coming and coming, splashed all over newspapers and social media walls.

The dam burst with a New York Times story last month about movie boss Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of sexual harassment. He has since been accused of raping multiple women and is now being investigated by different police agencies, reported NPR.

Sexual harassment allegations about other people and from other places started flooding in. As sex scandals hit Britain's government figures, politicians such as defence secretary Michael Fallon resigned. From Hollywood to Holyrood (Parliament in Scotland), women and men said #MeToo, they were victims as well.

Not calm

Out swung my metaphorical baseball bat. I vented some thoughts that were less than calm and more than provocative:

"Go on, trolls and self-anointed guardians of proper conduct, bang on your keyboard about women's 'asking-for-it' behaviour, like drinking at a club, and wearing clothes with hemlines perilously close to necklines. Harangue us on the ways women should behave.

PUBLIC PLACES, PRIVATE PARTS

Tell us, should women avoid:

• Trains and buses? Comparing the first nine months of this year and the same period last year, public transport molestation cases jumped 49 per cent, according to a report in The Straits Times.

• Offices? Someone told me recently over a bowl of Teochew porridge about her colleague openly watching porn in the office. When she went to talk to him about something, he - such a gentleman - paused the clip, so the porn star's private parts were frozen on his computer screen in all their biological glory.

PEOPLE

Tell us, should women avoid:

• Business associates? Government officials? Weinstein, Westminster… Enough said.

• Boyfriends and husbands? Global estimates published by World Health Organisation indicate that about one in three women has experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in her lifetime. It said most of this violence is intimate partner violence.

CLOTHES

Tell us, should women avoid:

• Guy-style separates? I was dressed like a 12-year-old in a T-shirt, PE-style shorts and slippers when the park creep came after me. But even if someone was dressed like a 21-year-old stripper, no one should sexually assault her.

Why do women have to bend over backwards to avoid appalling rape-y behaviour?"

Calm (sort of)

Let's lower that baseball bat.

Talk dollars and cents. Perhaps the topic of money can calm and focus the mind.

It is likely that women literally pay for their personal safety.

In almost every country in the world, women walk disproportionately fewer steps each day than men, according to a recent Stanford study which analysed the smartphone data of 717,527 people worldwide over 68 million days of activity. The Guardian said last month that it heard from people all over the world saying the same thing: It is down to personal safety, not laziness.

The newspaper reported that resident Hannah Geyer of Washington, DC, had all but given up her walk through a park to and from the venue where she performs in a show because the men who loiter in the park frightened her.

She said: "They would get really, really, really close to me... physically putting their bodies into my path or getting into my bubble when I don't answer, or look irritated at them."

She switched to taking ride-share cars, paying US$5 (S$6.80) to US$10 each time.

The Guardian wrote: "Feeling forced to use transport instead of walking makes safety a privilege, according to Stop Street Harassment founder Holly Kearl. Women can only choose not to walk if they have the financial means to access transport - which means for teenage girls in particular, cost can be a barrier to safety."

Said Ms Kearl to the newspaper: "We know so many women feel they have to take public transit, or pay for a taxi, or drive and pay for parking wherever they're going. There are definitely ways in which women are paying to stay safe."

This report resonated with my experience with the creep. I like walking. But that park creep incident forced me to fork out money for a cab to get home safely.

How much have you spent recently to feel safe? Do you want your money back?

I want my $6.45 cab fare back, creep.

Not calm at all

I was furious that I could not walk home that night. People were very kind to advise me to stop taking walks, but I deserve to be out and about whenever I want to. Creeps are the ones who should be made to pay to be in vans with bars on the windows and to head straight to jail.

That's why, the next night, I took my walk even though my nerves were shredded. It was worth it to take back the night even though when I got home, I ugly-cried again.

Women have got to reoccupy public spaces and the so-called dangerous times of the night because they absolutely deserve to walk the face of the earth as much as men. We have to learn how to work and play - and flirt - nicely together.

Meanwhile, I should be able to wear whatever shorts I want, walk in whatever park I want to go to, swinging my (maybe metaphorical) baseball bat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 12, 2017, with the headline 'When a night walk turned into a nightmare'. Print Edition | Subscribe