Not being a silent victim of molestation

Initially unsure if I should make a police report, I am glad I did and am taken aback by how seriously the police treated the incident

I was a victim of molestation.

And I had no idea what I should have done in the situation. In fact, I was ready to dismiss the incident and not even make a police report.

It was the end of a 15-hour work day. Exhausted, I decided I would walk home to get some exercise after being stuck at my desk the entire day.

The route from the office to my home is a familiar one. One I had walked many times. It is well-lit and runs along major roads, so I had always felt safe walking alone, even late at night. With earbuds plugged into my phone's playlist, I strolled along.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp shove from behind me and a hand grabbing and squeezing my bottom. Before I could turn back, a young man had already overtaken me. He stopped several metres ahead of me and looked at me tauntingly.

Fear struck me and I froze. I did not know what he would do next. I glared back at him, contemplating my next move.

Then I broke the silence - I shouted and ran towards him.

In hindsight, I had no idea what I would have done had I caught up with him. I would not have been able to grab him and he could have easily overpowered me.

The area was deserted, despite the cars on the busy road next to it.

He moved farther ahead, eyes still fixed on me. Then he sped up and disappeared into some blocks of flats.

I did not know what to do next.

I was fuming mad, disgusted and indignant, feeling the "outrage" in the outrage of modesty.

To me, Singapore is a safe place. It has never occurred to me that it was dangerous to walk home alone.

When I related the incident to friends, the common reaction was: "Why would you walk alone at that time of the day?"

"But the route has plenty of street lamps and is along main roads," I reasoned. "It's not like I am walking down some small, secluded, dark lane to get home. In any case, molestation can happen in broad daylight too."

Again, in hindsight, I now recall the many posters on molestation I have seen in lifts and at MRT stations recently. I think they illustrate what the victim should do under such circumstances. I wished I had paid more attention to them.

Instead of calling the police right away that night, I texted a friend whom I knew would still be awake.

"Should I make a police report?"

"Yes."

"But it may take hours and I won't be able to get any sleep."

Judging by how brazen he was, this was probably not the first nor the last time he would molest someone. I knew I should go to the police. But I had had an exhausting day and was tempted to ignore the incident, go home and hit the sack.

Statistics on the Singapore Police Force website show an uptrend in outrage of modesty cases. There were 717 cases in the first half of this year - this means there were about four cases every day - and the number is an almost 10 per cent increase from the 655 cases in the same period last year.

I won't be surprised, though, that many more cases go unreported, as it is easy to make light of it ("just groping, no real harm done"; "it's too troublesome to make a police report").

JUST DIAL 999

Sometimes, anger can be a good thing. That night, it drove me to a nearby police post. But by that time, an hour had passed since the incident.

"Why didn't you call 999 on the spot?" a policewoman asked.

"Well, I thought 999 was for serious crimes," I replied.

"But ma'am, outrage of modesty IS serious," she responded. She went on to explain that a message could have been broadcast to patrolling cars immediately if I had called and given a description of the culprit, and the chances of apprehending him would have been much higher.

I don't know why I expected otherwise, but I was a little surprised that the police were taking the groping so seriously. Perhaps because I myself, the victim, was all too ready to dismiss the incident.

I admitted to them that I had contemplated not making a report. I was swiftly assured I did the right thing going to them.

An investigating officer was dispatched to interview me in detail. What was he wearing? Was he clean shaven? How old? His hair? Tattoos?

The officer even suggested I give my clothes to the police for a DNA test - if the man had committed an offence before, there could be a match in the police database.

Isn't DNA-testing for far more serious crimes such as murders? I hesitated - would they cut up my clothes? No, he said, but they would likely have to put chemicals on the outfit to extract the DNA (and that may ruin it).

We then made our way to the "crime scene" in his car. We walked through the area. I showed him where it took place. He snapped photos and noted where the culprit was last seen.

I got home in the wee hours of the morning. I had spent about three hours making the police report, but I felt good about it.

I am glad I went to the police.

Instead of being a silent victim, I had done something about the violation. I am also thankful that the police took the incident so seriously.

I am indeed fortunate to be living in Singapore. Would I have been treated the same way in another country?

A friend who lives in India said if this had happened there, a woman would probably never even think about going to the police to report such a "small matter".

Well, this was no small matter here. The investigating officer even gave parting advice on what I should do if I met the culprit again: Call 999 immediately, tell them you had reported an OM (outrage of modesty) case before and give a description of the guy. Oh, and it would be better not to chase after him - "you wouldn't know what he would do when cornered".

Since my encounter with the pervert, I have come to realise that anyone, young or old, can be a victim. I no longer feel safe jogging alone at night. I now drag my teenage son along, no matter how reluctant he is ("Better than sitting in front of the computer screen," I chide).

And I no longer plug into music on my jogs so that I am more aware of my surroundings - I could have heard the attacker coming from behind me that night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Not being a silent victim of molest'. Print Edition | Subscribe