Let’s keep talking about sexual misconduct
By Clara How and Hoe I Yune, May 02, 2019
This week’s story is about two women, Zoee and Anna, who have personal stories to share about being victims of sexual misconduct.
Continuing the discussion on sexual harassment has been something that we have always wanted to do. We believe we speak for everyone, male and female, when we say that safety is something that should never be compromised. Nobody should feel unsafe, especially when it comes to your privacy and personal space. And to have that safety violated is absolutely something that we should fight against.
Before Monica Baey’s story broke on the Internet, we were contacted by a couple of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students who reached out about DayreStories (for a different topic), and one of them told us, “We don’t feel safe in school.”
This was such a shocking statement, especially said in the context of an educational institution. She went on to describe incidents of voyeurism within the school, and that she could link us up with someone who was a victim of a Peeping Tom. And that was how @clarahow got in contact with Zoee, who agreed to be interviewed over the phone (she’s not currently living in Singapore).
In the process of writing this story, we would soon learn that dealing with the aftermath of sexual misconduct isn’t always as simple as just speaking up or reporting to the authorities.
We would like to thank Zoee and Anna for their courage in sharing their experiences, and for their trust in us to do these stories justice.
This is Zoee’s story of how she was filmed in the shower by a friend.
My name is Zoee. B was a friend from my JC days. We were in the same group of friends and hung out with each other a lot. He was a little socially awkward, but of course, that’s not an indication of anything to be alarmed about. I always thought he was a stand up guy, so we would invite him to hang out with us.
A turning point was during my birthday party, where I invited a group of friends for a staycation in a hotel. One of my friends was in bed and wearing a dress, and she told us that she would wake up to a bright light from his phone under the covers, and he kept trying to lift up the blanket. She felt very uncomfortable, and eventually he went into the toilet and stayed there for a long time. It was very weird, but we didn’t confront him.
At this point we started to stop hanging out with him, and it coincided with a time where he had enrolled into the army and apparently lost his phone.
One day, I received a call from the Singapore Armed Forces, saying that I had been identified as a victim in an inappropriate video found on a phone. I thought it was a prank call, because they didn’t say who the perpetrator was. But when he mentioned the name of a mutual friend who was also a victim, I realised that it couldn’t be fake. I met up with this friend, and we guessed that given his history, it might be B. This was confirmed by SAF.
B was caught because he was trying to film a female officer in the army. The officers did a search on him, and found at least 400 upskirt videos on his phone. They had called me to testify that it was me in the video. He had filmed me in a hotel bathroom, in the room I booked for my birthday party. I had invited a group of my friends for a staycation, which included B.
I remember that night: we had just come back from Zouk and we were drunk. The camera had been hidden behind the shampoo bottles in the bathroom, and the footage caught was of me undressing myself before getting into the shower. Seeing the recording, I had to look away. I couldn’t finish watching it.
The footage he caught of my friend was of her using the toilet - and for awhile I felt guilty that she was in this situation, because I had invited her to my party. Our faces could be seen in both videos.
We wanted to file a civil court case and take things into our own hands, but were told that there was no point, as it would just bounce back to SAF’s jurisdiction because B was still in the army. It wouldn’t fall under a typical civilian court case.
It felt like our hands were tied, so we let it be. We heard from our friends that he was sent into Detention Barracks (DB) for six months, and was eventually let out three months early for good behaviour. It just didn’t seem long enough - I know of people who go into DB for much lighter offences.
After he finished National Service, B was admitted into NTU. To be honest, hearing that news sucked. I didn’t want to bump into him at school or risk having the same classes as him.
My friends and I reached out to his mum, who asked us to forgive him and give him a chance to repent. But I wasn’t convinced. I even considered writing to NTU about his past, and let them know what he did. I battled with this thought for awhile, but in the end I didn’t do anything about it.
A few months later, there was a Straits Times article (published last year) that reported that a pinhole camera was found in one of the toilets on campus. It was found by a cleaner, and the camera was hidden in one of those air freshener sachets. The article also indicated that police were investigating.
I asked around, and heard that despite his family putting him on a strict budget, he still managed to obtain a camera. So I wrote into NTU and the student council, saying that I have a good guess on who the peeping Tom is. They linked me up with the police, and I sent them pictures of B. The police didn’t give me any confirmation, but I heard from a friend who was close to B that it really was him.
The whole incident made me feel really guilty, because I didn’t do anything when I heard that he was enrolled into the school. I did think, should I report what he did to the school? But I didn't because I thought that he might have changed. Before entering NTU he wrote my friend and I a grovelling apology saying that he was sorry, and that he would never do it again. There was the possibility that he would have gotten help and turned over a new leaf.
I consider myself to be woke and am vocal on topics such as #metoo. But it felt completely different when the perpetrator was someone I considered to be my friend. You feel sad and vulnerable at the thought that someone you let into your life would completely betray your trust. It messes with your head. I knew that what I could do would destroy him and his reputation.
It made me think, am I not as much as a feminist as I thought I was? Why am I hesitating so much when put in this situation?
My inaction caused some tension between myself and my friends. They didn’t blame me for what he did, but some friends were upset that I didn’t initially report him. They said things like, you should have said something, I thought you were a feminist. Why are you being so lax when it involves you directly?
But what I have learnt is the importance of raising discourse on such topics instead of shying away from them. Just talking about them can help create a safer environment, because then issues such as sexual harassment and assault don’t feel like taboo topics.
If something that borders on sexual harassment happens to you in the office, you’re not likely to take action if you feel like the work culture doesn’t encourage speaking up. Everyone, including schools, should not be afraid to talk about these topics, and should definitely not be covering them up.
After the police contacted me to ask for more information, I left Singapore for the States. As for the case, investigations are still ongoing, and I can only hope that whatever the outcome, he’s getting counselling, and that there will be no other victims.
Clara: After speaking with Zoee, I had so many questions. Did the university know what he had done previously? How can universities have a more stringent process on screening past perpetrators of sexual misconduct? What kind of support had been offered to these perpetrators, if they did know? And why did Zoee and her friends only hear about this incident through the news, and not directly from the school itself?
The only person who could answer them had to come from the university. So I managed to get hold of a representative in NTU, and communicated the following over email:
- Was the school aware of this student's prior record, and if so, were any steps taken to ensure that he would not commit similar offences?
- Are there screening procedures in place to check for potential students with previous records?
- Is it true that NTU did not disseminate information to the students that a pinhole camera was found in the toilets?
- Are there any security or safety checks in place to prevent such incidents from happening?
- Is the perpetrator still a student with the school?
Upon receiving my email, I got a call from this staff member of NTU. In that call, I reiterated my questions, and gave context to what I was trying to do: to spotlight Zoee’s story as part of an important message about sexual misconduct. While the inappropriate videos of her were not taken in the school, it was only fair that these very important questions were asked, given what subsequently unfolded. This was not meant to be a witch hunt. I was told that they would get back to me with answers.
In the meantime, Zoee was kind enough to reach out to other people who knew B. Unfortunately, they declined to be interviewed. I was hoping for more perspectives on this story, but I also fully understand that not everyone is ready to share their thoughts and experiences so publicly.
I also spoke to both current and previous students from NTU who agreed that more should be done about campus safety.
But there is also one important point to be made: these students told me that they don’t think the problem is specific to one university. This is a problem that is unfortunately bigger than any single institution.
Their words would come back to haunt me when I read Monica’s story for the first time, and when we heard about Anna’s experience in the workplace.
As I was working on Zoee’s story, @i_yune was speaking with Anna. Both Anna and Zoee are different women in different circumstances - one is a student, another a working professional. Both knew their perpetrators, but in different contexts. However, in reading Anna’s story, the similarities are clear.
This is Anna's story in her own words, about how a colleague took upskirt videos of her and other female colleagues in the office.
My name’s Anna. I am 29 and work in finance.
Z was the vice president of another team. I didn’t directly work with him but we’d occasionally cross paths and chat. We sat near each other and occasionally I would go on runs with him and another colleague. He seemed like a nice person.
At work, our interactions became increasingly frequent when he would call me over to his desk to ask for help with stuff on his computer. They’d be simple questions like how to set up a default browser and how to print Excel sheets. I saw no real reason to be suspicious of him. At least not at first.
That went on for about half a year. I didn’t think anything of it until another colleague Gina* mentioned that Z would ask her over pretty often too. It struck us as odd because it didn’t really make sense that he was asking us to perform these simple IT-related tasks.
We were neither on his team nor were we working in IT. Whenever we were preoccupied attending to whatever it was he needed help with on his computer, he would move his seat behind us where we couldn’t see what he was doing. Behind him was the window, so he was pretty much out of everyone’s line of sight.
I casually mentioned his peculiar behaviour to my boyfriend, and I wondered if Z could possibly be taking upskirt photos at work. He didn’t have a sleazy reputation of any sort. It was just a hunch I had after Gina brought up her similar situation.
My boyfriend pointed out that we were making a serious accusation and instead of brushing it off, I should try to get a hold of evidence by catching him in the act. And if it amounted to nothing, we could simply give ourselves peace of mind.
After mulling over it, I decided to work with Gina to try and get proof of Z’s actions. One day, when he asked me over, I was on high alert, wanting to observe what he was really up to. I had one eye on the computer, and another on him. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw him pull out his phone behind me.
I figured that catching him in the act on camera would be solid enough evidence. So the next time he asked another female colleague over, I kept my eye on him from my desk, prepared to record a video with my phone. Time seemed to slow down in those few minutes. I was nervous that he might notice what I was up to, or that someone else might ask me what I was doing. I didn’t want to be exposed before catching him in the act.
It took me a few attempts to get a good angle. Even then it wasn’t 100 per cent obvious, but it was clear enough that he was up to no good.
I was disgusted. I immediately showed the video to Gina and a few other colleagues whom I trusted, and we decided to lodge a report. At first, we called our ethics hotline, but then we realised that it was being routed to the US headquarters. That seemed ineffective, so we went to the HR office. I didn’t feel afraid. It just felt like something that my colleagues and I had to do.
HR advised us to wait for an internal investigation team to commence. They also offered other options such as reporting the incident to the police. In hindsight, that’s what we should have done immediately, because it didn’t feel as if the internal investigation process was carried out properly.
We expected HR to act immediately and ask him to leave, but that didn't happen, even though it was obvious that what he did was inexcusable. HR did not act immediately, and chose to schedule a meeting with him instead. It crossed my mind that given ample time, he might’ve destroyed evidence and that I'd have nothing to back up my case with.
Even though HR is involved in the case, it seemed like there was no real sense of urgency. Personally, it felt like their interest was in making sure that this story didn't leak to the press. There were times when I wasn't certain if their interest was in protecting the welfare of the staff, or containing the story to protect the company’s image.
We wanted quicker action to be taken, so my colleagues and I made a separate police report. Within days, the police found proof of upskirt photos and videos of me and other female colleagues on Z’s phone.
It was emotionally exhausting because you don't just repeat your story once, but over and over again to HR, the police and friends who asked what happened.
The police investigation was also uncomfortable in its own way. It was like I was reliving the nightmare. We were asked if we could identify pictures of ourselves as they showed us countless photos taken without consent. Seeing these photographs and proof of how he had violated our trust, I felt shaken.
More victims were uncovered when we realised that we weren’t the only ones photographed. It turned out that he had been doing this for at least seven years.
Eventually, he resigned.
The whole episode was hard to get over at first because I would be reminded of it whenever I saw his empty seat on the way to my desk. I never found out why I became a target. It was probably just because I sat close enough to him. Although the support from the other victims and colleagues gave me an extra boost of courage, this incident made me realise was that I should look out for myself instead of taking my safety for granted and relying on others.
Now that he’s gone, it’s business as usual in the office. He left so swiftly that I doubt others who weren’t involved knew the real reason behind his departure.
Word on the street is that he joined another financial institution. It’s extremely frustrating knowing that he was able to find another job so easily and so quickly, without anyone knowing of what he has done so they could be cautious around him. It frightens me to think that he might be able to continue doing what he has done for the past years, in another company.
However, I found out that he was asked to leave this second company shortly after joining them too. It turned out that one of the victim’s friends worked for that company and told on him, although I’m not sure exactly how it unfolded.
The investigation has been slow-moving and my colleagues and I weren’t always kept in the loop regarding updates. I had to constantly check in with the police to find out what was going on, and I didn’t always get a response. According to a recent note from the investigation officer, the police have completed their investigation and he is scheduled for a court hearing.
Now it’s up to the prosecution and his defense lawyer to fight it out in court. I was told that it could take up to another 10 months, depending on the experts’ and doctors’ reports. From the sound of it, he’s trying to get away with a lighter sentence by pleading mental illness. It’s frustrating, but what else can I do?
In the meantime, I’d rather just get on with my life while waiting for the sentencing. And I hope that there’s justice in the world.
Clara: By this point, you’ve heard Zoee’s story, Anna’s story, and of course, Monica’s. They are three different women in three different circumstances. But what is common is that they have all had their modesty outraged, and they feel that the institutions they belonged to did not adequately deal with the situation.
What is more striking is that when we look towards legal bodies, institutions or organisations for answers, no one seems to have a consensus on what to do. Who writes the rules in this arbitrary rule book? We want answers, and nobody seems to have a clear idea of what shape or form these answers should be.
Zoee did not feel that SAF meted out the right punishment - when she was kind enough to ask the officer who first contacted her if I could speak with him, we were told that I had to seek permission from MINDEF. Anna felt that her company’s HR was not sufficiently decisive in their actions, and in fact gave him time to possibly remove evidence. The police gave Monica’s perpetrator a conditional warning and directed her to NUS to seek a more severe punishment. And we all know what NUS’ initial response was.
As for NTU’s response, they expressed that they could not comment because the case was an ongoing investigation with the police. The representative also directed us to a previous statement given to the Straits Times for a similar matter of sexual harassment on school campuses (link below in postscript).
As we had reached out before NUS started to review their policies, we contacted NTU once again last week to ask if they would like to revise their statement, in the wake of what is happening. As of publication, we did not receive a reply. However it’s fair to note that the university has been making changes with its zero tolerance policy to sexual harassment, according to recent news reports.
In writing this story, I was frustrated. I wanted to do more, to talk to more people, to uncover more, but I met with dead ends and answers that were far from definitive. At the end of the day, the true circumstances of what sexual misconduct victims have to go through only come to light because of the people who are brave enough to share their story. It is because of them that important policy reviews are now starting to happen.
The question of safety and just punishment isn’t for one institution to answer. In writing this story, and sharing Zoee’s and Anna’s experiences, we want to send this message: that sexual misconduct is indefensible, and we should be talking more about it.
Speak with your friends and family. Share your opinions. Find support. And in continuing this discourse, change can happen. It’s already happening. So let’s keep up the momentum, and keep talking.
Zoee and Anna are the interviewee’s real names. Zoee and Anna have both read the final drafts of this story and stand by their words.
*Gina is a pseudonym of Anna’s colleague.
The identities of the perpetrators are deliberately withheld as the victims involved are seeking civil court cases against them.
For Zoee’s story, NTU’s statement in full can be read here: http://bit.ly/statementntu
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