Victims of sexual abuse or harassment often have to endure a protracted period of trauma, shame, insecurity, isolation and even, possibly, confusion.
In the case of national diver Pandelela Rinong, it took her a few years before she was able to muster courage to recently call out her former coach who allegedly made lewd jokes to her.
Only Pandelela would know the intensity of pain she suffered for having kept it to herself all this while. She remained silent ever since she was allegedly bullied by her coach after scolding him once for his sick jokes.
It is remarkable that despite enduring such unease, she managed to excel and win awards in many international diving competitions, including the Commonwealth Games, where she was a gold medallist. Hats off to her.
We must be mindful that predators are often persons of authority, such as coaches, teachers, film producers and politicians, who are supposed to take care of their charges and help determine the latter’s future paths. They abuse their power at the expense of those under their care and who looked up to them.
Even worse is when, as in the case of Pandelela and her colleagues, the coach himself allegedly had the backing of higher ups, which is tantamount to encouraging such misconduct.
Seven years later, the coach was said to be involved in a rape case.
That is why it is understandable that Pandelela – and others who suffered a similar fate – took a bit of time before she decided to expose the coach concerned.
It is never too late to call out the predators. Only the insensitive and the clueless would have the cheek to think otherwise.
Indeed, it is not unusual or something sinister about victims of sexual harassment revealing such misconduct at a much later date. What is crucial is that such revelations are intended to curb the torment and subsequently seek justice.
Cases of sexual harassment involving, say, Hollywood celebrities also witness victims who called the predators out many, many years after the incidents had happened. Film producer Harvey Weinstein, for example, was accused of decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault by 87 women. Actor Bill Cosby, formerly deemed as “America’s dad”, was alleged to have mistreated 60 women for a variety of offences, including sexual assault and rape as far back as the 1960s.
Pandelela said that she spoke up against her coach’s lewd jokes because she hoped that it would encourage other victims to do the same.
In a sense, she has tried to be a catalyst or influencer to those who have been left muted out of fear, so that they can have their voices back and seek justice. Her move is also a way of shifting a sense of shame from the victims to the assailants. And by doing so, it could empower the former.
Hopefully, her initiative would have a ripple effect of creating #MeToo moments on other victims along the lines of the global #MeToo movement.
The term “Me Too” was first popularised by American activist Tarana Burke in 2007 to raise public awareness and stand in solidarity with victims of sexual abuse.
It is hoped that those who dragged their feet in passing the much-awaited anti-sexual harassment law would see the folly of the delay.
Pandelela’s initiative should serve as a red flag to those who are concerned about the safety of the vulnerable in our society. – The Malaysian Insight