If you’re old enough, you probably remember the first time you went out on your own. Whether it was heading to the nearby tuition center or grabbing some roti canai from the mamak, a twinge of fear always lingered in me. People would say, “It’s so safe,” “Nothing will happen.” Despite these reassurances, none prepared me for an indecent exposure encounter.
Last year, on my way to meet some friends at the nearby shopping mall, I noticed a suspicious-looking man near the entrance. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention, but soon I realized he, less than two meters away, was exposing himself in front of me and another girl passing by.
Full of shock, I quickly turned toward the other entrance, my heart racing in fear. Heading to the restroom, tears streamed down my face. I kept silent about it for the rest of the day, and didn’t tell my friends. I felt ashamed, guilty and violated.
Coping with Emotions, Seeking Answers
Once home, I did what I guess every teen does: typed out my feelings on the internet, hoping to find answers that validated the emotions I felt. My searches were along these lines: “What to do when subjected to indecent exposure?” and “Is indecent exposure considered sexual assault or harassment?”
I discovered that indecent exposure is indeed against the law. I read an article on AWAM that described Penal Code Section 509. This law involves punishment, including imprisonment for up to five years, a fine, or both, for anyone attempting to insult a person’s modesty through spoken or gestural actions.
This article reinforced my emotions, yet the guilt lingered. Witnessing such a disgusting incident felt wrong. I was upset with myself, thinking I should have gone to the nearby pondok polis, just a few steps away, to file a report. Which kept me thinking, “What if there was a young child who witnessed it too?”
Turning Pain into Power
A few weeks later, during a sex education talk at school, I shared my story for the first time during a peer discussion. I found the courage to share about what I had learned — that acts like indecent exposure are not only wrong but also illegal. Sharing this information made me feel really brave.
This experience motivated me to share it with those around me. I began advocating for a better understanding of safety from violence for young people in my community. Know that if you’ve experienced indecent exposure or any other forms of sexual harassment, your emotions and frustrations are valid. It’s crucial to reach out for help from trusted adults who can guide you. These types of encounters should never be kept a secret.
While I wish I hadn’t been flashed, turning this sexual harassment experience into one of empowerment brings me some peace. I encourage all young people to do the same — don’t let bad experiences define you. You are strong!
As we stand together this #16days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, check out these Malaysian NGOs below for resources if you or someone you know is experiencing sexual harassment in any form:
Let’s break the silence, support one another, and together, stand against indecent exposure and all forms of sexual harassment. You are not alone; your voice matters, and our collective strength can inspire change.