"These are the kinds of things that are very hard to clarify"
In terms of all the stories that have been shared online and offline, my story isn't serious and I wouldn't call it sexual assault. It was just shady, and I want to share it so that other women/younger girls will be more savvy than I was. I am Singaporean based overseas but have been a freelance contributor to local newspapers for a few years, and have worked with the various editor(s) over email over a long period of time.
In 2016, when I was back in Singapore, the Male Editor requested a meet-up. Previously, I had met with his predecessor, a smart, female editor and we had had an interesting conversation, and she had told me that in all her years as editor she always liked to meet up with contributors to their paper and they would talk about Singapore, current affairs, etc. I like these sorts of conversations too so I agreed to the new, Male Editor's request to meet-up.
He wanted to pick me up at my house, but I didn't feel comfortable with that so I suggested meeting straight at a hawker center. He said okay. All this was through text message. As it was damn hot that day, we were going to be at a hawker centre and I had to take public transport, I wore a sleeveless shirt and shorts and had with me a backpack of books because I was going to do work at the library later.
However, while I was in the MRT station waiting for my train, Male Editor called me on my phone and said due to an emergency he couldn't go to the hawker centre and asked me where I was and told me, since I was already in the MRT station, to alight at ABC MRT station and he will pick me up from the taxi stand at the MRT exit. I said okay, didn't think much and just followed his instructions.
I saw his car at the taxi stand at the MRT exit and went in and once I sat down the dynamics was just weird and I regretted it. He gave me an elevator look (up and down) and just smiled and looked at me for awhile and said hi, so you are ____ . It was the first time we had seen each other in real life even though we had emailed extensively (edits of my articles) and also talked on the phone (strictly work, regarding edits; I was trying to push the limits of what I could say in my pieces) when I was overseas. The way he looked at me made me feel gross and I regretted not wearing jeans and long-sleeves. I felt stupid for not insisting on meeting straight at the location. I also suddenly realized the power dynamics changed cos he was behind the wheel and I was in his car.
Anyway I pretended everything was normal and I asked him what the emergency was. He said he had to go and water the plants at his brother's house and drove off to some landed property area which was very ulu and I didn't know the small roads and he parked and he invited me into his brother's house. His brother's family was away on holiday with their kid or something so they weren't home.
I refused to go into the house but he kept insisting. I still refused -- like wth this is my first time meeting you, I don't even know your brother, won't your brother have an issue with this, but no wth I'm not going into the house!! I went stubbornly to stand under a tree opposite his brother's house. He laughed and said like I was being very stubborn -- like I was the one behaving unreasonably-- and he went into his brother's house and popped out on the second level balcony and started watering the plants and shouting out to me like, are you sure you don't want to come into the house?
I stood in the shade of the tree and just ignored him, wondering if I should just walk away but I didn't know where I was. I had my phone and I could have called a cab, or I could have walked and this is Singapore at some point I will come upon some bus-stop or MRT station. But I had an article that was pending his review before publication. Furthermore, there are only so many English-language newspapers in Singapore, was it worth it to burn this bridge? It's not like he's assaulting me or touched me, he's just being really shady.
So I just resolved to make the best of a bad situation. After he finished watering his brother's plants, he drove to some restaurant and over the conversation he kept asking questions like if I had a boyfriend, did I intend to be single but I responded with very point-blank specific questions about the journalism scene in Singapore and what are the kinds of institutional constraints they face, how do things work, what are the reputations of certain individuals/editors/important people in the local journalism scene, what are the pressures in trying to be balanced in covering politics in SG etc. He actually answered quite a lot of these questions so I learned quite a bit. I also spoke in an increasingly more chor-lor manner, like a guy, so as to change the atmosphere and to make the dynamics more guy-guy/bro.
And ultimately, the lunch conversation overall went okay. He paid for lunch. He was very shady at the start, but I'm glad that at the end it went okay and I learned something new about how media works in Singapore. At the end he asked if he could drop me off somewhere and I said at the library and he did and I thanked him. Overall, he's not an evil guy, just a normal guy and quite frankly I can see some of my male peers from school do this sort of thing---maybe, I don't know.
But in the days after that I told my sisters and friends about this and a part of me still feels angry about it, an anger tinged with regret. As I said at the start, this is not a case of sexual assault. But I do think it was a shady situation that could have been avoided if I had been on my guard and insisted on meeting straight at the hawker centre, or just suggested to cancel the meet-up since he had an "emergency".
After this incident, my article was published with edits that I never agreed to and we had a strange sort-of falling out. It is not clear if these incidents had a relation -- on my part, I know that I had strong, increasingly negative feelings towards him after the lunch because I kept feeling regret for even getting myself into such a situation, for getting into his car, even though nothing 'bad' happened. So my anger amplified my negative reaction to those edits that were made without my knowledge --- I wrote a public piece on social media about how my article was "censored" that was picked up by some local blogs. So in the end, I did burn this bridge.
These are the kinds of things that are very hard to clarify, he-say she-says, and the only practical way out of these things, in the short term at least it seems to me, is for women to become smarter and less trusting. I feel for all victims of sexual assault -- if I could feel so shitty and angry over my trivial, and probably very common, experience, which doesn't even constitute assault, it must feel so much more horrible for victims of actual sexual assault.
I've told this story to other friends recently, some in local journalism, especially after the recent Mediacorp incident where a female employee raised issues of sexism. However, I was advised not to raise this issue -- because who could I raise this issue to? Plus the female employee received a lot of backlash, and she at least had proof, I had nothing but my words. Plus I'm not a formal employee of any of the local journalism companies. It was not a case of sexual assault. It was nothing illegal. I already know some of my guy friends will think I'm being too sensitive, I should be more "chill". But now there's this blog. And I feel strongly that it was inappropriate, and avoidable -- at the very least, by me, if only I had been smarter and sharper. So I decided to share this anonymously. Thanks for setting up this blog!