Teased, touched and assaulted: foreign women facing harassment

Walking down a crowded street two weeks ago in the Maldives capital of Male’, Lisa*, 25, had one of the most horrific experiences of her life.

Teased, touched and assaulted by two young men on the street, the Australian foreign worker was left deeply upset and stunned over the harassment that occurred in broad daylight.

“I was walking near the swim track when these two boys in their 20s came behind me and grabbed my ass. I screamed and they walked away. I kept walking forward and then suddenly saw the two boys approaching me again. I was really scared because I did not know what they were going to do next,” Lisa recalled.

“They came back, surrounded me and started to pass comments at me. They touched me inappropriately, grabbed me and one of them slapped me,” she continued. It lasted for about 20 seconds I think. I took my phone and warned them I was calling the police. Then they grabbed me once more and just ran off.”

She had travelled from Australia to work in the Maldives just a few months before the incident, and had not expected to face harassment or attack, she said.

In the last few weeks foreign women from diverse nationalities working in Maldives have come forward and told Minivan News about various attacks, ranging from verbal abuse to physical and sometimes sexual assaults.

Clarice*, a 23-year-old French woman, was teased and stalked on the street while she was walking home on March 1.

“I was walking past the artificial beach around 12:30pm in the afternoon. A group of four local boys, maybe in their 20s, started following me. They passed comments like ‘you are my angel’ and one of them grabbed my arm and said ‘oh your skin is so beautiful’. I really did not understand what they wanted and I was really scared because they kept following me,” Clarice explained.

“Because they were following me I went back to the office, instead of going home. I live alone so I was did not want them to find out where I live,” she added.

Clarice decided not to inform police because it was mostly verbal abuse, she said.

Unsafe at home

Meanwhile, several other women interviewed exclaimed that the “threats have extended from streets to homes”.

Katie*, a 34-year old American who has worked in Male’ for almost a year, said she thought she had figured out the Maldives, its culture and its people. Respecting the Muslim background, she said she was sensitive to societal rules, dressed modestly and until recently, thought of Maldives as a safe place.

What changed her impression was a horrific incident last month which a local man sexually assaulted her while she she was unlocking the door of her apartment.

“It was early morning around 4:00am. I was unlocking the door to my house when I felt someone grab my neck from behind. At first I thought it was my friends who had left just seconds ago. But the grip was very firm so I turned around and saw a man wearing white shirt and pants. I screamed at the top of my voice,” Katie recalled.

“He grabbed my breasts, ripped the t-shirt I was wearing. I tried to hit him with my hands, screamed and tried to escape. At that time the door was unlocked and he had pushed me inside. I managed to hit his groin with my feet. That’s when he let go of me and ran out. I tried to follow him but he fled on a motorbike too quickly,” she said. “I was so distraught, I could not even call the police.”

Neighbors who heard her screams called the police. Around five to six officers arrived on the scene with a forensic team.

Disappointed with police

However, according to Katie, the police did not take her statement until three weeks later and then got the details of the attack completely wrong.

“The police had stated my necklace was stolen. It broke off during the attack, I still have it. The attacker must have known the necklace I was wearing was not gold because it was made of multi-colored beads,” Katie pointed out.

She added that she had later found out from CCTV camera owners nearby her house that the police had not requested the footage or interviewed neighbors for clues. Frustrated over the lack of police assistance, she called the US embassy. “I don’t think they would have even taken the statement if the American Embassy had not called them,” Katie claimed.

Lucy, a 36 Irish woman, also talked to Minivan New about an attack, and a disappointing experience with the police, following a robbery and sexual assault she encountered last year.

She was attacked while walking up the flat’s staircase with two other female friends around midnight.

“The apartment was on the sixth floor and I was walking upstairs to my friends apartment. They were couple of steps ahead of me and I was walking up when, suddenly, a man came behind me and grabbed my breasts and tried to pull my clothes,” Lucy recollected.

“I go to the gym and I lift weights. But I couldn’t get him off. He was quite a large and it seemed he was under the influence of something. I hit him with my bag several times. He did not attempt to grab it and run. I think his intention was to pull off my clothes. By then my friends had heard the screams and came running downstairs. That’s when he released me and ran off,” she added.

Lucy however noted that the attack had not affected her as much as when she was robbed just weeks before the attack, and found the robbery to be the “worst ordeal”.

“My laptops and phone was stolen from my apartment. That was the worst ordeal because somebody broke into my room while I was sleeping,” she observed.

Thanks to her strong personality, Lucy said she managed to get over both attacks and visit Maldives again this year. However, she echoed others’ grievances over the lack of support from police.

“When police came to the flat the only response I got from them was ‘this never happens’. They did not take my statement or follow up on me. I don’t think the case was investigated,” she claimed.

Lisa, who earlier spoke to Minivan News, also complained over the lack of police professionalism after she reported the harassment on the street and added that it seemed “police did not the case seriously”.

Police Spokesperson Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef responded that police investigate all the complaints and officers who investigate foreigners cases are skilled and capable in communicating in English: “But we do face difficulties in communicating with Bangladeshi expatriates,” he said.

He noted that it was difficult to state whether harassment of foreign women was on the rise, but confirmed that such cases had been reported.

Haneef also urged women to report such attacks, assuring that complete investigations would be conducted.

Lisa, Clarice, Katie and Lucy say they are awaiting justice and for a day they can walk the streets without being teased, touched or assaulted. A day when they don’t have to be extra cautious on streets, scan around for possible stalkers or triple check their locks.

In the meantime all they ask from the local community is “not to assume we provoked the attacks and step in to help a woman being harassed”.

*Names changed


Traders employees de-litter jetties 6, 7 for World Tourism Day

Traders Hotel Male’ employees welcomed World Tourism Day by cleaning jetties six and seven and surrounding areas last Tuesday, September 22.

The fifty employees who participated used brooms, gloves and bags to accomplish their mission. The team collected ten bags of litter from the streets and marine areas.

Traders Hotel said the activity “aimed to increase the awareness of the employees and local community about the importance of protecting the environment for a better quality of life. It also reinforced the hotel commitment to serve as a good steward of the environment.”


Comment: Take back the streets! Bring back the bike!

I am not exactly sure who’s idea it was or how it came to be, but in what a lot of environmentalists consider a great move the government has decided to arm the police (and yes, I said ‘arm’) with bicycles!

As with many great ideas, this particular idea is being ridiculed as wasteful and derogatory to the police. One comment by ‘rini’ on the Minivan News article even claimed it was it a demotion equivalent to that of being lowered to the level of “rubbish collecting bangaalhis”.

For now, I’ll leave the analysis on the apparent xenophobia aside and talk about why bicycles are considered the lowest of the low in the streets.

Let’s have a look at the Minivan article comments once more.

Salim Waheed and Muad MZ for once seem to agree on something and most of the Minivan News commenting community seems to applaud the idea with ‘happy faces’ and all.

Apart from one very practical comment by Knox who asks whether or not this heat will ever make this idea do-able there is another very relevant issue raised by Hassan-Raha who asks: “Salim, when is your Dad and President going to show that we can be a carbon neutral country, give up the car and start pedalling or walking?’

This, for me, was the most relevant of all the comments. Street safety is a class issue in Maldives. The rich men and women and their children either own cars or scooters and/or take taxis. The very rich do not even have to resort to taking taxis – riding bikes and walking is for the poor and ‘rubbish collecting bangaalhis’.

No wonder both this and the previous government have not made any effort to make Male a walk-able city.

Even after the change in government, parking lots seem to have taken priority over pedestrian pavements, and even in narrow goalhis and the few proper pavements we do have do not have easy access for the disabled or the baby prams that walking mothers usually push around.

Meanwhile, all ministers, top army officers and their families are provided with government funded cars and petrol.

No ‘self respecting woman’ will walk anywhere and if you ask why you’ll get the usual myriad complaints about the heat. However this heat will not affect any of these women while walking around Orchard Road on their annual shopping trips, aka trips to the hospital.

So, we have to ask ourselves, is it really the heat that is stopping us from walking around our God-given two square kilometres or is it the fact that every single time you walk somewhere you risk being

  1. Hit by a scooter or a car and killed
  2. Hit on by various Romeo’s who comment on the size of your rear end
  3. Physically molested by persons reaching to grab your privates, pinching your breasts etc
  4. Spat on by those of us who consider spitting on the streets an endurance sport
  5. Told off by a superior being that your are not covered up well enough (by the way, covered up women are not free from harassment)

Walking in Male is a health and safety hazard, especially for women. The reason why I was so encouraged to see the police riding bicycles is my strong belief that unless policy makers and those who are in power face the issues that your average cyclist or walker faces, these problems will never be addressed.

If the Minister of Transport or the head of Male Municipality has a state funded car he/she will always plan the streets in a car-friendly manner, as can be seen from the narrow pavements and the ubiquitous traffic lights that make no sense to most pedestrians. If the Transport minister and the head of Male municipality cycles to work, surely they will come up with better ideas to make Male safer and similar to somewhere like Villi-Male.

The number of traffic-related deaths in the country is unacceptable and we still do not consider these crazy scooters as the death traps that they are. I call upon this administration to consider making most goalhi’s bike and pedestrian only, and remove the parking spaces that leave a narrow two feet walking space where pedestrians are constantly hit by zooming motor cycles.

The solution for making streets safer for women and children both from sexual and physical violence has to be holistic and has to encompass all aspects of peoples lifestyles. It cannot be a ghettoed approach targeting at women only.

Making streets safer for everyone in the community, including the ‘garbage carrying bangalhis’ is the way forward.

Republished with permission http://rehendhi.wordpress.com. All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]