Can you imagine living day to day in a life where it feels like it’s no longer your own? Where going to pick up milk from the store down the road or sitting down for a meal at a cute cafe has the potential to turn into a fight or flight situation at any given moment? Imagine a life where adrenaline runs through your veins 24/7, a life where you’re constantly on high alert – all because one person decides it’s okay to watch, follow and force themselves into your life when you’ve clearly said “no”.
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That’s what life has been like former Miss Universe Malaysia, Sabrina Beneett. The 2014 winner of the coveted crown has been plagued with fear and anxiety for over four years as a result of constant harassment and stalking. Now, the 31-year-old Psychology and Communication major has decided that enough is enough and is taking matters into her own hands. Her story is not dissimilar to that of a third of Malaysians – women (39%) and men (32%) -, who have been found to have experienced the fear, trauma and dangers of being stalked. This is her story, why she wants you to know that there is hope and that there are ways to get help:
“The harasser is not a complete stranger.”
This was someone who used to date a girl that studied with me. We never interacted until, one night in 2013, when I won one of the titles in a local pageant. He was there with said girl. He came up to me, shook my hand, congratulated me, and told me that he had been rooting for me. Then, he added me on Facebook and I accepted out of courtesy. He eventually asked me out for coffee, which I politely declined.
“Several messages turned into hundreds of messages a day.”
He became incredibly persistent and started professing words of love, of how he is the only man I should ever consider being with as there was no one else better for me than him. I became sterner in saying no and blocked him on social media. He began creating fake accounts, resharing all the pictures I had posted on my social media with the idea that they were coded messages to him in his mind.
“What was once an annoyance soon turned into harassment and later, it morphed into an ugly obsession.”
He began stalking me. He would name the places he’d seen me at, who I was with and what I was wearing. He was happy to let me know that he was always watching. On one once such instance, I was having lunch at with a friend. Despite having been intimidated into being cautious with my social media postings (what with him constantly on the watch), I had posted an Instagram story of the cafe’s decor. When my friend arrived, we made an impromptu decision to switch locations. Without warning, he appeared in front of us at the second location, begging for us to befriend him. He told us that he had a rough idea of where I was based on the decor of the cafe, and assuming that I was alone, he’d rushed there for an opportunity to speak to me. Seeing me with my friend, he waited for us to leave the cafe and followed us to the second location before deciding to make an appearance. While we insisted his presence was not at all welcomed and asked him to leave, he stayed on, begging until other customers at the restaurant started to notice that something was wrong. Eventually, he got uncomfortable and left.
“I made my second police report and was told that nothing could be done as he had not committed any form of physical assault or harm onto my person.”
It was a vicious cycle with him. I would ignore him and this would frustrate him; prompting him to launch attacks on me on social media using fake profiles with lewd insults and aggressive language. Once his anger passed, he would apologize for losing his temper and baselessly blame me for triggering it – despite there not being any form of contact between us.
Then he’d go silent – before coming back with professions of love, promises to be better, winding himself up after being ignored, lashing out at me with anger and resentment before apologising for acting out, passing on the blame to me and again, silence, before repeating all of the above.
“Almost everyone I spoke to told me to brush it off, that he would eventually tire out. So I bit my tongue – but he never stopped – and it’s been over four years.”
Initially, I reached out to a mutual friend, to understand if he was dangerous and was led to connect with his parents to seek their assistance. They apologised for his behaviour and asked me to ignore it. As he progressively became more aggressive, I made 3 separate police reports against him over the years. Each time, the authorities would tell me no laws were being violated by the perpetrator as there was no physical harm inflicted. All they could do was to call the accused in for a statement and let him go.
“Some have laughed it off and asked me why I did not consider taking up his offer, every comment more revolting than the one before.”
The stalker claims his motive is to win me over but I do not comprehend how nor believe this. Underneath his pleas – to be accepted and loved, begging to be noticed, the sudden aggression, insults, threats, and confusing information about his daily activities – is a person that is willing to cross any and all boundaries for someone to hear him out. This person is completely oblivious of the consequences of his actions.
“An important question here is: what if my theories are diluted and the real motives of the harasser are more sinister?”
Throughout the years, he has threatened to destroy me and my family. He’s reached out to my sisters, circle of close girlfriends, friends, colleagues and acquaintances on Facebook and Instagram with made-up stories of how I’d “given him hope” and “cheated him”, and am thus “deserving of punishment”. When he reaches out to them, he not only tries to create false stories about me but also insults them for their religious beliefs and threatens to ruin their business and/or damage their reputations if they don’t help him. He’s been the cause of friendships ending (he tormented a friend by calling into his workplace to say he’d burn down the premises and left ill commentary on their business page).
“All this – even going as far as to threaten to splash acid on my face – because he believes I ‘deserve’ it for rejecting him.”
I ended up moving, if only to be able to sleep peacefully at night. While I would like to believe that I have kept it well under wraps by distancing myself from the situation, but I would be lying if I said it has not affected me deeply on a mental, physical, and emotional level. I have almost completely stopped being active on social media or frequenting the places I am used to so as to avoid feeling like I am followed. It is now second nature to scan my surroundings before deciding to go anywhere freely. Every possible effort I have made thus far in protecting myself from this predator has led me to a dead end. I feel incredibly angered, helpless, disappointed, and fed up with how difficult it has been to find justice for the pain and trauma I have suffered. I’ve also approached the relevant authorities dealing with cybercrime and still, there is nothing that can be or has been done.
“It is not right that our laws do not do enough to protect our women from harassers, stalkers, cyberbullies, and predators.”
Having lived in fear and growing tired of constantly being taken lightly, I reached out to several lawyers for legal advice. The feedback I received was not promising: some told me that the legal process would be slow, expensive, arduous and may not provide me with a solution to my problem, and with cases of harassment and any types of abuse: there is the added fear of the potential of the predator lasting out and taking revenge on the victim for having tried to subdue them in the first place.
“But… I have been victimized for far too long.”
I cannot be the only woman in this country who has been disadvantaged by our system. I aim to use my voice to raise awareness and catalyse real change on this matter. As a survivor of multiple life traumas, as a public figure and as a woman, if I do not take a stand for myself and seek the justice I deserve, who will?
“Do not tolerate cyberbullying, harassment, abuse, or any ill-behaviour towards you despite how disadvantaged you may feel. Help exists, and there is hope to break free from your situation, but you must take the first step to tell your story and seek help.”
In a recent study by research company Vase.ai and the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), almost half of Malaysians (46%) who experienced acts associated with stalking suffered a negative impact on their daily life. 18% of respondents who experienced an act associated with stalking said they were unable to focus in their employment place while 17% could not or didn’t feel safe being alone in public. 69% of respondents who experienced an act of stalking did not report it to the police because 45% of them did not believe the police could or would help.
Abuse and harassment are not to be taken lightly. Speak to someone you trust if you are going through emotional, psychological or physical abuse/harassment. You can also call the following organisations (no matter if you are a man or woman) for help:
1. Women’s Aid Organization – +60 37957 5636 (Their website has an easy exit option & will not show up in browsing history should you need it)
2. Malaysian Police – 999
3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) – +603 7877 0224
4. Sisters In Islam (Telenisa Helpline) – +603 7960 8802
5. Talian Kasih Hotline – 15999 (24h)
6. The Befrienders KL – +603 7956 8144 / +603 7956 8145