We Don’t Care About Sexual Harassment. We Just Love Drama.
Top image credit: Eden Ang Productions/Youtube

Last weekend’s trending story was the allegation of sexual misconduct against Eden Ang, a popular Youtuber who allegedly smacked the buttocks of his 18-year-old personal assistant.

However, we are not going to talk about Eden Ang.

Instead, we are going to first talk about Mr. Loh Chan Pew, an athletics coach who also stands accused of inappropriate sexual conduct.

If you’re out of the loop, here’s a quick summary: Mr Loh is a Coach who also serves as Singapore Athletics’ vice-president. He is currently on trial for repeatedly molesting and using criminal force on two teenage girls under his supervision (aged 18 and 16).

In one instance of abuse reported by Today, he used the pretext of a ‘sports massage’ to rub the victim’s genitals.

Given the stature of Singapore Athletics Association, the underaged girl, and the similar complaints made by National Hurdler Kerstin Ong, I thought that Mr. Loh’s case would trigger a media frenzy on the scale of Harvey Weinstein.

After all, the recent trial of Dr. Larry Nassar for sexual abuse in the USA was widely publicised and its verdict forced the wholesale resignation of the U.S.A gymnastics board.

However, this #metoo moment never materialised. Loh’s trial attracted so little attention that even my friends working in the media did not know it was happening. On social media, Today’s story on Loh died after a paltry 1000 or so shares.

In contrast, Mothership’s report on Eden-gate was shared twice as many times, while Dee Kosh’s video rant on the same subject garnered 150,000 views in just 3 days.

I’m not trying to argue that one case is more important than the other. I’m comparing the two cases because the difference in public reaction reveals the real reason why sexual abuse persists despite our ‘anger’: We don’t care about sexual harassment. We just love drama.

Coach Loh outside the State Courts. Image credit: The Straits Times
Search your feelings, you know this to be true. Eden-gate only received widespread attention because the accused was a popular Youtuber; also thanks to Dee Kosh’s social justice cheerleading. Had the same accusation been levelled against someone less famous, we would most likely shrug our shoulders and move on.

If you need evidence, just look at the case of Coach Loh, or the allegations made by our National Hurdler Kerstin Ong, or any one of the hundreds of molestation cases that are published in the Straits Times every year to an indifferent reception.

In fact, a Singaporean Uber driver was jailed for outraging the modesty of more than 20 female passengers on the same day that Eden-gate emerged. However, his crime never provoked even a cursory debate because the accused was a nobody.

Therein lies the problem. Sexual harassment is only news if someone mighty falls from power, offering us a taste of delicious schadenfreude. When the accused is an average joe, he or she gets a free pass in the normally merciless court of public opinion, even if the crimes are heinous and unforgivable.

This double standard exists because we love drama. We love the sex, the shame, and the popcorn worthy scandal, but are not interested in having a real conversation on the widespread sexual misconduct in Singapore after the show ends.

We are so blinded by the g-strings, butt-touching, and social media feuds that we’ve forgotten to talk about the more important issues—like what constitutes consent or what can be done to prevent future abuse.

Instead, there is a counterproductive tendency to express outrage at the guilty individuals, while remaining deaf and blind if someone wants to discuss feminism or consent or the underlying cultural attitudes that enable such individuals. Like audiences around a busker, we disappear when the show’s over and it’s time to cough up.

As a result, most of our responses to sexual misconduct are completely inane. 90% of the comments on molestation cases offer some variation on ‘cane him lor’ or ‘fight me bruh’, entertaining but meaningless replies that offer more theatre in place of actual solutions.

But do our underlying cultural attitudes enable Coach Loh and other molesters? Did the police actually victim-shame the girl accusing Eden? Does the sexting count as harassment?

These are all questions that ought to be answered, and not with juvenile suggestions of castration.

I think it’s time we grow up. Drama is fun, but not at the expense of genuine reform. We are currently stuck in a cycle of abuse, outrage, and amnesia. If we want out of this loop, stop treating sexual harassment like softcore pornography and tackle the important issues.

If not, then let’s not feign shock and outrage every time another victim comes forward. You really have no right to be surprised because nothing got solved the last time.

In the west, the Weinstein scandal offered sensational drama at first, but it led to a broader discussion on women’s rights, power, and consent. It remains to be seen if Singapore has the maturity to follow suit.

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