This was what I was wearing the day when it happened. It was summer in Venice.
Honestly, I’m still nervous about putting this incident into words. But as part of my healing journey, I thought it may be helpful to do so. This is an encounter of sexual harassment, please do not read further if you’re uncomfortable.
I usually share this story briefly in front of a live audience, and then hide the awkwardness by performing the song. After all, “Dear Stalker” was a song I wrote to overcome the trauma. Also, being on stage meant that I didn’t need to receive the following responses, which unfortunately have been given to me in the past.
“Aiya, these things happen so often, why are you overreacting”;
“It must be what you were wearing”;
“I think it’s the colour of your hair”;
“You shouldn’t have travelled alone”.
Like it was my fault.
There were many art installations in the city in conjunction with Venice Biennale 2013. There were gems at almost every corner of the colourful buildings – local boutiques, craft shops, cafes, museums, etc. It felt like a maze but I was not worried about getting lost. Besides, isn’t getting lost especially in an open art space kind of the point of travelling? I’d done all my research, carried both physical and digital maps with me, the weather was good and there were lots of crowds everywhere.
It happened at broad day light, around 2:30pm, an hour after I took the first photo above. I was heading to the next destination – Chiesa di San Polo (Church of St Paul), that was nearby. There were many people going in the same direction, including a shorter old man with thin shoulder-length white hair, wearing navy-coloured shirt and shorts. I’d noticed him earlier. At one point he raised his head, looked over and gave me a peculiar smile, which I ignored as he walked past me.
I arrived at about 10 metres away from a yellow wall with an alley on the left, that I was to turn into, and saw the old man stood next to it, facing me. That was odd, I thought. Since the church was just a few turnings away, I thought I could continue to ignore and bypass him. But after I took a few steps forward, he opened his arms and blocked the path, then drew my attention to the lower part of his body. One part of his shorts was already exposed moments ago, but I missed it at first glance. Shocked, I quickly turned away. There were still many people behind me at the shops and restaurants. When I was leaving, I saw a lady heading towards that direction. She was probably my mom’s age, with short grey hair below her ears, wearing a white top and 3/4 white jeans and brown sandals. I immediately pulled her around and warned her not to go towards the crazy old man. It turned out that she’s Venetian, and she had already seen him. Upon hearing what I told her, she flipped her sunglasses above her head and guided me onto another route that would avoid him completely to get to the church. On the way, she told me the story of the man.
When he was younger, he used to be very popular, especially among the girls as he was good-looking and intelligent with a bright future ahead of him. He was awarded a scholarship and studied medicine in India. Ironically when he returned, his addiction to drugs got the better of him, and he would be known as the mentally-ill man for the rest of his life. She told me that I was lucky, at times he would even attack the victims. We parted ways not long after, and I left feeling sorry for the old man’s screwed up life.
I couldn’t recall the reason why I’d planned to visit this lesser known church. After a moment of regret, I went in anyways. Churches were one of the best places to visit during summer – the buildings were cooling, peaceful, and most importantly, there were chairs. I went all the way to the front, sat on the second row and calmed myself down. I blamed the fact that as a woman, I was naturally an easy target. But, why me? In order to move on, I brushed off my feelings by showing compassion to the poor man.
Though I was paranoid the rest of the day and the following day, I continued travelling solo many times after that. Fortunately I didn’t encounter such incidents anymore.
One and a half years later I decided to write a quirky song about this, with a lighter note to coat this traumatic experience, and turned it into a reminder to show compassion to those mentally-ill instead.
On the issue of sexual harassment, this was just one of the several incidents I’ve encountered, most times in and around the safest places and people that I trust, and it could take a life-long journey to overcome. I believe most women would’ve experienced sexual harassment in one form or another. But that’s a whole other story for another post.
Thanks for reading and not judging. May all of us be better human beings for each other.
Timeline of “Dear Stalker”
2013 Sep – Incident
2015 Mar – 1st demo
2015 Sep – 2nd demo
2015 Oct – 1st performance
2016 Nov – Collaboration with Dae begins
2019 Sep – Published on all music platforms
2020 Dec – Released music video on YouTube
If you enjoyed the song, feel free to buy the mp3 via the link below.
Or add this song to your playlist on Spotify.