Learning To Say ‘No’

*Names were changed to protect identities

Two years ago, I met Jeremy* on a dating app. Conversation flowed easily, and we agreed to a coffee date at Holland Village.

Halfway through the date, he asked if I’d ever visited NUS’ UTown, and offered to give me a tour that very afternoon. Jeremy added he had cold cider waiting in his fridge.

Coming from a local university, I knew if a guy mentioned alcohol and an empty room, he probably wanted to take you on another kind of tour.

I attempted to change the subject by talking about the weather. When I mentioned it was a perfect day for a swim, Jeremy asked if I wanted to use the pool at his university, and offered to take me home to grab my swimsuit.

By then, there was no doubt what my date had in mind, and I politely declined his offer.

While I didn’t have a problem with Jeremy indirectly asking me for sex, I did feel disturbed by how he didn’t accept my “no” for an answer. Before the date ended, Jeremy had invited me to his student flat in at least five other ways.

I had run out of ways to say “no”, and was absolutely exhausted by his persistence. When he offered to give me a ride back home, I clambered onto his bike relieved, thinking he’d finally given up.

Suddenly, he took a turn I wasn’t familiar with. Panicking, I blurted, “Please send me home or I will call the police. I’d really respect you as a person if you sent me home now.”

Thankfully, it worked.

Dealing with someone who won’t take “no” for an answer

This dating horror story came to mind as I read the victim-blaming comments which emerged on social media in response to the allegations against Eden Ang.

Many people, male and female alike, asked why the women did not simply make a stand from the start or walk away from potentially dangerous situations. What these people do not realise is how difficult this is to do.

From Dawn’s account of her encounter with Eden Ang, refusing the Youtuber’s advances only increased his aggression, and after a certain point, her resolve began to crumble.

She stated she was sexually inexperienced at the point of meeting him, something which Eden Ang shamed her for. Dawn’s recount shows she was essentially dealing with a bully.

Put in a similar situation to Dawn, I had to think three steps ahead of Jeremy’s questions to make sure I wasn’t put in a compromising situation. (e.g. “Do you want a tour of my hall?”).

It was only because my previous dating experiences allowed me to realise what Jeremy’s questions really insinuated.

If I hadn’t known better, I might have said yes. I hadn’t been to UTown and really wouldn’t have minded taking a trip down or going swimming that afternoon.

Although he never bullied me into having sex, Jeremy’s repeated efforts to make me go back with him wore me down.

If a regular date required so much effort, I can only imagine how exhausted, confused and fearful Dawn must have felt with Eden Ang.

Nobody ever “asks for it”

If it hasn’t been made clear, my experience with Jeremy should not be taken as a ‘how-to’ in rejecting sexual advances, nor am I trying to equate my experience with rape.

Instead, I want to demonstrate just how many factors contribute to someone’s ability to walk away in such scenarios, and to express solidarity with others who have found it difficult to say no.

While saying “no” or leaving seems like the most rational and obvious thing to do, it can often be the hardest action to take in a state of fear and shock.

If the worst had happened on my date, I’m quite sure someone would’ve asked why I didn’t decline his offer for a ride or jumped off a moving vehicle, nevermind all the other times I had turned Jeremy down earlier.

Really, the only reason why I came home unscathed was that Jeremy chose to respect me, and not because I had done all the ‘right things’ on my date.

Ultimately, Singaporean society needs to accept that, with no exceptions, rape and sexual harassment are always the perpetrator’s fault.

Just like how you wouldn’t tell someone who has been bullied they were “asking for it”, why would you say that to a survivor of sexual assault?