Zoe Tay fronts You Can Say No sex abuse campaign after Cambodia trip
In view of outcry over NUS sexual misconduct, actress hopes campaign will create more awareness and empower women to speak up
When actress Zoe Tay was a schoolgirl, she had a brush with unwanted male attention.
She said: "I was on a bus that was packed with people, and a much older boy was standing extremely close to me.
"He kept touching my arm, and I remember feeling awkward and uncomfortable."
Tay, 51, related her experience to The New Paper yesterday after a dialogue session as part of the You Can Say No awareness campaign for women's causes.
The campaign, which was initiated by Tay last year, highlights issues such as date rape, workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Yesterday's dialogue, which was held at Mediacorp, was hosted by actor Guo Liang and attended by fellow actress Bonnie Loo and Singapore Council of Women's Organisations board member Cheryl Chong.
The session, which was streamed on Facebook Live, covered aspects of date rape and tackled issues such as how to handle strangers and even friends who cross the line and how to avoid being taken advantage of in certain situations.
Tay told TNP: "Date rape is not commonly talked about but is a prevalent issue. Problems with abuse and consent can happen anywhere and any time."
During the dialogue, Loo, 24, also recounted a situation similar to Tay's when she was in primary school.
"I was sitting in a bus when two men leaned forward from behind and embraced me.
"I was shocked and immediately cried out. It was an experience that will stay with me forever," said Loo, who found out later that the men had been sniffing glue.
Tay said that apart from the childhood incident, she was fortunate not to have experienced sexual misconduct in her years in show business.
A visit to a women's shelter during a charity trip to Cambodia about five years ago opened her eyes to the exploitation and abuse of women.
She listened to harrowing stories of the victims who had been rescued from human and sex trafficking rings. One of them was only seven years old and "traumatised" by her history of abuse.
Tay said she was especially "moved and inspired" by the shelter's principal, who was also a victim of trafficking.
"She was aware of all the threats that surrounded her but never gave up and wanted to help others who were in the same plight," added Tay, who has three young sons.
After the trip, the actress felt that she could use her influence as a celebrity to make a difference with a campaign to help women's causes.
Citing the recent outcry over the handling of sexual misconduct cases in the National University of Singapore, Tay said that it showed women being taken advantage of has always been an issue.
In light of the current climate on sexual abuse and harassment, Tay hopes the You Can Say No campaign will raise awareness of the insidious violence committed against women and empower them to speak up against their perpetrators without guilt or shame.
In the NUS case, student Monica Baey went on social media to complain that a male student had got off lightly for filming her showering in a residential hall last November.
It triggered a wave of support for Ms Baey and eventually led to NUS imposing tougher penalties on sexual misconduct offenders, improving victim support and campus security.
In view of how technology has changed the way people communicate nowadays, Loo warned of the need to exercise more care to ensure online messages are not misinterpreted as being flirty or sexually inappropriate.
On deflecting unwanted attention, Ms Kwong Woon Chek, a member of Tay's fan club, said at the dialogue: "There have been times when my friends and I are at a club and strangers offer to buy us drinks.
"We smile politely and simply walk away to send a strong message of rejection."