Thursday, January 19, 2006

We are not so safe anymore

I was asked to send 15 year old L to a GP's clinic yesterday evening because she had been suffering from a nasty bout of cough and cold that refused to go away after one week of self treatment with over-the-counter medication.

Because I had to run some errands in town, I dropped her off alone at the clinic which was located along a busy main road with instructions to wait for me to pick her up in about 20 minutes' time. Just before L closed the car door, I hastened a quick reminder for her to wait for me INSIDE the clinic when she's done. And I repeated myself that she is NOT to stand outside along the corridor because it is already dark.

As I drove away, I caught myself thinking about the way I had so naturally and instinctively stressed to the girl the need to ensure that she is safely indoors, especially when she is on her own. I also wonder why I had so casually assumed that it is NOT safe to stand outside, even though the place is well-lit and not exactly deserted.

I remember back when I was a primary school kid, I walked to my school which is a good 15 minutes away from my house, in the darkness of the early morning with another schoolmate, also a little girl. The only warning my mother gave to me is not to talk to strangers and to look out for cars when crossing the road. And sometimes, after school, I walked alone all the way home.

And it went on until I was in secondary school. Throughout my teenage years, I had to depend on public transport to go to my school which is about 2.5km from my house. So I had to start my journey well before the sun comes up because I had to take 2 different buses and that means I'm out of the house before 6:30am. And during those nightmare moments when I missed the bus, I had to walk all the way alone to school, a journey that takes almost an hour.

Did my mother freaked out at the thought of her only daughter walking in the dark, alone and sometimes out of sheer desperation, taking short-cuts along quiet backlanes? Maybe life was much simpler back then, or maybe our streets were generally safer in those days. It must be, because I survived those years without even coming across news or stories of the type that is rampant in our society these days.

Just look at what happened to 25 year-old marketing executive Chee Gaik Yap. She innocently went out for a jog in her neighbourhood early last Saturday evening, at about 6pm when the sun has not yet set, and nine hours later, was found dead, raped and brutally stabbed, 200m from a residential area. Needless to say, her family was devastated, and claimed that the security guard and the police had not acted fast enough to save Chee's life.

This is just the latest news that has made headlines in our papers but we know for a fact that sex crimes and petty but equally dangerous crimes like snatch theft is on the rise in this country. And what about kidnapping and being held for ransom? We, especially women, just don't feel safe out in the streets anymore. And we fear for our children and the elderly, especially so for our girls who would be utterly defenceless against such brutes and animals.

That is probably what made me instinctively caution the teenager not to put herself in any situation which increases the risk of such crimes happening to her. My fear is that some sex-crazed nut or desperado might just snatch and stuff her into a car while she is standing alone along the corridor. Such horrible crimes had happened before, in places like Johor Bahru, and the victims' lives were forever ruined and traumatised, if they did not end up dead. Better be safe than sorry, and that seems to be the motto we all live by these days.

48 years of independence, and 6 years into the new millenium but our quality of life is not getting any better, in terms of personal safety and sense of security. Almost all houses are barricaded with ugly metal grills and fenced up. We hardly ever see our kids out in the streets running around or bicycling freely in our neighbourhood. We walk with our hands gripped tightly around the straps of our handbags, eyes ever watchful for the suspicious looking fella who might turn out to be a snatch thief. When we arrive home at night, we look cautiously around us before we get out of our cars to unlock the gates. Is this what progress has brought us? That we have to pay such a high price for the seemingly affluent lifestyle that we enjoy now?

L seems to take my paranoid warnings in her stride, as if it were the most natural thing to hear from an adult. Unsurprisingly, she is very well aware of the dangers that lurk around our streets, thanks in no small part to the news that she read in the papers and also the constant reminders by her teachers and other elders of the real world out there, a world that could be dangerous and cruel and far removed from the secure little cocoon that she lives in. A not so pretty picture that mars our otherwise beautiful country.

Maybe we really need to take a re-look at the Safe City concept that was introduced 2 years ago but as is always the case, quietly died down after all the hoopla. But my guess is that this suggestion is only brought up because we have been horribly reminded of it by the tragic death of Chee. In all probability, no one will give a hoot after all the drama has died down and everyone will get on with their lives as best as they could, in the circumstances that we have found ourselves in now.

Until the next shocking case jolts us out of our slumber again, that is.




Post a Comment

<< Home

adopt your own virtual pet!