Priyangani does not hire a tuk from the three- wheeler park at the top of her road. She’s wary about strangers getting to know her whereabouts. Living alone in an annex, she is compelled to take specific measures to ensure her safety.
“When you hire a tuk from a company, you get the driver’s and the vehicle’s details on your mobile phone. But when you hail a tuk, the driver is a stranger and there is that off chance that he may come on to you,” she said.
There are hundreds of women like Priyangani, who have left their homes and opted to live alone in the outskirts of Colombo who live a cautious life like her. With women becoming more independent and financially secure, some percentage will invariably opt to live alone.
Just because one’s in her own home, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a threat to one’s safety. Safety of women at home is equally important as safety at workplace.
Recently, 26-year-old Tharindi Aloka, the eldest daughter of the businessman was hacked to death in her home in Kottawa on June 22.
Women often throw themselves in harm’s way when they ignore telltale signs of danger. For example, we often disregard voyeurism as a simple matter of imbalance, an inconvenience to be dealt with, with only slap in the wrist. In psychological terms voyeurism is often considered the first step towards becoming a rapist.
Voyeurism is the interest of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviours, such as undressing, sexual activity, or other actions usually private in nature. The voyeur, commonly referred to as a ‘Peeping Tom’ does not normally interact with the subject of his interest, who is often unaware of being observed. It may, in some cases, involve taking photograph in secret or making videos.
Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna, Prof. Daya Somasundaram said women living alone should be aware of their surroundings and be on the alert even when inside their homes.
“It is unfortunate that women living alone are compelled to be extra careful because of no fault of their own. But they should be aware of their surroundings,” he said. He said that there was a difference between those who peep through holes and those who physically abuse a woman. “Both are wrong. Those who peep, could physically abuse her but that is not the case all the time,” he corrected.
Another challenge that women living alone face is the preconceived notions of the public regarding her character. Prof. Somasundaram said that many women who live alone have faced situations where their character is questioned when they face problems because of men.
Prof. Somasundaram said that sexual deviance of any level could be addressed through rehabilitation. “However, the level and type of rehabilitation is different from a person who peeps in women’s washrooms and a rapist. They are two different conditions and therefore have different approaches.”
“There have been many situations where even the culprits who are at fault blame it on the girl saying that she is a ‘fast character’. The people also refrain from helping assuming that she is at fault.” He said there needs to be a change in the people’s way of thinking. “If a woman is in danger, the people should help her.”
The public needs to play a larger role than being mere spectators to the harassment faced by single women. Prof. Somasundaram said the public could help such women by making them feel inclusive in the neigbourhood.
Another factor that hinders the meting out of justice is that Sri Lanka does not employ forensic psychologists to probe into crimes related to sexual abuse, rape and assault. “The subject of psychology has several aspects. Sri Lanka does not have experts in forensic psychology to my knowledge. We are still developing. But we need the expertise,” Prof. Somasundaram reiterated.
Domestic violence and crimes against women have drastically increased lately. According to Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and member, Board of Management, National Authority for The Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses, Udayakumara Amarasinghe, crimes differ in nature. Recently violent crimes have increased though it is statically unnoticeable. Amarasinghe explained that though crimes outside homes are committed by total strangers, crimes at domestic level are usually perpetrated by someone who is closely related to the victim.
“Family issues being the main reason for domestic crimes that can vary from suicides and murder to verbal, physical and sexual harassment. In fact, most of the murders are committed with sexual intentions,” Amarasinghe explained. “Illegal and casual relationships and acts of adultery are other reasons for the increased domestic violence related crimes,” Amarasinghe added.
Call the police
According to Police Superintendent, Sri Lanka Police Children and Women’s Bureau, Lanka Amarasena, there is a tendency of women getting harassed by outsiders due to the women’s own ignorance. The recent murder of Tharindi Aloka is one such example where a woman was victimized due to the ignorance of residents.
According to Amarasena the involvement of external parties can be limited by not making public one’s private information. “Before giving people access to our privacy, we need to study them,” he said. She reiterated the importance of being alert about one’s neighbors. “In urban areas there are more temporary residents than permanent ones. We need to know who lives next to us.” Amarasena advised that if a suspicious person is spotted in one’s neighbourhood residents should immediately inform the police.
Security is vital
Speaking from the perspective of a security provider Certis Lanka Group, Group Managing Director/CEO, Vipul Hettige pointed out that the most prevalent types of violence against women are rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, forced prostitution and trafficking.
Hettige opined that, unlike in developed countries, in most other countries including Sri Lanka, women are brought up with the mindset that they are dependent on males. “In the past, especially before 1970s, people used to respect women. However, when the economy opened up in 1977 with rapid development taking place, the situation changed. Certain values in the Sri Lankan culture started declining.”
He reiterated that women in western countries are more independent than their counterparts in the East. “Even their education system that focuses on women’s rights, sex education and self-defence contributes to inculcate a sense of strength and independence in women.” Hettige opined that although the education system should have been revised in parallel with the rate of development, this was never looked into.
As the head of a security firm, Hettige recommended a burglar alarm system with an emergency panic switch or button to avert the danger of intruders. The burglar alarm should be connected to a central alarm monitoring station. “In an emergency the panic switches or buttons could be activated and this will trigger an alarm and send a signal to the monitoring station. The monitoring station will in turn take immediate action to send an alarm response team to provide assistance and also inform the local Police.
He also gave some pointers about ensuring the safety of women in their own homes. “Parents must take more responsibility in the safety of their children. They should check the background of their daughter’s fiancé before allowing men access to their residence.” He reiterated the importance of doing background checks of mesons and other workers that are allowed access to the house for repair work. “The workers should be carefully selected and their identities checked and confirmed.” Hettige pointed out that violence, especially sexual abuse, still tends to remain under-reported due to social stigmas it entails.
“One of the fastest growing trends is abuse of women using mobile phone technology,” said Hettige. Women have been recorded in intimate or private environments, and the clips have been used to blackmail or are circulated or uploaded on the internet. Hettige emphasized that parents should educate their children on what is taking place in social media and to be more vigilant.
A few tips for the women on the move, “Select decent clothing. Make sure communication devices are always kept handy. Always pay attention to your surroundings. Be careful when making new acquaintances. Avoid walking alone at night. Never leave your drink unattended. When faced with danger, shout aloud. When children stay after school, parents should arrange a way for them to return home safely.”
Hettige maintained that the safety of women is a collective social responsibility. “Each individual female must take precautions and should not provide opportunities for men to exploit situations.” He reiterated the importance of reporting any deviant behaviour to relevant authorities to take necessary action, so that the perpetrators will not resort to it again. “The government should also review existing laws and see what amendments are necessary. Counselling should be encouraged as a means of rehabilitating such persons,” concluded Hettige.
Safety tips for the woman living alone
Lock all doors
Sometimes a burglar will enter from where we least expect him to, the door! An open door is an open invitation for burglars. When you are home alone make sure all the doors are secure.
Create a safety and security checklist
List all the most important precautions you should take inside and outside your home. This can include how to secure the front door, back door and windows. You may need help with this, so it’s always a good idea to ask for guidance from someone who already lives on their own.
Learn basic self-defence techniques
To reduce the odds of an assault, get self-defence training. It may seem like a hassle, but it will empower you both psychologically and physically.
Keep spare keys safe
Try not to give your spare keys to friends, cleaning people, and other helpers unnecessarily. Only give spare keys to an emergency contact. Don’t hide your spare keys outside the house. Burglars know where to find spare keys.
Use social media intelligently
Do not post on Facebook your next vacation plan. Tweeting about you being home alone isn’t a good idea either. You never know who is keeping an eye on you, waiting for the right moment to break-in.
Install a home security system
Home security systems are becoming a norm. These systems are designed to monitor activity, trespassing, break-ins, and other suspicious activities before raising the alarm. Security systems can come with panic alarm buttons, surveillance cameras, motion detectors, and other components that can maximize security. Besides, it’s a successful deterrent as burglars will most likely avoid breaking into a home with a security system.
Get a pet
Dogs can detect noise from far and alert you. But do a little research first. Pick a breed easier to train and control.
Lights and curtains on windows
When the sun sets, turn on the exterior lights and close the curtains. Someone maybe watching you lying on the couch, watching your favourite teledrama. Keep curtains on all windows drawn so strangers cannot take a sneak peek of the inside. Lights and sounds deter criminals.
Get to know your neighbours
In times of emergencies the neighbours are the closest to you. It is always helpful to have someone next door know you and look out for you. Introduce yourself, and give them your emergency contact number.
Break the pattern
A burglar may be watching your routine. To confuse him, disrupt your pattern. Take different routes to work.
Don’t open the door for strangers
Be careful when answering the door. Being in a uniform does not make a man trustworthy. It is recommended you do not open the door if you don’t know the person. If he or she insists they belong to a company, ask them to show you an ID through a window.
Use common sense, stay alert and vigilant. Never ignore any unusual activity. Don’t take anything out of the ordinary for granted. When walking down the street, look around to see if anyone is following. If you feel unsafe alert your neighbours and inform your landlord, don’t hesitate to call the police.