'Why would they attack me like this?' Ann Kok opens up about facing sexual harassment on social media

'Why would they attack me like this?' Ann Kok opens up about facing sexual harassment on social media
PHOTO: NoonTalk Media

While social media platforms can be fun, they can also render their users vulnerable to online harassment - especially women.

A 2023 survey by non-profit organisation SG Her Empowerment (SHE) found that almost three in five people who go online have, or knew someone who has, encountered online harms such as cyberbullying and sexual harassment.

More worryingly, females aged 15 to 24 are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment compared to males.

And nobody knows this better than beloved local actress Ann Kok, who has had to deal with her fair share of unpleasant, and sometimes lewd, online comments.

In the first episode of Das What They Said, host Dasmond Koh sat down for a chat with Ann about her experience with online sexual harassment.

Online sexual harassment

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The thing about social media is that it has the power to resurface old topics, as long as enough people are talking about it.

For those who remember, Ann caused a stir with her outfit at the 1996 Star Awards. The then 22-year-old wore a sheer black Dolce & Gabbana top, which turned translucent under the spotlight and flashing cameras. That sparked a bit of a backlash as her outfit was deemed provocative for its time.

Ann shared that till this day, she is still getting sexually harassed on social media, with anonymous users leaving lewd comments like "I really like your chest, can I do something with you?" and "See you my Kok hard", playing on her surname, Kok.

How she copes

Upon hearing Ann's experience, Dasmond opined that it can be quite stressful to deal with such unsavoury comments, especially for a woman.

Ann agreed, adding that it "can be very uncomfortable" to read those comments.

"I would feel upset and wonder why they would attack me like this. What did I do wrong?" Ann recalled.

She revealed that in the face of such incidents, she would often feel powerless. Engaging with the comments only seemed to fuel further attacks, leaving her caught in a cycle of negativity. The alternative, as some people around her had suggested, is to ignore these online harassers altogether and accept that such negativity comes with having a public persona.

Dasmond highlighted the profound impact of malicious comments, noting their ripple effect on both the victim and their loved ones. Ann shared his sentiment, expressing worry over how her family might be affected. She disclosed that they've never discussed such incidents with her, leaving her to wonder if they have been affected as well.

Furthermore, Ann argued that she should not have to put up with this abuse just because she's a celebrity.

Sadly, her experience is not uncommon for women. On top of that, it has been observed that women are less likely to act against online harms.

A 2022 survey by Sunlight Alliance for Action (AfA) on 1,049 Singaporeans found that women are more likely to believe that speaking publicly about such encounters would tarnish a female victim's reputation. This belief is less prevalent for male victims.

So, what coping strategies does Ann have, as a public figure who has to deal with such harmful online comments regularly?

"I won't bother if it's not on my social media account. But if it's on my own account, I feel that I have the right to delete it," she said.

Ann explained that while she occasionally used to hit back at such comments, she has realised that she no longer wants to waste her time engaging in arguments.

"Say what you want to say; I'll just delete them," she stated.

"There's the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA)," Dasmond shared. "It provides remedies for victims of harassment or attacks."

POHA criminalises anti-social behaviour such as harassment and stalking, which includes online harms such as cyberbullying, online harassment and doxxing. Victims can apply for POHA court orders to halt such actions, including the removal of harmful online content by their harassers.

Know your legal rights

As a veteran in the entertainment industry, Ann acknowledged that she is more well-equipped to deal with harmful online comments.

She shared that she had witnessed firsthand how friends outside of the entertainment industry would completely withdraw from social media after encountering malicious comments, highlighting just how damaging such actions could be.

"They were deeply affected and could not accept it as they are not public figures. We, on the other hand, have been in this industry for a long time and can somewhat manage our emotions or thoughts. But for them, it wasn't possible," she added.

She voiced her concerns for members of the general public, who might feel hurt and helpless when faced with a barrage of malicious online comments.

Her advice? To lean on your support system and not just "endure it silently". Ann also expressed hope for an organisation that could help victims deal with online harassment, providing them with resources to understand their rights and courses of action.

"If you find that there's no one around you who can help, then I think you should muster the courage to reach out to channels that can assist you, such as POHA," she concluded.

If you, or anyone you know, has been a victim of online harms, including harassment, abusive language, revenge porn, cyberstalking or doxxing, reach out to SHECARES@SCWO for assistance and support.

This article is brought to you in partnership with?Ministry of Law.

sophie.hong@asiaone.com

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