Postcard from Zaharah: When the law lets a stalker go free

The fact that photographer Acacia Diana had to resort to social media to reveal the extent of her sufferings and frustrations as a result of being stalked for eight years across two continents, just to get the attention of the powers that be, is pathetically appalling.

One would have thought that a single police report would have been the solution, an end to the needless trauma she had been facing. But that hasn't been the case.

Because her first report was made in 2018, before the new Section 507A of the Penal Code which makes it a crime to stalk victims — both physically and online — came into effect in May, no action was taken.

On July 16, Acacia lodged her third report. Desperation is beginning to show while she waits for any kind of action at all for the law to be implemented.

"When will this (section) be activated?" she despaired.

She had been waiting far too long for the long arm of the cyber law to show its might.

In the meantime she has lost precious sleep and freedom and even her self-worth while her stalker had the freedom to use over 30 social media accounts, simply for the purpose of harassing her online and, on some occasions, even in person.

She despaired even more when she was told that the root of the problem was, "awak lawa sangat!"

Every attempt to block him seemed to have merely encouraged him to create new ones.

He even had the audacity to travel abroad to find her while she had to contemplate whether it was safe to leave her front door.

The messages from the person whom Acacia has referred to as "the pervert who had screwed up my life" hinted at someone who is delusional and who wouldn't give up as he truly believes he is in a relationship with her.

I became acquainted with the Canon EOS Youth Ambassador in 2021 and even featured her in this column when she recently held an exhibition of her work in London.

We met at work and social events — a delightful, young, ambitious and gifted photographer who is passionate and dedicated to her work.

We met regularly at the surau of Malaysia Hall, especially during Ramadan where she attended the terawih prayers. However, it was only during the last Ramadan that I got wind of her predicament. When she didn't turn up for a few sessions, I was worried. And when she did turn up, she was wearing a hood over her head and a face mask.

Her change of demeanour reflected that something was being taken away from her — her freedom of movement.

Her work, which involves a lot of social media, was also affected. Her cheerful and chatty disposition was somewhat replaced by someone who was obviously living in fear.

We soon heard that her stalker was in London. At a charity event where Acacia had generously donated a piece of her work, the alleged stalker turned up and took a picture of himself in front of her photograph that was being displayed.

It was scary. He made sure that she knew about it by boasting about it on his social media accounts. He even had the audacity to contact her lecturer.

Since then, members of our close community in the know were on the lookout for the stalker, even taking pictures of people whom they suspected to be him.

The stalker knew her movements and her voluntary work with a charity organisation. That was when he turned up. Quick-thinking Acacia phoned the police and he was arrested.

We all heaved a collective sigh of relief when we heard the news of his arrest. The police were quick to arrive at the location where he went to see Acacia, but sadly they were also quick to release him on bail.

And he absconded and went back to Malaysia to continue his harassment with even more daring and equally lewd messages and pictures to match and shock.

It was a cry for help that Acacia took to her Instagram and Twitter accounts, spewing out swear words that none of us recognised could be from the Acacia we know and love.

But that is indeed a cry for help which needs to be heard.

She had long felt that the police had failed her but had renewed hopes with the newly-amended law.

Acacia said many victims of stalking and harassment have reached out to her with stories of their own harrowing experience.

"I put my faith in the government to outline the SOP (standard operating procedure) for this gazetted act as soon as possible for the safety of victims, and hope action is taken as soon as possible before it's too late."

Victims of this sort of crime often feel that they are alone, with a mental battle that leaves them asking if all the trauma was merely in their head.

Her fervent hope is that the law will swiftly deal with her tormentor, for that is what he is.

Couldn't the police find him with all the trail of evidence that he has left behind? Couldn't they get to his family and friends? He certainly needs help.

What hope dare we have for victims of such crimes when even with the creation and passing of the amended law, nothing is done? What else do we need for people like Acacia to do?

Come on, show us what Section 507A can do and give Acacia the freedom that she has been robbed of. Give her back her dignity that has been smeared by crude words and lewd pictures.

Give us back Acacia Diana.

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