Miss Bala received that email in late 2010, since then she has been subject to hundreds of phonecalls and messages from different people, local and overseas, all claiming to have communicated with her online and were promised sexual favours. Some even claimed to have made cash deposits for these advertised sexual services and turned up at her home. Miss Bala was stalked by some of these respondents, and received messages detailing her immediate surroundings. Many of these callers also claimed to have been invited by Miss Bala to engage in rape fantasies at her school, and provided graphically lurid details of what they planned to do to her and her students in these " sexual attacks".
She lived in constant fear, for herself and her pupils in the all girls' school where she taught. Her reputation was placed under doubt even by those who know her; when some of her ex students chanced upon her fake facebook profile. Nevertheless, Miss Bala, currently still in the midst of seeking redress through tedious court proceedings, is holding her head up high.
"I'd rather this happen to me than to someone who cannot handle it, because I will not be threatened like this, I will fight back. I know that I will definitely do something to address this malignant act of mischief ... and will not stop until a resolution is achieved and this perpetrator is put away. He sent these people to my school, to prey on the kids. That's what made me sick, what he was trying to do to [the] children."
The "he" in question is suspected to be an ex-acquaintance whom she had a falling out with last year. They met at a birthday party for a mutual friend's 9-year old daughter. The friendship turned sour when Miss Bala repeatedly refused his advances, even taking a violent turn. According to Miss Bala, this man is highly disturbed and she called an end to the friendship when after an argument he grabbed and bruised her wrist. He crossed a line then and Miss Bala decided to stop contacting him.
That was when the cyber harassment began.
His modus operandi was to create fake profiles and ads under Miss Bala's name on various social platforms including Facebook and Google. On these profiles, the suspect pretends to be Miss Bala and openly solicits sex from strangers online. He will then communicate with these respondents via email or in chatrooms, posing as her, and invites them to contact "her" in real life. Not much is known of the actual conversations, but the suspect would lead these men into believing that Miss Bala enjoyed being sexually attacked or seeing her students sexually attacked, especially in the school toilets, and then instruct these men to email her with their intents.
It was not just her personal accounts that were compromised. Calls posing as parents were made to her direct line in the staff room and the Youth Executive Council which she was involved in. There were also messages on their blog asking for her.
She filed a police report on the 2 November 2010, the day she received the first phonecall from one of the respondents. She informed her school of the potential threat to the students as her home and work address were all made available on these ads and fake profiles. She was contacted the following day by the Investigating Officer assigned to her, who told her that he would call the suspect. But despite warnings by her Investigating Officer over the phone not to contact her in any way, the suspect showed up at Miss Bala's home and verbally assaulted her in front of her family and neighbours. In his text messages to her that day, he even bragged that he cannot be stopped by the law.
Miss Bala had thought that the proceedings would be swift in view of the danger she and her students were placed under, but this was not the case. What she saw instead were months of magistrate meetings with her and later her lawyer. It was only in July this year that she finally saw the suspect in person at the magistrate's office and even then, they were not placed before the magistrate together but seen separately. What she had wanted was to have a discussion with the suspect in a safe environment and reach a possible resolution. But for some reason the magistrate court did not allow this.
Since February this year, visits to the magistrate's office have become a monthly affair. Each session involved her sitting in wait outside the office while her lawyer spoke to the magistrate on her behalf. The suspect on the other hand has been summoned only 3 times, according to Miss Bala, and has only turned up once in July, citing medical reasons for his absence in the first and giving no reason for the second time he did not show up. To date Miss Bala has attended the Magistrate Court 8 times this year.
She was advised to take a civil defamation suit against the suspect, which will cost $10,000 and above in estimated fees. A hefty sum for someone who had to quit her job because of the emotional stress, health issues and prejudice that the relentless harassment has caused her. Moreover, it is not compensation that she seeks, she just wants the harassment to stop, so that she can live her life.
The vindictive online attacks continued while the court deliberated on the case. A stranger with dubious intentions showed up at her doorstep twice in June this year. And a new fake profile of her was created on Google in May, but it was shut down by the search engine when Miss Bala lodged a complaint.
On the 9th of this month, her lawyer discharged himself from the case on the grounds that it was taking too long and she was also assigned a new magistrate who then asked her to wait a further 4 weeks for the next course of action.
Miss Bala believes that she has exhausted all avenues to get her case expedited. Her life since the day she received that threatening email involved letters to relevant MPs asking for redress, hunting down these errant ads of her and contacting the Internet companies to have them shut down. Her initial fear has now been replaced by a dogged determination to put a stop to the harrassment and she believes more must be done to ensure that victims of cyber crimes are protected while the investigations are carried out. She is baffled that the suspect, with "mountains of evidence against him" (the police have linked the perpetrator's IP address to the suspect's residence) is allowed to roam free, while she is left to deal with the consequences of his actions.
We understand that this case has now been brought to the attention of the police commissioner by MP Michael Palmer.
There were some encouraging moments in Miss Bala's uphill battle to seek resolution. When the CID Cybercrime Department was unable to accede to her requests to shut down the fake ads based locally, members of SingCert, a team set up by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, successfully shut down the ads for her, minimising the reach of the malicious content.
When Miss Bala informed her friends on her real Facebook account of her predicament, the flood of comments and reports of abuse from the online community led to the fake profile being deactivated. She has also encountered helpful individuals who aided in providing information for her case.
Miss Bala has been educating herself on the laws that govern Internet abuse such as this and has gained much insight. She has created a blog to function as a platform for people to share their experiences with cyber-harassment cases such as hers. She hopes to use the information she has procured in the process to spread awareness on the issue and encourage better laws to protect victims of cyber harassment.
She writes on her blog: “The cyber world is really a world as real as the physical world we live in. Though I had been desecrated, defamed and abused online by a cyber miscreant who does not respect the online rules of netiquette, I had also received enormous support, encouragement as well as knowledge about cyber security practices from the online community that helped me not to give up this fight against cyber crime and to use my experience to create awareness about online safety. I do not want anyone to go through what I went through, not in my country or anywhere else. This cyber miscreant needs to be brought to justice to prevent such heinous crimes from happening in the future.”
Read more about the details of her case and thoughts along the way at - http://onlinesafety.blog.com/