#Asia What to do when your startup mentor rapes you?

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Image credit: Paula Silva

Image credit: Paula Silva

It’s not new. I had heard a few stories here and there, but a recent one that was told to me in private got me really worked up.

So, Siti (not her real name) was in one of the many startup hackathons held here, and she was assigned a mentor. After the program, the mentor scheduled a follow-up, which she went to, preparing a list of issues and questions she had, anticipating wisdom and knowledge to be imparted to her.

Well, Siti got some wisdom out of the mentoring session alright, but sadly, not what she had expected. You see, in the hotel room where they had agreed to meet, the mentor sexually violated her. To some, the right word is rape. Siti kept quiet about it, telling only close friends, who asked her to take action against the mentor.

Herein lies the tricky part. A part that perhaps I, too, had been guilty of. In the community events that I run like KICKSTART and FuckUpNights KL, as the organiser, I sometimes sensationalise the speakers we feature. Sure, some have success stories and do not need much dramatization, but for others, as a marketing person, I magnify their strengths. Often, I overlook getting to know the person better, and through his presence on our platform and the community’s positive brand association with what we do, they believe the show that is put up.

Humans, as they are, have flaws. Flaws in skills, I’m cool with. Skill gaps can be filled. Flaws in character and ethics, that’s a separate story. So event organisers like me, including those organizers for hackathons, startup events, business boot camps etc, sometimes make the mistake of not delving deeper into the character of the person we feature on our platforms, and sadly, the victims are innocents like Siti.

No, Siti is not the first, and she won’t be the last. To a certain degree, I can accept the lack of professionalism, but sexually violating a mentee who has trusted you – that is one thing I cannot accept. The worst part is, because the ecosystem has painted these “mentors” as startup gods, Siti just kept quiet, depressed, with-held, wondering who would believe her?

“People will just think I’m foolish. What would my family think of me?”

“The other entrepreneurs will think I’m just being drama, crying wolf and making shit up for the sake of attention.”

“The community will think I’m a flirt, and deserved whatever happened to me.”

Silent cries of the innocent.

Well, silent no more.

To the many girls like Siti who are in the startup game for real, here are a few thoughts I wish to leave you with:

  1. Nothing is worth more than your self-value. Don’t feel that you are disappointing an investor or mentor by declining or avoiding intimate settings you’re not comfortable with. I’ve seen investors who would arrange a financial meeting with a founder at 5pm, only to call her at 4.30pm to inform there’s a slight delay and decide to make it dinner instead. Post dinner, the investor mentions the guys are having a startup hangout at his hotel suite and when the founder went over, she found out that she was the only one in the room with him.
  2. Listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and evaluate. Walk away if you have to. There’s nothing selfish about taking care of your self-worth. Don’t let the vision of making a difference in the world, or that pushing humanity forward crap, make you deny your natural-born instincts and force yourself to walk into a decision that will taint you for life.
  3. Never be alone. Bring along a co-founder or a senior team member with you.
  4. Always meet in public places.
  5. Tell a friend where you’re going, who you’re meeting, and at what time.
  6. Speak up. Tell the right people about it, for example, the organizers. Yes, I know you may be strong enough to recover from the rape, but the next victim may not be. As a matter of fact, you are a victim of this so-called-mentor because the previous victims did not voice up. This cycle has to stop, and the wrong-doers have to know that they can’t just use their title, stature and position for personal gains.

To the organisers, if you value your brand and clean conscience, then make sure you take the necessary steps to prevent perverts from sexually abusing your platform:

  1. A deeper background check makes a lot of difference. A second look, a second opinion, reference checks – none of them take that long to do.
  2. If indeed a rape has happened, use your circle of influence to prevent the perpetrators from ever taking advantage of another girl again. Remember, not everyone is like Siti who will live to tell the tale. You may not want that on your conscience.

To the mentors that leverage on your “success” to get an easy fuck, watch out. We know, and we’re coming for you.

This post was first published on my blog.

This post What to do when your startup mentor rapes you? appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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