Founder of Singapore debate programme accused of sexual misconduct against students

Founder of Singapore debate programme accused of sexual misconduct against students

Debate Association Singapore
(Photo: Singapore Debaters Facebook group)

SINGAPORE: A police report has been filed against a former director of a local debate programme for allegedly engaging in a "physical sexual encounter" with a student who is a minor.

The man, who founded a programme called Debate Development Initiative (DDI), also allegedly pressured the student into sending explicit photos via WhatsApp, and engaged students in discussions of a sexual nature, the Debate Association (Singapore) said in a statement on Tuesday (Aug 7).

DDI was created to provide "developmental exposure" to young school debaters, the association said. The programme, which takes in 15 to 17 students annually, has gone through six cycles since its inception in 2012. 

A director was tasked with interviewing and selecting members, as well as coordinating and conducting training, among other things. The programme founder was designated as the first director, holding the position from 2012 to 2014.

According to the association, allegations against the former director surfaced in a review of the programme conducted by the executive committee. Two senior members of the debate community were then appointed to conduct an independent audit of the programme and interview former members. 

On top of criticism about the DDI's structure and operation, interviewees from the first two cycles also made "disturbing allegations of misconduct" against the director. 

DDI members used a central WhatsApp chat group to arrange training sessions and participation in competitions. The director was part of the group. 

He also moderated a separate chat group named DDI Darkness, which comprised some members from Cycles 1 and 2. The report found that a number of comments made in this chat group were sexual in nature and included discussions about sexual acts and preferences, as well as the sexual history of chat participants. 

"These comments were initiated by the DDI director, who also led discussions on the objectification of DDI members who were minors," according to the Debate Singapore statement. 

Photos of DDI members would surface in this chat and there would be comments on physical characteristics, including genitalia, it added. 

"One DDI member reported that these comments later continued in a private chat with the DDI director. In July 2014, the DDI director shared explicit pictures of himself in this private chat and pressured the member to reciprocate by sending similar photos.

"This continued until the end of 2014, where it culminated in a physical sexual encounter initiated by the director," said the association. 

The names of those involved were not disclosed in the statement "so as not to interfere with ongoing investigations or potential legal proceedings". Meanwhile, the Debate Development Initiative has been "shut down with immediate effect". 

In a post uploaded to the Facebook group Singapore Debaters, the executive committee said: "If you are harassed or made to feel uncomfortable by an individual within the community, no matter how prominent they may be, do not hesitate to come forward. 

"All reports made by the equity committee will be confidential and each case will be treated with the utmost care and sensitivity." 

The police confirmed a report was lodged and that they are looking into the matter.

Source: CNA/hs(ra)