SINGAPORE: The integrity of the teaching profession and the trust placed on teachers in all their interactions with students is a "serious matter" and "should never be trivialised", said the Ministry of Education (MOE).
It said this in an emailed response to CNA when asked about comments made online about the case of a female secondary school teacher who was convicted on Monday (Jun 10) of sexually exploiting her 15-year-old male student.
The woman, now 29, was sentenced to jail for two years and nine months.
She had made the teenage boy perform sex acts on her and vice versa during a "staycation" in Geylang between Nov 28, 2016 and Dec 2, 2016.
The news generated many comments on social media and other online platforms, with some suggesting that the boy involved was "lucky" and others speculating about the appearance of the female teacher.
"I will be a proud dad if it happened to my son," said one person commenting on CNA's Facebook page. Another said: "We all want this kind of teacher, don't we?"
A commentator on Hardware Zone asked: "How come not my teacher?", while others on the forum expressed their "envy" and said the boy was a "lucky chap, lol".
Such comments highlight the need for more public education, said Ms Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), who added that the online response may deter other victims in seeking help.
"Clearly, more public education is needed to combat widespread misunderstanding about the sexual abuse of children, such as the myth that men and boys always consent to sexual contact and that their sexual exploitation is not real or severe," said Ms Lim in response to queries from CNA.
"Exploitation by authority figures is extremely harmful and must be taken seriously regardless of the genders of the parties involved," she added.
"Joking comments that trivialise the experience may contribute to victims' feelings of self-blame, confusion and fear of judgment, deterring others from making disclosures to seek help."
Echoing that, Institute of Mental Health (IMH) senior clinical psychologist Kenny Liew said being abused by a person in a position of trust can cause a variety of emotional and psychological problems regardless of gender.
"Some may develop psychological difficulties and direct it towards themselves," he added.
Mr Liew said they may become withdrawn, depressed or ashamed and inferior, and also experience "fears and anxieties towards certain people or situations and may actively avoid them".
The person suffering the abuse may isolate themselves socially and find it difficult to trust others, said Mr Liew.
This is more so for minors who are abused.
"Trust in others and sense of self is developed and influenced by our early experiences. When a person in a position of trust, who is supposed to care and protect us abuses us instead, this breaks our trust in others," he said.
"These children may experience fear and confusion. They may be ambivalent and uncertain about who they can depend on to support them."
Mr Thomas Wong, divisional director of HR solutions and capabilities at MOE said "there are systems in place for students to inform school management if they encounter situations which make them feel unsafe".
The ministry "will not hesitate to take disciplinary action against those who fail to adhere to our standards of conduct and discipline, including dismissal from service", he stressed.
The Sexual Assault Care Centre can be reached at 6779-0282 and firstname.lastname@example.org from Mondays to Fridays, 10am to 10pm.