Number of technology-facilitated sexual violence cases more than doubled in 3 years: AWARE
SINGAPORE: The number of cases involving "technology-facilitated sexual violence" seen by a care centre has more than doubled in the past three years, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) said on Monday (Nov 25).
About 15 per cent of the cases seen by AWARE's Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) in 2018 involved sexual violence facilitated by technology, said the head of the centre Anisha Joseph during a panel event organised by the advocacy group.
About 150 people attended the event, which marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women as well as the one-year anniversary of AWARE’s Aim For Zero campaign against sexual violence.
Last year, 124 of the 808 cases seen at the centre involved such technology-facilitated abuse - encompassing actions enabled by digital communications technology such as social media and messaging platforms, digital cameras and dating apps.
This compared to the 99 (out of 515) cases in 2017 and 46 (out of 338) cases in 2016.
“These behaviours range from unwanted and explicit sexual messages and calls (including attempts to coerce sex or a relationship) to a specific category of image-based sexual abuse,” said AWARE.
Cases within the latter category include actions such as taking images without a subject’s consent - for example through “upskirting” - as well as threats to carry out such actions.
Such actions are not necessarily limited to strangers. Between 2016 and 2018, nearly half of such image-based sexual abuse cases seen by the centre were committed by an intimate partner, said AWARE.
In one case, a woman was harassed by a former partner whom she met online. After she stopped seeing him, the perpetrator threatened to reveal her intimate images to others, including her current partner.
He continued to stalk her and at one point, assaulted her. Even after she blocked him on all platforms, she remained worried he would act on his threats or show up at her house to hurt her.
AWARE said she was hesitant to file a police report or take legal action because the images were taken during consensual sex and others told her it was her fault. She approached the SACC for help.
About a quarter of image-based sexual abuse victims reached out to the centre within 72 hours of an incident over the three-year reporting period, with about half of such victims reaching out within a month.
“This is unusually fast for cases seen by the centre - in 2018, for example, 58 per cent of cases came to SACC within a year of the incident,” said AWARE.
Ms Joseph said the possibility of an image being shared again and again could be a possible reason for such victims to come forward speedily.
“So when it comes to image-based sexual abuse, the probability of sexual harassment happening again and again continues ... if my photo is shared once there is a possibility that it will be shared multiple times, which means multiple forms of victimisation by different perpetrators,” she told CNA.
“The extent of the harm is quite a lot. So survivors, all they want to do is to stop this from happening. There is a possibility they come forward to ask for help much earlier because they know that if they don’t do anything about it, that it will create more problems for them.”
Between 2016 and 2018, the total number of cases across all categories seen by SACC more than doubled from 338 cases to 808, with increased public awareness a possible factor, according to Ms Joseph.
“It could be a combination of various reasons. The numbers could be increasing because of increased awareness of the issue and people reaching out for help,” she said.
“It could be increased awareness of resources for help; we are the only centre in Singapore that provides specialised support services for survivors of sexual assault.
“So when people start recognising these acts as an act of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and that there are places for help, then they might reach out to the centre.”
She also cited recent changes in legislation including the reform of the Penal Code as well as changes to the Protection from Harassment Act earlier this year as key steps in the right direction.
Public awareness of technology-facilitated sexual violence has been in the spotlight recently.
Earlier this year, National University of Singapore (NUS) student Monica Baey took to social media to speak out against the online harassment by a fellow student who had filmed her in the shower at a university hostel.
The incident garnered huge public attention, and it led to NUS reviewing and revamping its policies towards sexual misconduct.
Speaking on the panel on Monday, Ms Baey addressed misconceptions about the gravity of such technology-facilitated abuse and called for the importance of recognising that such incidents can occur across a spectrum.
“A lot of people feel technology-facilitated sexual violence is not the same as sexual assault, which is quite shocking to me,” she said.
“I’ve come to realise it is so similar. Even though you haven’t been physically violated, it’s the same.”
She also talked about the importance of speaking up about such issues.
“I feel like I’m just a normal person, just a survivor … but I think I was at the right place at the right time when my story blew up,” she said.
“I hope people continue to strive to be someone who makes a small change to enable the rest of society to do so.”