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Singapore

MSF launches 24-hour domestic violence helpline for victims, public to seek help

SINGAPORE: What should you do if you hear your neighbours fight or their children screaming and crying, and you think it could be a case of family violence?

Who can you go to for support if you've been abused by your spouse?

Victims and members of the public can now call a 24-hour national helpline to report family violence and other cases of abuse and neglect.

The number for the National Anti-Violence Helpline is 1800 777 0000.

Launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the helpline is Singapore's first such national initiative dedicated to calls related to abuse and violence.

It eliminates the need for callers to navigate multiple helplines, preventing confusion and enabling faster response. 

Before 2021, there were five helplines for reporting child abuse and another five for family violence, said an MSF spokesperson. These helplines are still in operation.

The new national helpline started operations on Jan 18, working with social service agency Montfort Care to operate the helpline.

The helpline operates primarily in English, with Mandarin, Malay and Tamil-speaking professionals available if needed.

It has received about 450 calls since it started operations last month, said an MSF spokesman. 

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling on a visit to the call centre for the National Anti-Violence Helpline on Feb 23. (Photo: Ang Hwee Min)

UNSURE IF SOMETHING IS WORTH REPORTING?

Senior social worker and helpline supervisor Tan Si Yin, who is part of the team taking calls from the helpline, recounted how a concerned neighbour called to report that they had heard a lot of crying and screaming from the children living in the unit next to theirs. 

"The member of public was also not very sure whether it was something reportable, something concerning," said Ms Tan, speaking to journalists on Tuesday (Feb 23). 

"But I think the good thing was that the member of public decided to call the helpline so that we could discuss further with her what was it that she heard, and whether she could actually identify the unit for us,  so that we can work with our community partners to do an outreach."

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said the new helpline provides a consolidated platform for those seeking help.

"Before us rolling out the National Anti-Violence Helpline, we had different hotlines that were maintained by different community partners. We thought that there was a need to pull the different hotlines together into one consolidated helpline so that people who are looking for help know that there is one place that they can go to for help," said Ms Sun. 

"It is a number they can easily remember, and very importantly, this is a service that is 24/7, and it's manned by trained social workers, and they will know how to triage the call and help introduce the victims or the survivors of family violence, to the relevant channels, whereby they are able to seek further help."

READ: 22% increase in family violence reports since start of circuit breaker period: SPF

MANAGEMENT OF CALLS

DHL is MSF's appointed operator for its call centre operations. When a call comes in, DHL's customer service officers will address the general enquiries and escalate reporting of violence incidents to the Montfort Care social service professionals, said the spokesman.

There are about 17 people manning the helpline: 10 of them are from Montfort Care and the remaining from DHL, the spokesman added.

The Montfort Care social service professionals will then provide psychosocial support to the victim, gather information, and relay the cases to the respective agencies such as the Child or Adult Protective Services or hospitals and shelters.

For example, the social service professional might ask a concerned neighbour person about the frequency of the quarrels they've heard, and whether there are children in the unit, said Ms Tan.

The operator on the line may also ask what conversations they have overheard and whether they've called the police before, she added.

If there is a life-threatening incident, the police is informed within 15 minutes of the helpline call, said the MSF spokesman.

READ: COVID-19: MSF keeping 'close watch' on domestic abuse cases as more reach out for help over circuit breaker period

MSF said in a press release the first phase of the roll-out of the national helpline will take place between January and August this year. During this phase, support provided by existing helplines for family violence and abuse will be consolidated into one hotline.

Between September this year and June 2022, MSF aims to leverage technology to develop other modes of reporting and expand the types of platforms available to seek help, the release read.

Between January and October last year, there was a 40 per cent increase in the number of calls to the various helplines that deal with family violence, said Ms Sun.

"2020 was a unique and very challenging year. We all know that COVID-19 has brought about significant stresses to families. And as a result of that, there were more enquiries made, more calls made, to the various helplines that deal with family violence," she added. 

"But if we look at the number of cases that were subsequently investigated by CPS as well as APS, the number of cases investigated has remained stable at about 120 cases per month."

Source: CNA/hw

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