SINGAPORE: There must be strong support for victims of sexual misconduct, from the time they report an incident to post-incident counselling and psychological support, said Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah in Parliament on Monday (May 6).
She noted that the recent case involving National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Monica Baey, who was filmed in a hostel shower by a fellow student, showed that there were shortcomings in victim support in NUS.
"NUS has acknowledged this and has committed to doing better," said Ms Indranee.
"The other IHLs (institutes of higher learning) are similarly concerned and are in the process of reviewing their support for victims with a focus on ensuring that the support provided is holistic, timely and accessible."
Ms Indranee was responding to questions from several Members of Parliament on what measures are in place to protect students from sexual harassment or misconduct, what support is available for victims and what has been done to improve measures at IHLs.
Stronger support for victims is one of three broad areas of focus as IHLs review their measures, she said.
SUPPORT FOR VICTIMS
All IHLs have full-time counsellors on site to support victims, said Ms Indranee, adding that some educational institutions have 24-hour helplines.
They will, however, look into strengthening this support.
"The support must extend beyond counselling, and begin at the point that the victim first reaches out for help," said Ms Indranee.
"A good support system must create psychological safety for victims, guide them through the processes and protocols involved in the management of their case, update them on investigations and ensure that their concerns and questions are addressed along the entire journey," she added.
"All this must be done sensitively and with empathy."
For more severe cases such as sexual assault, the IHLs must be equipped to make judgment calls about the victims’ emotional state and call for external professional help where needed," she said.
CAMPUS SECURITY TO DETER WOULD-BE OFFENDERS
On top of having CCTVs and controlled access to female bathrooms and toilets, more will be done to strengthen privacy and security on campus, said Ms Indranee.
She noted that over the past week, NUS has started installing full-height doors and partitions in the restrooms of all its hostels and sports facilities. In the coming months, NUS will also install additional CCTV cameras at more locations, deploy more security guards at its hostels, and introduce roving security patrols across campus.
"As part of their overall review of campus security, the IHLs will take steps to address new forms of threats, such as the illegal installation of miniature cameras," Ms Indranee added.
The Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), for instance, is collaborating with the Singapore Police Force to train its security staff to inspect toilet cubicles or ceilings for such cameras.
COLLECTIVE STAND AGAINST SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
Ultimately, more can be done to educate students on the importance of respect and what constitutes violation, especially in a digital age where image capturing devices are ubiquitous, said Ms Indranee.
She pointed out that Singapore is updating its Penal Code to deal with technology enable sex crimes, and that institutional processes must keep up with the times as well.
"At its core, the issue is about respect for others," said Ms Indranee.
"There are some who mistakenly think that voyeurism and verbal harassment are not serious because there was no physical contact with the victims. This is very simply, wrong," she added,
"As societal norms and expectations change, all organisations need to keep up with the times, send clear signals that sexual misconduct is unacceptable, and equip themselves to deal with sexual misconduct complaints appropriately should they arise."