Victims of sexual crime, family violence to get more support with new police command to be set up
It’s among several initiatives, including community partnerships, to improve the handling of such cases.
SINGAPORE: Victims of sexual crimes and family violence will get more support with the formation of a new police command overseeing such cases.
The police command, staffed by officers who specialise in investigating cases of sexual crime and family violence, will be set up by next year, announced Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Tuesday (Apr 12).
These officers will also be trained in victim management skills, Mr Shanmugam said, delivering the keynote address at the police’s inaugural Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar.
Police will also strengthen training for all frontline officers who may be the first responders to such cases, he added.
The new police command is among several initiatives aimed at improving the way sexual offences are dealt with, covering areas such as investigative processes, training, public awareness of sexual crime investigation and court processes.
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) is also boosting community partnerships to strengthen support for victims.
For instance, SPF is working on partnering a family violence specialist centre to provide victims with more avenues of help.
They can be referred to the Care Corner Project StART (CCPS), which provides support to victims of any form of violence, for counselling and intervention, said Mr Shanmugam.
Currently, victims may be given emotional support during investigations under the police’s Victim Care Cadre programme.
However, the programme – manned by volunteers – usually only holds a single listening session for victims rather than the throughcare counselling regime provided by CCPS.
Mr Shanmugam also announced that a new charity, SG Her Empowerment Limited (SHE), is being set up this month.
SHE will deal with a range of issues affecting women, including setting up a victim support centre for online and sexual harm. This includes women who have had their compromising photos shared online without their consent.
The victim support centre will feature a website that informs women of their rights, as well as a helpline for victims to call anonymously.
More specifically, SHE aims to work with tech platforms to simplify the reporting of harmful online content for removal, and with the Law Society to provide pro bono legal advice to victims.
This will streamline the reporting process for victims who might be too ashamed or traumatised to reach out to multiple platforms and lawyers for help, and inform victims exactly what evidence each platform needs.
Separately, the police will engage sexual assault victims on a voluntary basis this year, as part of a survey to get feedback on existing processes and victim care measures, as well as to identify areas for improvement.
The police will also launch a revamped one-stop webpage on sexual assault.
The webpage will provide comprehensive information on the definition of sexual assault, investigation processes, victim care measures and support services for victims. It will feature videos on the police’s investigation process.
COLLECTING AND RETAINING DNA
On the investigative processes, Mr Shanmugam stressed the “key area” of DNA in solving sex crimes.
He pointed to how police in 2014 identified a man who raped a 12-year-old girl after matching his DNA with a sample taken from the victim’s body and crime scene 12 years earlier.
The man raped the girl in 2002 but the case went cold as the police did not have further leads like CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts. He was arrested in 2014 for a separate case of alleged theft.
Without the police’s ability to collect and retain DNA, the rapist would not have been caught, Mr Shanmugam said.
“So we are looking at these powers of collection and retention, and we will make announcements in due course,” he added.
NEW COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS
Moving on to community partnerships, Mr Shanmugam said CCPS will support victims both during and after investigations.
Ms Kristine Lam, lead social worker at CCPS, said the partnership with the police will not change the services they provide to victims, but allow them to access more victims as many usually go to the police first.
CCPS will “establish immediate safety” for victims and help them rebuild a routine so they can cope with daily life, Ms Lam said, adding that victims might experience trauma effects like nightmares, meltdowns and anxiety effects.
“The key difference is that the service that we're providing is more immediate in terms of the timeframe, so they don't have to wait months before they get help – within one to three days,” she said.
Ms Jenny Giam, a trained counsellor who volunteers as a victim care officer under the police’s victim care cadre programme, said the programme provides victims with a listening ear and information about other help resources.
But this usually happens during a single session after referral by a police psychologist, and is only repeated – possibly with another victim care officer depending on availability – if the victim requests for another session.
“(This is) compared to CCPS, which is generally a social service agency where they specialise in this kind of area of work,” Ms Giam said.
“And they do provide intervention for the victims in the long run. So that means I suppose they don't just see the victim one time, they have a series of sessions.”
The charity SHE came from an alliance for action led by Senior Minister of State Sim Ann and Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam.
Ms Ann raised S$650,000 in pledges from community members who support the cause, SHE chairman and lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio said in a statement, adding that this helped set up SHE.
Ms Thio later told reporters it is important to continue the alliance’s work, calling online harms a “very new area” that is relatively underserved in the victim support space.
“Right now if your younger sister had her photograph or a telephone number put on the Internet and she comes to you, what do I do,” she said.
“You need to then go to each of the tech platforms, (read their) terms and conditions and their community standards and try to figure out what that tech platform needs.
“Then you also need to call your friend if you have a friend who's a lawyer and say does she have a reportable case here? What should be done?
“She doesn't need to go through that trauma. She doesn't need to talk to five different sets of people about the same facts. So I think that streamlining process is really important.”
Ms Thio said the tech platforms have been “super supportive” when it comes to this issue, adding that SHE is a community-led effort and that the tech platforms are not “bowing to any Government strictures”.
SHE will also work with other organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGO) to roll out programmes aimed at improving women’s development and building a more gender-equal society in Singapore.
For instance, SHE will work with the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations as it already has a victim support centre. Ms Thio said she has also started talking to Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim, whom she calls a good friend.
Ms Thio said the idea is to conceptualise support programmes for women and work with other organisations in rolling them out.
“I see SHE’s role as a feedback gathering unit, discussion, thought leadership, research and advocacy. I think that that's probably the area in which we can play the strongest part,” she added.
Mr Shanmugam said he hopes to see SHE follow up on the work and ideas borne from the recent White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development.
Parliament on Apr 5 endorsed the White Paper, which calls for protection against violence and harm among other support measures for women.
“We hope to work with them closely, particularly to enhance support in the entire ecosystem, for those who have suffered harm, online or physical and emotional,” Mr Shanmugam said.