Restoring trust in counselling profession

The actions taken by the National University of Singapore ( NUS) to deter sex offenders after the Monica Baey voyeurism incident were swift (Stiffer penalties for students who commit sexual offences, June 11).

NUS entered damage-control mode and, in just six weeks, unveiled new recommendations relating to sexual misconduct on campus. The tougher sanctions are more punitive than rehabilitative in their approach to ensure potential sex offenders keep their hands and cellphones to themselves.

The university's message is clear: We do not tolerate sexual offenders because our priority is the safety of our students.

But are sex offenders the only offenders in this saga? What about the university staff themselves? How safe and assured can students feel when they approach the institution's authorities for help in their most vulnerable time?

The new recommendations now address the need to help professionals to exercise more empathy and support for victims.

As I understand it, care officers will be appointed to each victim throughout an ordeal at a newly set-up Victim Care Unit and they will have relevant experience in counselling, social work, psychology or a related field.

Why the need for new care officers? Did the counsellors in the university fail to do their jobs? Does this failure stem from a corporate culture that was preventing the counsellors from doing their job?

These questions are not meant to upend NUS' efforts but to address the betrayal that victims feel towards professional bodies of help, in particular the university's counselling department.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said the new measures would see NUS "emerge stronger and better".

I have no doubt it will for the resources it enjoys, but is this enough to regain the trust of its students and will faith in the counsellors who appear to have failed the victims be restored?

This is less about the university emerging stronger and better but more about regaining the trust of the Monica Baeys of the university and other vulnerable students so that they will be brave and continue to approach the counselling profession for help.

James Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2019, with the headline 'Restoring trust in counselling profession'. Print Edition | Subscribe