Better legal protection, support from community for victims of violence: White Paper

A White Paper on women's development mapped out a wide-ranging plan to beef up safeguards for victims of violence. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Victims of violence will now have better protection under the law and more community resources to tap under a new action plan that takes a tougher stance against violence and harm against women.

A White Paper on women's development released on Monday (March 28) mapped out a wide-ranging plan to beef up safeguards for victims of violence at home, the workplace and in the sports arena, among others.

These include a National Anti-Violence Helpline launched in January last year as the one-stop national helpline for anyone who is a victim of violence, including domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual harassment from May 1.

The helpline will be renamed the National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline to better reflect its function.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said the helpline aims to help protect for women against violence and harm.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said the helpline has received about 9,900 calls up to February and has 29 operators manning the helpline.

MSF added that it will expand the helpline to allow people to seek help by going online and with the use of mobile phones by end-2022.

The White Paper also includes other recent changes such as the recommendations of the task force on family violence - which have been accepted by the Government - as well as plans to support victims and increase public awareness of violence.

For instance, victims of family violence who face an immediate risk to their safety and well-being will be able to report abuse and seek immediate help from both the police and social service professionals who will respond to such incidents in tandem.

They will also receive better support to reduce their risk of being harmed again.

Abusers will face more accountability for their actions and benefit from stronger rehabilitation measures.

Ms Sun said: "To provide help expeditiously to victim-survivors of family violence, appointed social service professionals from MSF will be empowered to address immediate safety needs of victim-survivors.

"These can include facilitating victim-survivors to move to a safe place or place of safety temporarily and deciding whether to issue time-limited protection notices.

Any breach of these time-limited protection notices by perpetrators of violence will be considered a criminal offence."

Penalties have also been stepped up for three sexual offences in the penal code, including outrage of modesty and exploitation of minors.

For instance, the White Paper said the Attorney-General's Chambers will generally object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit sexual and hurt offences.

Employees who experience workplace harassment will also have better support to come forward with such incidents.

On its part, the Government will work with tripartite partners to make it easier for victims to seek help.

Companies will be guided on how to properly handle employees' complaints, with the strengthening of case management and referral systems.

In the sports arena, athletes will be able to approach a case management unit set up under the Safe Sport Commission to investigate and resolve cases and provide a fair process. The commission was launched in 2019 to clamp down on harassment and misconduct against athletes.

Along with the unified sports code, which was launched last year to provide clear guidelines on inappropriate behaviour, a new Safe Sports mark will be launched for sports organisations here to recognise their commitment to a safe sporting community.

There will also be greater focus on public education through the Break the Silence campaign, which was recently relaunched to improve the public's awareness of violence in the community.

Acknowledging the rise in online abuse, the White Paper cited the efforts of the Sunlight Alliance for Action, which brings together the private, public and social sectors to tackle online abuse, particularly those targeted at women and girls.

From pre-schools to institutes of higher learning, students are taught to identify appropriate behaviour and protect themselves online and in-person against violence.

All institutes of higher learning are on track to have compulsory modules on respect and appropriate behaviour for students by mid-2022.

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