Pro bono legal aid, helpline among planned initiatives to help victims of online harms

(Front row, from left) Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law Rahayu Mahzam, Sunlight AfA victim support work scheme coordinator Nadia Yeo and Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann leading the Sunlight pledge on July 27, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Victims of online harms can expect various services dedicated to supporting them, such as free legal assistance and a helpline, to be available by the end of 2022.

Online harms include being stalked virtually and cyber bullied, and befriended by people who use fake identities.

The upcoming initiatives were revealed at an event organised by Sunlight AfA, also known as the Singapore Together Alliance for Action to tackle online harms, especially those targeted at women and girls, on Wednesday (July 27).

The cross-sector alliance, started by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) in July 2021, had a one-year tenure that ended on Wednesday.

But some of its work will continue, such as an arrangement with the Law Society Pro Bono Services to have about 100 volunteer lawyers provide pro bono aid through legal clinics to victims of online harms.

Details of the scheme, such as how victims can sign up for the legal clinics, are still in the works, but it is expected to be operational by the end of this year.

Madam Hazlina Abdul Halim, who is president of non-profit organisation Singapore Muslim Women's Association and a member of Sunlight AfA, said the service will be administered by charity SG Her Empowerment (She), which was set up in April by several members of Sunlight AfA.

The charity will also work with the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations to provide support services to victims, such as a dedicated helpline.

Other initiatives in the works by the charity include a manual on online harms.

This will be used to facilitate training sessions for She staff and qualified counsellors in its partner organisations to support victims, said Madam Hazlina.

The unveiling of these future plans follows MCI's announcement in June on proposed laws to enhance online safety for users.

The new proposed rules include requiring designated social media platforms to implement community standards and content moderation processes, so as to minimise users' risk of exposure to damaging online content. A public consultation on them is ongoing.

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Wednesday's event also featured Sunlight AfA's work during its one-year stint, including a pilot workshop to educate students from institutes of higher learning on how to recognise online harms and support their peers who are victims.

Sunlight AfA member Nisha Rai, who helmed the workshop, said it was well received by participants.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) student is exploring future plans for the initiative, such as holding more sessions and expanding its curriculum, and is looking to work with other organisations, including She, on them.

"It is something that I hope I can do with (other organisations)... but also something that I hope that I can do in my own personal capacity," said Ms Rai, who is also co-president of Students for a Safer NUS, a group that advocates for a safer environment on the university's campus.

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