Aware welcomes improvements to investigations, court processes; hope it will address under-reporting of sexual crimes

SINGAPORE - Advocacy group the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) hopes that improvements to investigation and court processes dealing with sexual crimes will help to address the under-reporting and attrition of such cases.

Its remarks came as the Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) announced new initiatives on Friday to ensure that processes remain sensitive to victims' needs.

Last year, of the 338 people who reached out to Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), 41 per cent did so in connection with an incident of alleged rape - making it the most frequently reported offence.

But Aware's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan said: "In our experience at SACC, such incidents (of sexual assault and sexual harassment) are substantially under-reported. A majority of our clients do not report their experiences to the police."

Their main reason is a fear of not being believed or not having enough evidence.

Other top worries are a fear of how friends and family would react and of public exposure.

A 2014 survey of young people conducted by Aware found that only 6 per cent of those who experienced such assault or harassment sought help, such as making a police report.

Over the past three years, Aware has worked closely with the police force's Serious Sexual Crimes Branch, providing it with clients' feedback on their experience with investigation processes.

Aware added that the Police has been receptive to this feedback.

On Friday, MHA said that a new one-stop centre had been set up in the Police Cantonment Complex for alleged sexual crime victims to undergo the necessary forensic and medical examinations in a private facility.

The police will also work with Aware to develop a training video to sensitise officers to victims' experience during investigations. This will supplement officers' victim-centric perspective, said the group.

"The current initiatives will help to ensure that police processes and capabilities are improved on a systemic level, not just on a case by case basis," said Ms Tan.

It added that there could be misconceptions about sexual assault, and a lack of understanding of alleged victims' experiences. This could include criticising victims for their clothing or their appearance.

Of the new pilot centre at the Police Cantonment Complex, Aware added that its clients have often reported frustration and difficulty in reporting alleged assault.

This includes multiple trips, long waiting times and having to give statements about an incident several times.

"By combining medical assistance, forensic examination and police reporting, this initiative has the potential to make the reporting process much less onerous and stressful," it said.