Many find it difficult to report sex offences

Many victims find it hard to make a report due to fear of disbelief, a lack of evidence and worry about the reaction of their family and friends. PHOTO: ST FILE

When a woman claimed her boss had raped her while on a business trip, she found herself being grilled.

Why did she agree to stay in the same room, she was asked.

Her arguments that it was her boss who insisted on "saving costs", promising that "nothing would happen", were dismissed.

This was one of the cases handled by the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) at the Association of Women for Action and Research. It did not provide more details of the case.

SACC manager Anisha Joseph said such incidents show the difficulties victims face in reporting sexual offences - particularly when committed by someone they know. The SACC handled 338 cases last year, up from 234 in 2014.

Of the cases last year, 80 per cent were committed by someone known to the victim. This makes the victim less willing to report the incident, said Ms Anisha.

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"We need more public awareness about how to respond to survivors in a supportive and empathetic way, such as to facilitate access to resources like counselling or support for police reporting," she added. "Organisations like employers and schools can also improve their first-response knowhow."

She said family and friends play important roles as first responders, and can help with supportive statements, such as telling victims: "It is not your fault."

In many cases, people find it hard to make a report due to fear of disbelief, a lack of evidence and worry about the reaction of their family and friends, she added.

And they keep it a secret for years. Clinical psychologist Jeanie Chu sees three to five cases of sexual abuse a month at Resilienz Clinic, where she works. Many of her clients said they were abused when they were teenagers or even younger. But they saw her only when they were in their 20s or 30s.

In many cases, the perpetrator was a family member, and her clients suppressed memories of the incident until they realised it affected them later in life, said Ms Chu.

In one case she handled, a woman revealed she was molested several times over a few years by an older family member when she was a teenager. She was also raped by a stranger. In both instances, she did not make a police report.

"Since then, she has been struggling with her sense of identity and self-esteem, and has difficulties with trusting and forming intimate relationships (with the opposite sex)," Ms Chu said of the woman, who is now in her 30s.

"She wants to have a family, to foster a close relationship... but has found herself unable to do so."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline Many find it difficult to report sex offences. Subscribe