New police command to help sexual crime and family violence victims

Law Minister K. Shanmugam (third from left) with (from left) Minister of State Low Yen Ling, Senior Minister of State Sim Ann, SHE chairman Stefanie Yuen Thio and Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam at the Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The police will set up a new command, which aims to provide victims of sexual crime and family violence with more support, by 2023.

The Sexual Crime and Family Violence Command will be staffed by police officers who have specialised expertise in handling sexual crime and family violence cases and who possess good victim management skills.

Announcing this on Tuesday (April 12), Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said: "All of you know that (the Government) takes a very strong and firm stance on dealing with sexual offences.

"Over the years… we've strengthened our legislative levers. The police have also been active in reviewing its processes. The police are also taking very active steps to increase public awareness about sexual assault and what victims can do."

Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the inaugural Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar held at the Police Cantonment Complex. It was attended by police officers and representatives from the Ministry of Social and Family Development and other organisations.

Between 2017 and 2020, there were about 9,200 reports of sexual assault, including rape, sexual assault by penetration, outrage of modesty and sexual offences involving children and vulnerable victims, said the police.

Of these, 869 were allegedly committed by family members or relatives.

Last year, there were 1,480 cases of outrage of modesty, which accounted for 42.3 per cent of all sexual crime cases reported. This was an increase of about 12 per cent from the 1,321 cases in 2020.

Child sexual abuse cases jumped 70 per cent from 261 cases investigated in 2020 to 443 cases last year - an 11-year high.

On Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam outlined how the police will be enhancing its training for police officers so they can better respond to sexual crime cases. This will include seminars where officers will learn about the best practices to manage sexual crimes.

Currently, sexual assault cases are investigated by specialist units in the Singapore Police Force, with the Serious Sexual Crimes Branch leading investigations into rape and aggravated cases of sexual assault by penetration.

The police will also be launching a one-stop webpage later this year, providing more resources to the public on the investigation processes for sexual crime cases and victim care measures available.

Another area of focus will be the importance of DNA collection in the context of sexual crimes. Citing an example, Mr Shanmugam noted how the police were able to crack a rape case that was unsolved for more than a decade using DNA evidence.

In addition to these measures, the police will be working more closely with community partners to better support sexual assault victims.

Care Corner Project Start (CCPS) is one community partner that provides support to victims of violence.

Ms Kristine Lam, lead social worker at CCPS, said victims suffer different types of trauma, such as nightmares, anxiety and fear of going out.

Ms Kristine Lam, lead social worker at CCPS, which is one community partner that provides support to victims of violence. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

She gave an example she came across: “The victim did not even dare to pick up calls from unknown numbers, because anything that she doesn’t know, she just doesn’t dare to try.”

This also included a fear of online ordering, because the victim’s phone number would be shared with the logistical company and beyond.

Station Inspector Norain Omar from the police’s current Special Victims Unit said that every victim’s scenario is unique, but some telltale signs are being evasive or digressing from the conversation topic. For instance, if the sexual assault happened at home, victims might avoid talking about their home. 

Earlier this month, a new charity, SG Her Empowerment, was set up to tackle online and sexual harms against women.

Led by veteran lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio, the charity will work closely with the Law Society to provide pro bono legal advice to victims.

Lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio leads SG Her Empowerment, a charity that was set up to tackle online and sexual harms against women. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Mr Shanmugam said: "I am glad to see a new community-led charity working to empower women and girls and continuing the dialogues started in the Conversations on Women's Development and recent White Paper on Singapore Women's Development."

Last week, Parliament passed the White Paper, which provides a 10-year road map to ensuring all women in Singapore have greater access to opportunities and more equal partnerships with men.

The White Paper also covers plans to support victims of violence, so more victims can report abuse and seek immediate help from the police and social service professionals.

Police initiatives to help sexual crime victims

1. One integrated multi-disciplinary interview for children sexually abused by their family members

Since the implementation of this at KK Women's and Children's Hospital in 2018, young victims of sexual assault by family members have been undergoing one integrated interview by various parties - police officers, Ministry of Social and Family Development officers and doctors.

This eliminates the need for victims to recount their experiences repeatedly, which can be traumatic.

2. One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSAFE) Centre

At the OneSAFE centre at the Police Cantonment Complex, victims undergo forensic medical examinations and interviews at a single, private location.

3. Victim Care Cadre Programme

This programme was implemented in 2014. Volunteers with relevant qualifications and experience in psychology, counselling or social work are trained to provide victims with emotional support throughout the criminal justice process.

4. Sensitivity training for police officers

All police officers are trained to handle victims with sensitivity. In addition, investigation officers handling sexual crimes are trained to manage the victims to minimise potential trauma during interviews.

5. Information pamphlet on investigation and court processes for victims

Designed by the police and the Ministry of Law, the pamphlet educates victims on investigation and court processes, and encourages them to step forward.

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