Why It Matters

To due process, add sensitivity

Early this month, lawyer Edmund Wong humiliated a molestation victim in court, asking her to stand up to show how attractive she was. He said if she was voluptuous and wearing a low-cut top, the more likely it was that she would get molested.

Such victim blaming has happened before. In July, a letter in The Straits Times Forum page suggested that women get molested because they wear short shorts. This mindset is unacceptable. It is even more so when it happens in court, where rape and molestation victims are facing the accused and reliving the assault.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said: "Any case of inappropriate court conduct is one case too many."

Thus, it is welcome news that the Government has been looking at how female victims of sexual assault are treated, not just in court, but throughout the entire process - including the police statement and hospital examination - to see if it can be made more sensitive. However, while it is important to be more sensitive to victims, there is also a need to ensure that a fair trial for the accused is not compromised.

But striking the right balance with written rules is not easy, as Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told The Straits Times recently.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Government wants to make procedures more sensitive is a signal to society that misogyny and victim blaming are not right. Society's view is crucial.

If a victim confides in someone about being raped but is told her dressing, behaviour or alcohol consumption must have led to the rape, she would be less likely to report the incident, said women's group Aware. In 2013, only a third of the 132 women who contacted its sexual assault helpline made police reports.

It is about time the Government looked into the relevant processes. Women victims of sexual assault should not be humiliated because of victim blaming or the misogynistic view that looseness equates to consent to sex. They should feel that the courts will accord justice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'To due process, add sensitivity'. Print Edition | Subscribe