The horror felt by members of the public at the abuse and death of Miss Annie Ee Yu Lian should be channelled into action, said Dr Sudha Nair, executive director of Pave, a charity that specialises in tackling interpersonal violence.
"As a community, we need to take a stand and not be a bystander to issues of interpersonal violence. Annie is dead, but there are many like Annie who are still out there needing our help... We cannot stand by and do nothing."
Court documents revealed that throughout the period of abuse by a couple she regarded as family, Miss Ee, 26, had come into contact with neighbours, colleagues and, on separate occasions, a clinic assistant and doctor. "Yet, no one did anything," said Dr Nair.
Organisations that handle interpersonal violence cases say there are challenges that prevent victims from seeking help or bystanders from reporting such cases.
Ms Cherylene Aw, a representative from Trans Family Services, said that often, victims fear the negative impact on relationships, and legal or criminal implications for the abusers.
"Victims who are vulnerable adults also lack knowledge and awareness of their rights and are often unable to perceive acts as abusive or detrimental to their well-being," she said.
• Pave (Promoting Alternatives to Violence): 6555-0390
• Trans Safe Centre: 6449-9088
• Care Corner Project StART: 6476-1482
• Aware: 1800-777-5555
• NuLife Care & Counselling: 6300-8706
Ms Aw said that potential whistle-blowers might also be uncertain about what constitutes abuse, and the lack of knowledge of help available might prevent them from making a report. Some also fear compromising their own safety, should they be identified.
Executive director of the Disabled People's Association, Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills, said: "Culturally, we are not comfortable with being seen to pry into the lives of others and making judgment.
"(But) if we think the situation warrants intervention, then we should not be scared to speak up and alert the authorities," she said.
Besides raising awareness of the avenues for reporting abuse and rallying the community to dispel myths that abuse is a private matter, the organisations The Sunday Times spoke to said the much-anticipated Vulnerable Adults Bill is a step forward in protecting vulnerable individuals.
The Bill proposes enhanced powers of access for appointed professionals to investigate and intervene in cases of alleged abuse of vulnerable adults. Other pointers include protecting the identities of whistle-blowers, which will encourage more people to report suspected abuse cases, said Dr Nair.
KEEPING A DISTANCE
Culturally, we are not comfortable with being seen to pry into the lives of others and making judgment.
DR MARISSA LEE MEDJERAL-MILLS, executive director of the Disabled People's Association, on why people may not want to report cases of abuse.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) intends to introduce the Bill in Parliament early next year. According to past reports, the Bill's introduction has been delayed twice since it was first announced in 2015.
In response to The Sunday Times' queries, a ministry spokesman said: "The Vulnerable Adults Bill is a complex legislation. MSF is working out the implementation details to ensure that appropriate action can be taken swiftly. We want to ensure that the various processes and resources are in place for effective implementation of this Bill."
The MSF's Adult Protective Service, which handles cases of vulnerable adult abuse and neglect, has seen 40 reported cases involving people with diagnosed or suspected intellectual disabilities since the service began in May 2015.
Lawyer Terence Seah, a partner at Virtus Law, said the proposed Bill can prevent tragedies such as Miss Ee's case from happening in the future. "The Bill will allow the authorities to intervene before harm happens, and aims to prevent and protect," he said.
"Traditionally, the police only come in when a crime has been committed, so this will give the authorities powers to investigate when abuse is suspected. The legislation will also signal that such crimes against vulnerable persons are reprehensible."
Tan Tam Mei