NUS accepts recommendations for tougher penalties on sexual misconduct; minimum 1-year suspension for serious offences

NUS undergraduate Monica Baey's Instagram posts in April had sparked a discussion about disciplinary processes in universities and how sexual misconduct cases are handled. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore has accepted all the recommendations by a review committee on sexual misconduct, including tougher penalties such as a minimum one-year suspension for serious offences and immediate expulsion for severe or aggravated cases.

The committee was set up to review the university's disciplinary and support frameworks after an undergraduate who was filmed in the shower at a hostel said that the punishment meted out to the perpetrator was too lenient.

Madam Kay Kuok, a barrister-at-law and a member of the NUS Board of Trustees, set out some of the recommendations in an e-mail to students, staff and alumni on Monday (June 10).

They span three broad areas - sanctions for offenders, the involvement of victims in the disciplinary process, and measures to enhance victim support and campus safety.

Recommended sanctions include tougher penalties for sexual misconduct, such as a minimum one-year suspension for serious offences, which the Board of Discipline (BOD) or the Disciplinary Appeals Board cannot override or remove.

For "severe instances or aggravated forms of offences" of sexual misconduct, immediate expulsion is recommended.

A protocol to ensure that victim and offender do not come into contact with each other will also be put in place. It ensures that they do not take the same classes or non-academic programmes.

Madam Kuok also said NUS should grant victims more rights, and that victims should be more involved in the disciplinary process.

Recommendations made in this regard include keeping victims up-to-date on the disciplinary proceedings and having an avenue for victims to request for a review of case outcomes in "exceptional circumstances".

NUS should also review the composition of the BOD to "ensure adequate gender balance among the members", Madam Kuok added.

In response to the measures, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said the "robust set of measures" will provide better support for victims, take the offenders to task, deter future offenders, and improve the safety of the campus.

"It has been a difficult period for the NUS community, but by taking swift and decisive action, NUS will emerge stronger and better," Mr Ong said in a Facebook post on Monday night.

"The other institutes of higher learning are also conducting their reviews, and the Ministry of Education will continue to work with them to help ensure a safe and supportive environment for our students," he added.

In April, Ms Monica Baey, 23, posted a series of Instagram stories detailing how she was filmed in the shower at Eusoff Hall last November and expressed unhappiness with how the university dealt with the case.

The culprit, 23-year-old undergraduate Nicholas Lim, was ordered to write Ms Baey a letter of apology, was suspended for a semester, barred from entering halls and residences and had to undergo counselling. He was handed a conditional warning by the police.

Ms Baey's posts sparked a discussion about disciplinary processes in universities and how sexual misconduct cases are handled.

Since the issue came under the spotlight, NUS has increased the number of guards at hostels, and said it will be adding hundreds of CCTV cameras and enhancing the security and privacy of toilets in halls and sports facilities.

At a campus meeting held in April, Ms Baey said there was a lack of support from the university after the incident and a lack of communication about the disciplinary process.

She also suggested the "no-contact" condition between victims and perpetrators and urged NUS to set up a separate office to deal with sexual assault, which should provide emotional and administrative support, along with a 24/7 hotline.

In response, NUS management said that immediate action will be taken to set up a Victim Care Unit and improve campus security.

In Monday's e-mail, Madam Kuok said the committee had noted the university is in the process of implementing measures to enhance support for victims and safety across campus, and that it has reviewed these plans.

Recommendations in this area include ensuring care officers in the Victim Care Unit have relevant experience in counselling, social work, psychology or a related field and setting up a dedicated website to provide information and advice for sexual misconduct victims.

"While care officers from the Victim Care Unit will be the central point of contact and first layer of support, they should work closely with the masters, resident fellows, resident advisors and student support managers, amongst others, who will continue to provide pastoral care at hostels, faculties and schools as the second layer of support, with peer groups forming the third layer of support," said Madam Kuok.

"This will ensure a holistic support network is provided for victims."

She added that the committee had come up with these recommendations after studying global practices at leading universities and consulting experts.

It also consulted the NUS community through 15 in-person engagement sessions and an independent online survey of students.

She also noted that the committee had consulted external legal advisors and determined that "past cases on which the BOD had formally ruled, and for which sanctions have been meted out, cannot be reopened".

Madam Kuok added: "The committee believes that these recommendations set a new benchmark for disciplinary sanctions for sexual misconduct.

"The higher benchmark will send a strong message that the university does not tolerate sexual misconduct and serve as a strong deterrent."

In addition to Madam Kuok, the committee members are Singapore Management University president Lily Kong; law firm WongPartnership managing partner Ng Wai King; NUS president Tan Eng Chye; Professor Chan Heng Chee, who is ambassador-at-large with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Yale-NUS governing board; NUS Students' Union deputy student life secretary Richard Wang; Ms Tay Pei Ling, president of King Edward VII Hall in NUS; and graduate fellow Murni Marisa Mahat from Tembusu College.

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