NUS Peeping Tom case

Stiffer penalties for students who commit sexual offences

The 10 suggestions were made by a review committee which was set up after a voyeurism incident sparked a public debate over the National University of Singapore's disciplinary policies. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
The 10 suggestions were made by a review committee which was set up after a voyeurism incident sparked a public debate over the National University of Singapore's disciplinary policies. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

NUS accepts all 10 of review panel's recommendations, including immediate expulsion for aggravated cases

Students of the National University of Singapore (NUS) who commit sexual offences will soon face harsher punishment, including immediate expulsion for severe or aggravated cases.

For serious offences, they will get a minimum one-year sus-pension, which the university's board of discipline or disciplinary appeals board cannot override or remove.

These were among 10 recommendations from a review committee that was set up after a voyeurism incident sparked a public debate over NUS' disciplinary policies.

All 10 were accepted by the university yesterday.

Another of the recommendations requires a counsellor or medical professional to certify that the offender is fit before he can return to campus after his suspension ends.

A no-contact protocol will also be put in place to ensure that the victim and the offender do not come into contact with each other - for instance, by ensuring they do not take the same classes.

Further, an offender's academic transcript will include a statement on the duration of the suspension. But this can be expunged three years after the offender is conferred the degree.

The review committee was convened on April 30, shortly after undergraduate Monica Baey, 23, who was filmed in her hostel's shower by fellow student Nicholas Lim, also 23, took to social media to express her frustration over the punishment meted out to him by NUS.

 
 

Mr Lim was, among other things, suspended for a semester and banned from going to her hostel.

Separately, he was handed a conditional warning by the police.

Yesterday, NUS students, staff and alumni were sent an e-mail of the list of recommendations by Madam Kay Kuok, a member of the NUS board of trustees who chaired the committee.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung last night lauded the "robust" measures, saying they will "provide better support for victims, take the offenders to task, deter future offenders and improve the safety of the campus".

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

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam told The Straits Times that the new penalties will be a strong deterrent as they "send the signal that sexual misconduct will not be condoned".

Ms Baey's Instagram posts in April triggered an intense debate on disciplinary processes in universities and how sexual mis-conduct cases had been handled. Accounts of earlier offences also emerged.

That led NUS to hold a campus town hall meeting where Ms Baey suggested that it considered suspensions of up to two years as well as the no-contact protocol between victims and perpetrators.

In the past three academic years, 25 cases of sexual offences were brought before the NUS board of discipline.

No one was expelled.

In her e-mail, Madam Kuok, who is a barrister-at-law, said her committee had sought legal advice and concluded that past cases, for which sanctions have been meted out, cannot be reopened.

She also said the harsher new measures "send a strong message (that) the university does not tolerate sexual misconduct".

The committee came up with its suggestions after studying practices at leading universities abroad and consulting experts, she said.

It also consulted the NUS community through 15 feedback sessions and an online survey of students done by a research firm.

Ms Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research, said it is a good practice to have penalties that range from lenient to severe.

"It is difficult to determine if a penalty is uniformly appropriate. It depends on the individual case, and the myriad of compounding factors involved," she added.

Ms Adeline Loh, 21, a second-year Yale-NUS College literature student who is "cautiously optimistic" about the measures, said she was concerned the sexual misconduct notation on offenders' transcripts could be expunged.

"Trauma for a survivor is often lifelong. We should think about how we can rehabilitate offenders while continuing to hold them accountable for their growth after graduation," she said.


10 recommendations

Sanctions framework 

1. Tougher penalties for sexual misconduct

• Minimum one-year suspension for serious offences. Immediate expulsion for severe instances or aggravated offences.

• Notation of disciplinary action on transcript.

• No-contact protocol to ensure that the victim and offender do not come into contact with each other.

Disciplinary framework

2. Giving victims a voice in the disciplinary process

• Keeping victims up to date on proceedings.

• Having an avenue for victims to request a review of case outcomes.

3. Provide greater empathy and support to victims

• A care officer to be appointed for each victim at the point an incident is reported.

4. Set a clear timeline for disciplinary process and streamline number of entities involved

• Though the timeline differs for each case, there should be an outline of when each stage of the process should be completed.

Improving victim support, culture of respect and campus safety

5. Enhancing victim support framework and network

• Ensure care officers at the Victim Care Unit have relevant experience in counselling or a related field.

• A dedicated website to be set up to provide information and advice for victims of sexual misconduct.

6. Rehabilitation of offenders

• Ensure offenders serve out their sanctions, undergo rehabilitation and are certified fit to return by counsellors before they are allowed back on campus after suspension.

7. Education on respect and consent

• Module on respect and consent to be launched and made compulsory for students and staff.

8. Adequacy of campus security and infrastructure

• Number of security guards at hostels to be increased and roving patrols across campus to be introduced.

• Secure shower cubicles and install restroom locks.

9. Past disciplinary cases cannot be reopened

10. Commitment to ongoing review

• Frameworks to be reviewed every two years.

• The National University of Singapore should continue to engage its stakeholders on this matter.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2019, with the headline 'Stiffer penalties for students who commit sexual offences'. Print Edition | Subscribe