Victims must be given a voice in disciplinary process: Student poll

NUS has since said it will let victims be more involved in the process, including having an ave-nue to ask for a review of case outcomes in some circumstances.
NUS has since said it will let victims be more involved in the process, including having an ave-nue to ask for a review of case outcomes in some circumstances.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

From the moment a student falls victim to a sexual offence, the university must do all it can to help him or her, and this includes allowing the victim to speak up during the disciplinary process.

An online survey conducted by the National University of Singapore (NUS) last month found that 86 per cent of students felt that the victim should have the right to appeal against the university's decisions on sentencing and sanctions, an option that was not previously available.

NUS has since said it will let victims be more involved in the process, including having an ave-nue to ask for a review of case outcomes in some circumstances.

The survey, which was done by an independent research consultancy in the wake of a case of sexual misconduct at NUS, also found that more than 70 per cent of students felt the most important support the university can offer victims is to provide them with legal advice, followed by counselling and a no-contact protocol or restraining order.

The survey drew responses from about 5,200 students, of whom 51 per cent were female. The majority were not residents at university halls. NUS has about 39,000 students.

The survey results were released yesterday to students, staff and alumni.

NUS president Tan Eng Chye said the survey findings were taken into consideration by the review committee set up to overhaul existing sexual misconduct policies.

 
 
 

This was undertaken after a female undergraduate's Instagram postings - expressing her unhappiness at how NUS had dealt with her being filmed by a fellow student in the shower - sparked a discussion about how sexual misconduct should be handled in institutions of higher learning.

The survey showed that students felt that NUS' new Victim Care Unit, which will open in August, should give victims assurance of confidentiality and urgent support, and appoint dedicated and qualified care officers who can follow them throughout the process.

The majority of students said the recent security upgrades by NUS, such as increasing CCTV coverage and securing shower cubicles, made them feel safer.

Most also supported some of the new measures such as a notation of sexual misconduct on an offender's transcript and more than half felt the record should remain for longer than five years.

About a third of respondents said NUS should have an education module on respect and consent every year, while 43 per cent indicated that it should be taught by expert third-party organisations in person.

Half of them also felt the university's sanctions and victim support system should be reviewed every two years and a survey to understand students' concerns should be conducted annually.

Second-year arts and social sciences student Megan Morais, 21, who took part in the survey, said she agrees that victims should be able to appeal against sentencing and sanction decisions.

She said it makes sense to focus on immediate victim care, as the lack of it has been a consistent theme across survivors' sharings across town halls and engagement sessions.

"A lot of them have been deterred from seeking out other forms of victim support because of the disempowerment and insensitive treatment they got when they reported," she said. "I think people will be encouraged to report if they knew they'd be met with adequate support."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2019, with the headline 'Victims must be given a voice in disciplinary process: Student poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe