Encouraging students to report sexual abuse

Experts: Too many victims do not speak up out of fear, guilt

Schools need to take a more proactive approach in getting young children to speak up if they are asked to perform indecent acts, say social workers and counsellors.

Experts say cases of sexual grooming often go unreported because the victims are too afraid to tell anyone. This comes after recent court cases where school staff made children perform indecent acts, raising concerns among parents about whether schools are doing enough.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times that the schools involved are "providing the students with the necessary care and support, and will continue to monitor their well-being".

MOE said it has a stringent selection regime for educators, including various screening processes and a panel interview with experienced senior educators.

It added: "Upon entering the service, we have in place regular platforms to emphasise our high expectations. These include conversations on the importance of maintaining professional relationships with students."

Fear of judgment and guilt often hold victims back from speaking up. To tackle this, experts suggest schools raise awareness of what sexual grooming entails.

  • Recent court cases involving school staff

  • School employees, including teachers, have been in the news for preying on young children.

    In one case, primary school teacher Colin Ting Fook Mun unzipped a nine-year-old pupil's shorts to look at the underwear he had bought him, and on another occasion asked the boy to unzip his trousers. The acts occurred at the school.

    Ting, 41, who quit teaching 11/2 years ago, was jailed for 12 months.

    In another case, a primary school employee sexually abused three brothers who were studying at the school he was working in. The 52-year-old man will be sentenced at a later date.

    Yesterday, former teacher Kuang Liang Yong, 47, was jailed 22 months for getting a 13-year-old girl to send him more than 50 nude photos and videos over a nine-month period.

    Calvin Yang

Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Children's Society, hopes schools can organise more classroom discussions to teach pupils about "good and bad touches".

"Most children don't speak up because they feel guilty if they say something bad about their teachers or other adults," he said. "Schools must teach students what is considered inappropriate touching, and they need to tell a trusted adult if something happens."

Ms Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research, said: "In regular interactions with young people, adults need to demonstrate that any concerns they raise, including about authority figures, will be taken seriously.

"This will make it easier for victims of sexual exploitation to report behaviour that makes them uncomfortable and to receive the support that they need."

Ms Tan urged parents to have an atmosphere of openness at home. "If children know they can talk to their parents about sexual feelings or sexual activity without fearing a judgmental response, they are more likely to alert parents to situations of grooming," she added.

MOE said its teachers and counsellors look out for students in distress, and reach out to them to offer further intervention. Schools also have peer support efforts, such as having their peers alert trusted adults about suspected abuse.

"We take a serious view of every case where staff fall short of expected standards," it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Encouraging students to report sexual abuse'. Print Edition | Subscribe