Faster protection being planned for harassment victims

These possible changes were revealed by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam at an event by women's rights group Association of Women for Action and Research on Nov 26, 2018.
These possible changes were revealed by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam at an event by women's rights group Association of Women for Action and Research on Nov 26, 2018.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Breaches under Act could become arrestable offences, Shanmugam reveals at drive against sexual violence

Unmarried individuals in intimate relationships may soon find it easier to apply for protection orders to stop their partners from abusing or harassing them, with proposed changes to the Protection From Harassment Act (Poha).

Breaches of some orders under the Act are also set to become arrestable offences, which could mean harassers can be dealt with more quickly for breaching them.

These possible changes were revealed by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam at an event yesterday by women's rights group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) to launch its two-year campaign to end sexual violence, Aim For Zero.

The campaign was started in line with the global #MeToo movement, which saw sexual assault survivors coming forth to share their stories.

Besides introducing a new programme to get parents to teach their children about consent and sex education, the Aware campaign will also carry out a survey on the prevalence of workplace harassment and sexual violence.

In his speech at the event at the Social Service Institute in Tiong Bahru, Mr Shanmugam said enhanced punishments are also on the cards for those who abuse or use violence against their intimate partners, including married and non-married couples.

On the possible changes, which the Ministry of Law is working on now, Mr Shanmugam said there appears to be an increase in violence between unmarried individuals in intimate partner relationships.

"We have come across a number of relationships where one has suffered significantly, serious physical abuse, unspeakable cruelty... of course, they are protected under the Penal Code... but I think we can also give them the protection available to married couples that would enhance their position," he added.

Currently, a person can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) under the Women's Charter, but only against a family member such as a spouse, parent or sibling.

Unmarried individuals can already seek protection orders under Poha, which was passed in 2014 and covers a gamut of areas from cyber bullying and stalking, to bullying and sexual harassment outside of an intimate relationship.

But some say the process in seeking protection orders under Poha is more drawn out than that under the Women's Charter.

For example, those seeking an order under Poha would generally require a lawyer to make the application, while those seeking a PPO under the Women's Charter can file it on their own, said Aware executive director Corinna Lim, a former lawyer.

"If you get the Poha order - which is already so hard to get - and you go to the police to say it has been breached, unlike under the Women's Charter where the police immediately step in, the police would say, 'Sorry it is not arrestable', you would have to go back to court," she added.

Acknowledging the feedback on the Poha process, Mr Shanmugam said: "I have asked my team to look at it further and to work with the courts to see how we can streamline it, make it even faster and make it less costly."

Separately, Mr Shanmugam also said the Government maintains a zero-tolerance, no-nonsense approach against violence towards others, stressing that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community would get the same protection as others.

He said it had come to his attention that some LGBTs may have been blackmailed with threats to expose their sexual orientation to stop them from reporting acts of violence. He stressed that action would be taken against the aggressors.

"Sexual orientation doesn't matter, who you are doesn't matter... if you are violently attacked... you can be sure that action (will be) taken," said Mr Shanmugam.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'Faster protection being planned for harassment victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe