Gym takes action after outcry over CCTV in women-only area

Gym operator Virgin Active has put up signage informing female members that a women-only area at one of its branches is under camera surveillance, but it will not remove the camera despite criticisms.

It has also apologised for a "lack of sensitivity" in its replies to concerns about the location of the closed-circuit television camera (CCTV).

The camera is in the communal area of the female Relax and Recovery Zone at the Raffles Place branch. It has been there since the club's opening in October 2013 for security reasons, said Virgin Active in a Facebook comment.

But netizens commented that the area is next to the showers and sauna room. Many "consider this to be part of the changing room", said Facebook user Aakriti Maheshwary.

Others said that they had seen women walking in the area in various stages of undress and were shocked to find out that the area was being monitored.

Gym member Chloe Fair said on Facebook that she was extremely unhappy that she had been unaware of the camera for more than two years.

The first official complaint was made by a member on Feb 21, a Virgin Active spokesman told The Straits Times on Monday. It is unclear how the CCTV was discovered.

Last Friday, the gym operator put up a post about the issue on Facebook, and uploaded screenshots from CCTV footage to show where the camera was pointing.

Screen grabs of footage from the closed-circuit television camera in the communal area of the female Relax and Recovery Zone at Virgin Active's Raffles Place branch. PHOTOS: VIRGIN ACTIVE SINGAPORE/FACEBOOK

But it drew criticism for some of its responses to comments on Facebook.

In one response that has since been removed, it said: "... the CCTV is positioned where our female members can pick up a bathrobe before using our relax and recovery facilities... And while we celebrate body positivity just like anyone living in the now times and is morally obligated to stay woke and is part of the 'me too' movement, we trust our members are aware enough to be covered up when moving through the club."

One gym user called the response "snarky and off-tangent", while another said the staff member replying to comments was making the situation worse.

In a second Facebook post on Monday, Virgin Active expressed "regret over the distress the issue has caused", and emphasised that there are no CCTVs inside the changing rooms.

The spokesman told The Straits Times that the company apologised for the "lack of sensitivity" in its replies, which was "unintentional".

The employee involved has been counselled and will be attending training to be aware of the "intrinsic sensitivities our members have", he added.

The spokesman also said the CCTV was installed primarily for the security of members and staff, and to monitor any intrusions from the fire escape located in the communal area.

The footage is reviewed once a month to ensure that the camera is functioning properly. It is also accessed if there are reported incidents in the club.

The gym operator has put up temporary signage and is waiting for permanent signage to be delivered.

In its Facebook post, Virgin Active said the company would seriously consider re-angling the camera more towards the fire escape.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2019, with the headline 'Gym takes action after outcry over CCTV in women-only area'. Subscribe