Why It Matters

Justice for sex crime victims

People who have been sexually assaulted may sometimes feel they have more reasons not to report it than go to the police - often fearing they have too little evidence, or that no one will believe them.

Some are frustrated after coming forward, having to make multiple trips to different agencies. Others find themselves in a tough spot in court, revisiting a traumatic incident during a cross-examination that may extend to being vexatious.

A new one-stop centre set up by the police and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) at the Police Cantonment Complex aims to reduce such stress. It is among initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs last Friday to support sexual crime victims. This follows a review of investigation and court processes, revealed last August as Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam criticised lawyer Edmund Wong, who defended his client's molestation charge by focusing on the victim's breasts and attractiveness.

Instead of travelling to a public hospital for examinations, those who make police reports within 72 hours of being raped will be seen by SGH doctors at the centre, which also provides victim care support. They will also be interviewed by the police at the complex.

Laws and court processes will be strengthened to reduce victims' trauma, while being fair to the accused. Experts hope that the improvements can address the under-reporting of sexual crimes, stressing the need to be sensitive in handling victims. While an average of about 150 rape cases are reported in a year, there are many who do not go to the police.

Measures like the one-stop centre could tackle under-reporting, looking at Japan's experience. The authorities have received more than 200 inquiries on sexual violence since a similar centre in the Nagasaki prefecture opened last April, compared to a dozen such inquiries in a year previously. Japan is set to expand such centres to all prefectures by 2020.

One hopes that Singapore's new initiatives will have a similar effect, helping to ensure that perpetrators do not get away scot-free.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Justice for sex crime victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe