Why It Matters

Less trauma for victims

Victims of sexual and child abuse often face enormous stress and trauma when going through the investigative and court processes.

Some of them may even choose to stay silent about a crime for fear of embarrassment and shame.

The changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act proposed by the Ministry of Law on Monday will give vulnerable victims more confidence in reporting such cases and seeing them through.

The proposed amendments include issuing gag orders the moment a police report is lodged and automatic closed-door hearings. Victims will also be able to give their oral testimony through video recording.

Each year, the police see an average of 150 rape cases and 1,200 to 1,300 cases of outrage of modesty. Most cases are reported only after 72 hours of the alleged offence.

A 2013 study by the United States' National Research Council found that 80 per cent of sexual assault cases go unreported.

Singapore's Sexual Assault Care Centre, in a 2015 survey, found that only 6 per cent of the respondents who have experienced sexual violence sought help.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam has recently stressed the need for the criminal justice process to be "less intimidating" for victims.

Lawyers and activists say the proposed reforms are important steps, and will lessen the trauma victims face in recounting their ordeals.

But these efforts need to be bolstered by greater public education and awareness as well.

If or when the laws are passed, information explaining the legal processes at police stations and in court should be easily accessible.

Those who know of victims of sexual or child abuse should learn to recognise the signs and offer help.

Taken together, these efforts will send a strong signal to victims that they are not alone when it comes to bringing their perpetrators to justice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2017, with the headline 'Less trauma for victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe