SINGAPORE - Singapore must do its best to protect women and girls from being harassed or harmed, whether in public places, at home or online.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this on Saturday (Sept 18) at the virtual closing session of the Conversations on Singapore Women's Development.
While Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world, where women can walk along on the streets at all hours without fear, this physical safety and sense of security cannot be taken for granted, he said.
He said: "We must keep up our efforts to maintain high standards of law and order in Singapore. At the same time, we must do our utmost to protect women and girls from being harassed or harmed."
To achieve that, a Bill to toughen punishments for three sex crimes was passed in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13).
PM Lee added: "As a society, we must cultivate an environment where people respond with empathy and support when something bad like this happens. Victims must be able to seek help easily, and without suffering additional distress.
"More importantly, victims must not have cause to fear that they themselves will be blamed or shamed for what has happened to them, and therefore suffer in silence."
Family violence is not as rare as it should be, PM Lee added, with the situation worsening due to the pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The task force on family violence will soon be publishing a report that will include recommendations such as improving immediate support for victims, enhancing protection for them, preventing violence from recurring and raising awareness of early warning signs, he said.
Another threat to the safety of this generation of girls and women comes from online, he said, as females of all ages are exposed and vulnerable to harassment, bullying, grooming or unwelcome attention on social media.
As a result, many victims suffer psychological distress or are driven to self-harm, he said, adding that it is vital to ensure the online space remains safe for girls and women.
The fundamental solution to the problem of violence against women is to inculcate the right values so that men and women respect each other's boundaries, and know that it is wrong and forbidden to take advantage of women, mistreat them, or attack them physically or sexually, said PM Lee.
He added: "Parents must educate their children about healthy boundaries and respect.
"In schools, our students must learn the importance of respecting one another, and how to protect themselves both in real life and online."
He noted that institutions of higher learning should be places where young men and women can feel safe.
And everyone can do their part in their daily lives by refusing to take part in "locker room talk", speaking out against such disrespect for women and the objectification of women, he said.
Ms Elaine Tan, deputy director of communications and partnerships at St Luke's Eldercare, was at a panel discussion at the People's Action Party's annual Women's Wing conference, also on Saturday.
She told The Straits Times the media has a huge role to play in normalising that it is OK for victims to seek help.
She said: "There's also some degree of stigmatisation.
"Sometimes, men make these jokes that women are 'asking for it' because of the way they dress. These sorts of arguments and statements are archaic, and they should stop. It comes from a perspective of toxic masculinity."