Quicker, stronger protection on cards for victims of intimate partner violence, including unmarried individuals

Currently, a person can apply for a Personal Protection Order under the Women's Charter, but only against a family member such as a spouse, parent or sibling. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - In a decisive move to curb violence among intimate partners, victims of harassment, including unmarried individuals, may soon be afforded protection against their abusers more easily and quickly.

Victims at risk of violence would also be able to get expedited protection orders within 24 hours.

Such protection could also be extended to the victims' family members - such as parents or children - who often find themselves at risk from the abuser. Meanwhile, if the violent partner breached court orders, he or she could face immediate arrest and eventually harsher punishment.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Thursday (Feb 21) addressed the dark side of relationships, where intimate partners inflict pain and violence, and revealed how the Government was changing the law to help the victims. He was speaking at an event organised by family violence specialist centre Promoting Alternatives to Violence (Pave).

Acknowledging that it is currently difficult for unmarried victims of partner violence to get legal help, he said: "We will do all we can to help people like you."

Unmarried victims, he said, could not apply for Personal Protection Orders (PPO) under the Women's Charter, whereas it took some time to get protection through magistrate's complaints or under the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha). All that is set to change.

"The changes we are making to the law, whether under the Poha or the Penal Code, recognises that people need quick justice," said Mr Shanmugam.

Poha, which was passed in 2014 to cover areas ranging from bullying, stalking and sexual harassment, is set to be amended in the coming months. Among others, the changes would help those who were in abusive dating relationships.

A new court would be set up to hear all matters related to Poha so that victims were spared the trouble of shuttling between civil and criminal courts, said Mr Shanmugam.

The forms and processes for making applications are also set to be simplified.

Most importantly, the relief would be given much faster, if the changes take effect. "There are cases when one more night in the home could be detrimental," said Mr Shanmugam.

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Those who are at risk of violence could also be able to apply and get an expedited protection order (EPO) within 24 hours.

This interim protection order would be in effect all the way till the court makes a final decision on the victim's protection order application.

Currently, there is no stipulated timeframe before an EPO - which can be valid for up to 28 days - is granted by the courts.

The burden of proof for victims applying for PO and EPO is also set to be reduced.

In addition, friends and families of victims could be protected under the victim's protection orders. This is as they are often at risk of being harassed by perpetrators, he noted.

Proposed changes to the Poha will also include swifter and harsher action to be taken against abusers who breach the protection orders.

Those who breach the orders could soon be arrested immediately by the police without a warrant, and those who repeatedly breach the orders will face double the penalties, said Mr Shanmugam, who reiterated the Government's resolve to help victims.

"No one should undergo such violence and certainly not at the hands of the person they trust, even love," he said.

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