Unis to beef up security, offer better support for sexual offence victims

Local universities will step up security on their campuses to address new threats and improve support for victims of sexual misconduct, said Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah yesterday.

The Singapore University of Social Sciences, for example, is working with the police to tackle voyeurism, by training its security staff to inspect toilet cubicles or ceilings for miniature cameras that can be illegally installed.

In her reply to MPs, who had asked how universities and schools are combating sexual harassment, Ms Indranee outlined the broad areas the institutes of higher learning (IHLs) are reviewing, such as victim support and educating students on respect.

She said educational institutions have full-time counsellors to support victims, and a larger group of staff trained as para-counsellors.

She added: "Our IHLs will look to strengthen these provisions, taking the victim's entire journey in mind.

"The support must extend beyond counselling, and begin at the point that the victim first reaches out for help."

Acknowledging that the recent National University of Singapore "showering" case has exposed shortcomings, Ms Indranee said the university has set up a victim care unit.

A good support system must create psychological safety for victims, guide them through the processes involved in the management of their case, and update them on investigations, she added.

For more severe cases like sexual assault, IHLs need to call for external professional help where needed, she said.

Society must take a "collective stand against sexual misconduct in a modern age", she said, urging the universities to educate students on respect and what constitutes harm and violation.

"At its core, this issue is about respect for others," Ms Indranee said, noting that some mistakenly think voyeurism and verbal harassment are not serious as there is no physical contact with the victim.

"Technology has also amplified the potential for harm arising from sexual misconduct," she said.

Just as the Penal Code is being updated to deal with sex crimes enabled by technology, the same has to be done for processes at educational institutions, she added.

Amelia Teng

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline Unis to beef up security, offer better support for sexual offence victims. Subscribe