Tougher penalties for sex offenders at Singapore varsity now in force

The tougher regime of penalties for sexual misconduct at the National University of Singapore is now in force.National University of Singapore. — Picture courtesy of NUS via TODAY
The tougher regime of penalties for sexual misconduct at the National University of Singapore is now in force.National University of Singapore. — Picture courtesy of NUS via TODAY

SINGAPORE, June 14 — Three days after accepting recommendations to toughen penalties for sexual misconduct on campus, the National University of Singapore (NUS) said the stiffer punishments have come into force yesterday.

The university emphasised that the new penalties were separate from, and in addition to, any police action in sexual misconduct cases.

In a letter to students, staff members and alumni, university president Tan Eng Chye said that the new framework to deal with sexual misconduct — including a minimum one-year suspension, and immediate expulsion in severe cases — is now in force.

Offenders will also receive a notation of the disciplinary action on their transcripts. They must receive certification from a counsellor, medical professional or both before they can return to campus after a suspension.

In accepting the recommendations on Monday, NUS would not revisit past cases — which meant the case involving undergraduate Monica Baey, which catapulted the issue into the national spotlight, will not be reopened.

The schedule for the roll-out of the university’s moves to deal with sexual misconduct is as follows:

June

Training will begin for first responders to sexual-misconduct cases, including campus security officers and resident advisers, and other students and staff members on the frontline.

Security measures will go up a notch: New bathroom locks in all hostels, more security officers in hostels and patrols on campus, and 300 new closed-circuit television cameras to step up coverage.

July

A new disciplinary process that gives victims a greater voice. This includes keeping victims updated on disciplinary proceedings and having a care officer accompany them at hearings.

August

A victim-care unit will be launched at the end of August, where experienced officers will support victims. Helmed by a psychologist, the unit will have an advisory board comprising experts in law, social work and psychological medicine.

A website with resources for victims of sexual misconduct will go online.

A compulsory module, Respect and Consent Culture, will begin for all students and staff members.

October

The upgrade of 860 shower cubicles, with safety and privacy features, will be completed in hostels and sports facilities.

Engagements with the community on campus will continue on the effectiveness of the measures, Professor Tan said.

About the measures

The measures were put up following recommendations from a committee that looked into the university's disciplinary and support frameworks.

The group, convened in April, reviewed how the university handles cases of sexual misconduct.

The catalyst for the review was the case of Baey, which went viral, dominated the media and was discussed in Parliament.

In April, Baey expressed anger on Instagram at the inadequate punishment meted out to a fellow student who filmed her showering without her consent at a hall of residence in November last year.

In the wake of the incident, NUS unveiled a range of measures, including covering gaps in shower cubicles, beefing up security presence at hostels, and installing new locks at the entrances to bathrooms in hostels.

Extend urgent support to victims

An independent research consultancy commissioned by NUS also gathered views from more than 5,200 students between May 16 and 26.

The survey was open to all 39,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the university.

More than seven in 10 students felt that the victim-care unit must focus on confidentiality (78 per cent) and urgent support for victims (74 per cent). About six in 10 students said that there was a need for qualified care officers throughout the process.

Nearly nine in 10 students said that victims should have the right to appeal decisions on sentencing and penalties (86 per cent). A slightly smaller proportion (73 per cent) said that offenders should have this right.

An overwhelming majority (96 per cent) stressed the need for a website on sexual misconduct, with information about how to get urgent help, and about victim rights and the law, for example.

Students said that they felt safer with the improvements that the university has set in motion.

For instance, 59 per cent of the respondents had highlighted having secure shower cubicles as an area for improvement, with 85 per cent feeling safer after the recent enhancements in this area.

Prof Tan said that the measures were an “important starting point” in the university’s continuing efforts to improve its systems and culture.

“We will continue to engage students, staff and alumni to understand the efficacy of the new measures and how we might do even better,” he said. — TODAY

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