Sunday 19 February 2017

New one-stop centre for sexual crime victims after review of investigation, court processes: MHA

New one-stop centre for alleged rape victims
Facility at Police Cantonment Complex among new initiatives to protect victims of sexual crimes
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Victims reporting an alleged rape to the police will no longer have to suffer more stress of being taken to a public hospital for the necessary examination.

If the alleged sexual assault is reported within 72 hours of the incident, a victim can be attended to instead at a new centre in the Police Cantonment Complex, by specialists from the Singapore General Hospital.

The One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSafe) Centre was one of the initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday, following a review of investigation and court procedures dealing with sexual crimes.

"One of the key issues is... to encourage victims to come forward and make the whole experience something that doesn't add to their trauma," Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a press conference yesterday.

This will make it easier for victims to lodge a report and undergo an examination.

The new centre began operations last month and, in its pilot phase, will see adult rape victims who do not require other medical attention.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Tan Chye Hee, who is also the director of the Criminal Investigation Department, said the police see an average of about 150 rape cases a year. Most are reported after 72 hours of the alleged offence.

Officers who come into contact with victims can always be better trained, said Mr Shanmugam, and the police are working with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) to develop a training video to do so.

Based on the experiences of AWARE's clients at its Sexual Assault Care Centre, the only specialised service here for victims, the video is intended to help sensitise officers to victims' experiences during the investigation process.

It is expected to be ready by the third quarter of this year, said MHA.

To encourage victims to come forward in reporting sexual crimes, the police and Ministry of Law (MinLaw) are also expected to publish an information pamphlet that will educate victims on investigation and court processes.

The pamphlet will include the care and support measures that are available.

New measures will extend to court processes too, with MinLaw looking at how to reduce stress on victims.

This could include enhancing restrictions on cross-examination in court and finding new ways to better protect their privacy.

Both ministries will review the punishment for sexual offences as well, said Mr Shanmugam.

"In many cases, women are assaulted and the assaulter deserves to be punished seriously," he said.

But he also recognised the need to strike a balance in measures, as some accusations are false.

"Within that framework, how to make the trial process less intimidating, more accommodating for the victim and also to make the process of cross-examination less vexatious for the victim - those are the things we are looking at."

MHA and the Ministry of Social and Family Development are also studying different interviewing models for sexual abuse of children that occurs within a family.

This longer-term collaboration aims to reduce the need for victims to recount traumatic experiences repeatedly to different officers.

Enhanced support welcomed by AWARE, lawyers
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Advocacy group the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) welcomed initiatives to enhance support for sexual crime victims, but said it hoped improvements would help address the under-reporting it has observed of sexual crimes.

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced new measures yesterday including a centre at the Police Cantonment Complex where adult rape victims can undergo medical examinations without having to go to a public hospital.

AWARE, which runs a Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), said its clients have often met with frustration and difficulty in reporting alleged assault.

This is because they have to make multiple trips to different agencies, experience long waiting times for interviews or examinations, and find themselves giving statements about an incident several times.

"By combining medical assistance, forensic examination and police reporting, this initiative has the potential to make the reporting process much less onerous and stressful," said AWARE.

Last year, 41 per cent of the 338 people who reached out to the SACC did so in connection with an incident of alleged rape - making it the most frequently reported offence there.

But AWARE's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan said: "A majority of our clients do not report their experiences to the police." This is often out of fear they will not be believed or do not have enough evidence to back their accusations.

Lawyers also welcomed extending greater protection to sexual crime victims by reducing the stress of court processes on them. Mr Rajan Supramaniam said: "Sometimes, victims may break down during cross-examination and this could lead to psychological harm in the long run."

Ms Tan Bee Keow, director of youth service at the Singapore Children's Society, said re-telling an assault experience could be traumatising, especially if interviews by different parties take place over time.

She said she was heartened that the authorities are studying multidisciplinary interviewing models for children who have been sexually abused by a family member. "Different professionals look for different information, but this may overlap," she said. "If everyone can come together... and guide the victims by their various fields of expertise, that would help."

Justice for sex crime victims
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2017

People who have been sexually assaulted may sometimes feel they have more reasons not to report it than go to the police - often fearing they have too little evidence, or that no one will believe them.

Some are frustrated after coming forward, having to make multiple trips to different agencies. Others find themselves in a tough spot in court, revisiting a traumatic incident during a cross-examination that may extend to being vexatious.

A new one-stop centre set up by the police and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) at the Police Cantonment Complex aims to reduce such stress. It is among initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs last Friday to support sexual crime victims. This follows a review of investigation and court processes, revealed last August as Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam criticised lawyer Edmund Wong, who defended his client's molestation charge by focusing on the victim's breasts and attractiveness.

Instead of travelling to a public hospital for examinations, those who make police reports within 72 hours of being raped will be seen by SGH doctors at the centre, which also provides victim care support. They will also be interviewed by the police at the complex.

Laws and court processes will be strengthened to reduce victims' trauma, while being fair to the accused. Experts hope that the improvements can address the under-reporting of sexual crimes, stressing the need to be sensitive in handling victims. While an average of about 150 rape cases are reported in a year, there are many who do not go to the police.

Measures like the one-stop centre could tackle under-reporting, looking at Japan's experience. The authorities have received more than 200 inquiries on sexual violence since a similar centre in the Nagasaki prefecture opened last April, compared to a dozen such inquiries in a year previously. Japan is set to expand such centres to all prefectures by 2020.

One hopes that Singapore's new initiatives will have a similar effect, helping to ensure that perpetrators do not get away scot-free.

Enhancing Care and Protection for Victims of Sexual Crimes

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