SINGAPORE – Over the past few years, Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) has witnessed a rise in reported sex crimes, having processed 338 cases in 2015, which is 31% more than the 234 cases processed the year before. These cases, however, are a mere fraction of the total, since many sex crimes go unreported.
In 2017, some efforts were made to improve how sex crimes are handled. Earlier this year, the Home Affairs Ministry announced the opening of the One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination Centre (a.k.a. OneSafe).
The private facility was developed in partnership with Singapore General Hospital and will handle adult rape cases that are reported within the first 72 hours. The centre is located within the Police Cantonment Complex, which enables victims to both submit a police report in addition to receiving on-site forensic and medical examinations.
The OneSafe initiative was intended to ensure that standard police procedure following a sex crime would not add to a victim’s trauma.
Despite such efforts, SACC manager Anisha Joseph maintains that there is much more work to be done with regard to cultivating a more supportive environment for victims of sexual assault.
Family and friends have the important responsibility of being first responders, whose obligation it is to be on the lookout for any signs of trauma and to help victims heal after the sexual assault. following a traumatic event. Fostering a non-judgmental, understanding environment is crucial to putting victims at ease and reassuring them with phrases such as “it is not your fault” can help to alleviate feelings of self-blame.
“We need more public awareness about how to respond to survivors in a supportive and empathetic way,” said Anisha Joseph, which involves facilitating “access to resources like counselling or support for police reporting.”
Schools and the workplace should also be equipped with the necessary knowledge and training to handle signs of sexual abuse. This is especially important, because individuals often choose not to report a sex crime inflicted on them, primarily due to the fear of how their closest family and friends might react to the incident and perceive them. Victims also fear that their reports may be met with doubt or lack sufficiently incriminating evidence.
In a case managed by the SACC, a woman who reported that her boss had raped her was met with suspicion. The woman stated that her boss insisted upon staying in the same room together in order to “[save] costs,” and assured her that “nothing would happen.”
Her arguments were subsequently dismissed and she was instead asked why she consented to stay in the same room.
Such a case demonstrates the intense scrutiny that victims are often subjected to even after they’ve made the brave and often onerous decision to step forward and report egregious sexual crimes.
According to clinical psychologist Jeanie Chu of Resilienz Clinic, there are approximately three to five cases of sexual abuse processed at the clinic each month.
Most of Ms. Chu’s patients have long suffered the psychological burden of keeping their abuse a secret, sometimes waiting for decades before approaching her for help and treatment. These victims often unknowingly suppress traumatic memories of the abuse until it later becomes apparent that the trauma has long affected them throughout their lives.
In cases where the abuser was a family member, the likelihood of a sex crime going unreported is much higher.
One of Ms. Chu’s patients was a woman in her 30s, who as an adolescent had been molested by an older family member for several years. Years later, she was also raped by a stranger. Both instances went unreported, her patient deciding not to come forward to the police.
Ms Chu asserts that the victim’s personal life has greatly suffered after keeping the abuse a secret for years. She has had difficulties in establishing “her sense of identity and self-esteem” struggles to struggling “trust and form intimate relationships with the opposite sex”.
At the end of the day, more needs to be done to undo the stigma that victims of sexual assault often experience, especially emphasising the importance of the physical and psychological care that victims require from those closest to them.
While efforts such as the recently launched OneSafe initiate show the government’s commitment to improve the way sex crimes are treated and processed, it is merely one step in the right direction.