Sexual Misconduct at the IHLs

Published Date: 06 May 2019 12:00 AM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mountbatten GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education in the past three years (a) how many cases of sexual harassment or misconduct have been reported by undergraduate students in each of the autonomous universities; and (b) how many of such cases have been referred to the police for prosecution.


Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Desmond Choo, Tampines GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) how many cases of serious disciplinary cases involving students at our institutes of higher learning (IHLs) have there been over the last three years; (b) how many students have been expelled; and (c) how does the Ministry ensure that the disciplinary frameworks for the IHLs are robust and consistent.


Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Leon Perera, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) for each year from 2008, how many cases of on campus sexual harassment and sexual assault at autonomous universities were reported to the campus authorities; (b) how many resulted in administrative penalties from campus authorities and no further action; (c) how many resulted in administrative penalties and police action; (d) what were the nature of the administrative punishments issued; (e) what were the considerations behind determining administrative penalties; and (f) what support was provided to victims in such cases.


Response

1. Members have raised three areas of concern. First, the number of sexual misconduct cases across the Autonomous Universities (or AUs) over the years. Second, the adequacy of law enforcement and disciplinary actions in deterring potential offenders. And the third area, the support systems that have been put in place to help victims, in a timely and effective manner that is sensitive to their needs. I will address the first two aspects, while Second Minister Indranee will cover the final aspect.

Incidence Rates of Sexual Misconduct

2. First, incidence rates of sexual misconduct in the AUs. Over the past three years, the six AUs handled a total of 42 disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct within the campuses. But there were another 14 cases committed by students that happened outside of campuses – making a total of 56 cases. Since my focus is on penalty framework of the AUs, rather than campus security, I will refer to all 56 cases today in my reply.

3. Let me give a breakdown of the 56 cases:

  1. There were 17 cases in Academic Year 2015, 18 cases in Academic Year 2016, and 21 cases in Academic Year 2017 across all six AUs;

  2. 25 out of the 56 cases were from NUS, two from Yale-NUS which has its own Board of Discipline separate from NUS, 20 were from NTU, and six were from SMU. SUTD, SIT and SUSS had one case each. The number of cases for each AU is closely related to their student population;

  3. Finally, 37 or about 66% of the cases were related to voyeurism,
    i.e. peeping Toms and filming of people in vulnerable positions.

4. As the student population changes from year to year, it would be more meaningful to express this as the number of sexual misconduct cases involving student perpetrators per 1,000 students. The number was 0.21, 0.21, and 0.20 over the last three academic years, showing no discernible trend.

Adequacy of Penalties

5. Let me now talk about penalties for the offenders. Of the 56 cases, the victims in 37 cases made police reports. Of these 37 cases, four are still under investigation and in two, there was insufficient evidence to make out offences. So there is a remainder of 31 cases. Out of the remaining 31, 10 cases resulted in jail terms of between 10 days and eight months. These 10 were serious offences, involving outrage of modesty or multiple instances of voyeurism and all arose from police reports and police action. Minister Shanmugam will explain later how the Police deals with these cases.

6. Separately, the AUs will carry out their own disciplinary processes, through their respective disciplinary bodies, and mete out a combination of penalties that is within the AUs’ powers and authority. These range from an official reprimand, which will be reflected in the student’s formal educational record, to suspensions, and expulsion, which is the harshest punishment an AU can administer.

7. To determine the appropriate sanctions, each case is evaluated by the disciplinary body, taking into account the severity of the misconduct and any mitigating factors, such as how remorseful and forthcoming the offender was during investigations, the potential for rehabilitation, and the presence of any mental health issues. For offenders with psychiatric conditions, sanctions will include requiring the offender to start, or continue, with mandatory counselling and psychological treatment.

8. Of the 56 cases I mentioned earlier that happened over the last three years, five cases are pending disciplinary hearings, and four students withdrew from the university before sanctions were imposed. Out of the remaining 47 cases, 34 resulted in an official reprimand, 26 resulted in suspensions of up to two academic terms, and 20 were banned from entering students’ dorms. These numbers do not add up to 47 because typically, an offender receives a combination of penalties.

9. But if we just look at the 10 Police cases involving serious offences which led to jail sentences, there was only one expulsion, which was then subsequently reduced to an 18-month suspension after appeal and taking into account the offender’s psychiatric condition.

10. I think there is no need for me to repeat my views on the adequacies of the penalties meted out by the AUs, but I will give two strong reasons why the AUs will need to review their disciplinary frameworks with a view to strengthen the penalties.

11. First, we need to better balance the objectives of deterrence and redress for the victims against the rehabilitation of the offender. Balancing these objectives is important for an education institution, but it should not end up with penalties that are too soft and too lenient.

12. Our AUs are important national institutions that educate and nurture young Singaporeans to be contributing and responsible members of society.

13. To achieve this, the AUs’ disciplinary frameworks should therefore be stringent but fair. “Two strikes and you’re out” cannot be the standard application. But neither should expulsions be the default for all forms of misconduct. The penalty must continue to fit the offence, but there has to be a significant adjustment at the most egregious end of the spectrum of misconducts when they are serious criminal offences that undermine the safety and security of university campuses. We must ensure that potential offenders know the severe consequences of their actions, including the impact on their future. There has to be a deterrent.

14. And if the offender is remorseful, accepted and served punishment, he deserves a chance to make good. This is also the spirit behind the Yellow Ribbon project, and this is how we balance deterrence and rehabilitation.

15. Second, we must recognise that voyeurism is a growing concern in Singapore. A recent ‘Big Read’ article by TODAY, which was published last weekend, explained that this may be due to our young being exposed to the Internet from an early age, and technological advances that make video recording easier and more undetectable. This led to some thinking that voyeurism is not a serious offence, and they cannot be more wrong. Coincidentally, the Ministry of Home Affairs is amending the Penal Code, which will be debated this afternoon, to include new provisions on voyeurism.

16. As our circumstances change, the AUs must likewise keep up with the times and ensure that their policies and processes remain relevant in establishing a safe and supportive environment for all our students. I have therefore asked all our AUs, Polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education to review their disciplinary frameworks.

17. In the case of NUS, it has already convened a Review Committee led by Mdm Kay Kuok – a member of its Board of Trustees – to review its disciplinary framework. I know many students are not excited by Committees, but this is a necessary process to bring about a considered change to an established disciplinary framework.

18. The Review Committee has started its work, and will release its recommendations in stages. The Committee members will release some preliminary recommendations in the middle of May for consultations, and aim to complete their work in June this year. In the meantime, NUS management is taking immediate actions to improve the support systems and campus security, which Second Minister Indranee will elaborate on later.

19. Ultimately, the AUs are tackling the concern on campus and student safety holistically, involving tougher penalties for offenders, better physical security on campus, and stronger support and greater sensitivity for the needs of victims.

A Final Comment

20. Mr Speaker Sir, let me just add in one last comment. This incident provided an opportunity for us to reflect on the character of our society. And I can see we are a people with a strong sense of justice, who see the importance of differentiating between right from wrong; and this explains the strong reaction to Ms Monica Baey’s situation. We also continue to believe in tough but fair systems of punishment, to keep the Singapore living environment the way it has been.

21. These are characteristics of our society that I am proud of as a Singaporean. But we should always refrain from trial by media, doxxing and resorting to mob justice. No matter how wrong an offender is, we need to respect the due process. During this episode, the harshest punishment for Nicholas Lim came from social media. I hope that as a society, we will give his family and him the time and space they need, to reflect on his actions, to turn over a new leaf, and move forward.

22. Ms Monica Baey herself has said, that as hurt and affected as she is, her objective in publicising her story was not to seek revenge for the present case, but to ensure fairness for both the perpetrator and the victim in future cases. So the most important priority now is for the AUs to see how they can do better, and take concrete steps to improve campus safety and their victim support frameworks and processes. They are strongly committed to doing so, I am confident there will be swift and meaningful changes, and my Ministry will work closely with them on these aspects.

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