Breach of Protection Orders: What Can Victims Do?
You’ve taken out a protection order against your stalker. However, he/she continues to follow you around, or harass you, in breach of the protection order in Singapore. What can you do?
If you find yourself in such a situation, or a similar one where a harasser or a family member has breached a protection order that was filed by you, read on to find out more.
This article will explain:
What are Protection Orders?
A PO under POHA protects victims of harassment from future harassment in the form of:
- Prohibiting the perpetrator from doing any harassing acts towards them;
- Stopping the perpetrator from publishing or sending any harassing communications; or
- Referring the perpetrator to counselling or mediation, etc.
The acts of harassment include using threatening or abusive words, bullying or stalking. Such acts can be committed by anyone, including friends, colleagues and strangers.
On the other hand, a PPO applies only to acts of violence committed by family members. An act of family violence could be:
- Wilfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, a family member in fear of hurt;
- Causing hurt to a family member;
- Wrongfully confining or restraining a family member against his will; or
- Causing continual harassment with intent to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause anguish to a family member.
Under the Women’s Charter, there are also other types of protection orders relating to family violence, such as an Expedited Order (EO), a Domestic Exclusion Order (DEO) and a Counselling Order (CGO).
*Both the PO and PPO will be collectively referred to as “protection orders” in this article.
What Constitutes a Breach of a Protection Order in Singapore?
The protection order granted by the court will state terms that the perpetrator must comply with, such as refraining from doing the act of harassment or from committing acts of family violence.
When the perpetrator disobeys any term of the protection order, this is counted as a breach of it.
What Can Victims Do If Their Protection Order has been Breached?
Lodge a police report immediately
A breach of a protection order is a serious matter that amounts to an offence. A breach of a PPO is an offence under the Women’s Charter, while a breach of a PO is an offence under POHA. As the victim, you should report such a breach to the police immediately by lodging a report.
As a breach of a protection order is an arrestable offence, the police may arrest the perpetrator, without first obtaining an arrest warrant, once a report is lodged (more below).
The police will then decide whether to investigate the matter and whether to charge the respondent for a breach of the order, and/or another offence committed during the breach.
When investigating your case, the police may also provide you with a referral letter to go to the hospital for medical examination and treatment, if required.
File a Magistrate’s Complaint
Alternatively, if your case is not being pursued by the police for further investigation or prosecution, you can file a Magistrate’s Complaint for a breach of the protection order. This can be filed at the Crime Registry of the State Courts. If the Magistrate is satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding, the court may direct the police to investigate the matter.
Prepare evidence of the breach
While it is not a must to prepare evidence of the breach, having such evidence would help you prove the case against the perpetrator in police investigations and potential criminal court proceedings.
Seek alternative accommodation
In the meantime, if you feel that you are unsafe in your own home, you may want to seek alternative accommodation elsewhere, such as staying with relatives or friends you trust.
Otherwise, you may want to consider any of the MSF-funded Crisis Shelters. These emergency crisis shelters will act as a temporary living arrangement for victims of family violence where the safety risk at home is high and there is no alternative accommodation that is safe nor suitable.
Social service professionals will work with victims who stay in these crisis shelters to address their safety, financial and emotional problems. Such professionals will also assist victims in finding longer-term living arrangements.
If you choose to stay at home, consider creating a safety plan. For example, packing an emergency bag with your identification, money and basic necessities that you can quickly leave with in case of danger.
Regardless of where you choose to stay, you can also seek assistance from Family Violence Specialist Centres for social support anytime. Preparing a list of hotlines to contact can also help your situation.
More information about the centres and hotlines can be found here.
What Actions Can the State Take Against the Perpetrator For Breaching a Protection Order?
Arresting the perpetrator
Breaches of protection orders under either the Women’s Charter or POHA are arrestable offences. This means that the police may arrest a perpetrator who is reasonably suspected of breaching a protection order without first needing to obtain an arrest warrant.
Sentences that can be passed
Breaching a protection order is a criminal offence. Thus, if the investigation finds that a breach of a protection order has been committed, the perpetrator can be convicted and sentenced accordingly.
If the perpetrator breaches a PPO, he/she can be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed for up to 6 months. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $5,000, jailed for up to 12 months or given both punishments.
However, if the PPO breached relates to the protection of a vulnerable adult (i.e. a person aged 18 or older who is unable to protect himself or herself from abuse, due to a physical or mental condition), a first-time offender can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to 12 months. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $8,000 and/or jailed for up to 18 months.
If the perpetrator breaches a PO, he/she can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to 6 months.
Furthermore, a perpetrator may commit other offences while acting in breach of a protection order, and be convicted accordingly. In October 2021, a mother had a PPO filed against her that restrained her from committing family violence against her teenage son. However, she breached the PPO a couple of times in the same year. She was eventually sentenced to 27 weeks’ jail after pleading guilty to charges of voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation. This was in addition to the charge of breaching the PPO.
Can a Victim Appeal If They’re Not Satisfied With the Sentence Meted Out to the Perpetrator?
In a criminal case, only the perpetrator (accused person) and the prosecution can file an appeal. As a victim, you cannot appeal as you are not a party in the case. However, the prosecution may file an appeal to have the sentence increased if it believes that the sentence that has been imposed is manifestly inadequate.
When a perpetrator disobeys any term in the protection order served on him or her in Singapore, he or she would be in breach of the order. In this case, you should call the police immediately.
You may then file a Magistrate’s Complaint, if needed. If the Magistrate is satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding, the court may direct the police to investigate the matter. Perpetrators in breach of any protection order would be liable to an offence and sentenced accordingly.
If the house you are staying in is unsafe due to family violence, you may also wish to consider seeking alternative accommodation with someone you know and trust, or at a shelter.
You are recommended to engage the help of a harassment lawyer should you require any legal advice on your rights if a protection order is breached. A lawyer may also assist you in filing a Magistrate’s Complaint and ensure that the correct forms are used, and that relevant evidence is presented before the court.
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