Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
Sexual misconduct can be a harrowing experience for the victims involved.
Public awareness of sexual misconduct is increasing in Singapore partly because of cases such as that of Dr Jeremy Fernando, who was dismissed from his teaching position at NUS for sexual misconduct after it was found that he had had “intimate association” with a student.
But what is sexual misconduct exactly?
Generally, sexual misconduct refers to sexual acts done by force, intimidation, manipulation, coercion or without the consent of the victim. Often, it involves someone in a position of authority, such as a teacher or an employer, abusing that authority.
Sexual misconduct encompasses a wide range of behaviour. It includes sexual discrimination, harassment, exploitation and unwanted physical contact.
This article will discuss:
- The criminal offences related to sexual misconduct
- Whether it is considered sexual misconduct even if there had been consent
- What can you do if you’re a victim of sexual misconduct in school?
- What can you do if you’re a victim of sexual misconduct at work?
- Whether victims of sexual misconduct can obtain compensation
What are the Criminal Offences Related to Sexual Misconduct?
Some forms of sexual misconduct can be a criminal offence. The table below sets out some common forms of sexual misconduct that are also punishable by law.
It includes offences such as voyeurism, exposing one’s self, and stalking because these are acts often done without the consent of the victim. It also includes more commonly known forms of misconduct such as harassment, molest, sexual assault, and rape.
|1||Voyeurism, such as planting cameras in the toilets||Section 377BB of the Penal Code||Fine, caning, up to 2 years’ imprisonment or a combination of these.|
|2||Exposing one’s genitals (also known as “flashing”)||Section 377BF Penal Code||Fine, up to 1 year’s imprisonment or both.|
|3||Non-physical sexual harassment, such as verbal sexual harassment||Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA)||Fine of up to $5,000 or up to 6 months’ imprisonment or both.|
|4||Outrage of modesty, such as molest||Section 354 of the Penal Code||Fine, caning, up to 3 years’ imprisonment or a combination of these. (The maximum imprisonment term is increased to 5 years if the victim was below 14 years old.)|
|5||Stalking||Section 7 POHA||Fine of up to $5,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment or both.|
|6||Rape or sexual assault||Sections 375 or 376 Penal Code||Up to 20 years’ imprisonment, and may include a fine or caning.|
Is It Considered Sexual Misconduct Even if There Had Been Consent?
Yes, it can be considered sexual misconduct even if the relationship was completely consensual. This is because such relationships, while consensual, can contravene the codes of conduct for employees or professionals.
Codes of conduct for employees or professionals often prohibit intimate relationships between someone of authority and a subordinate. For example, intimate relationships between lecturers and students, doctors and patients, or supervisors and subordinates are not permitted.
The concern is that such relationships may be a result of an abuse of power by those in authority.
There is also a danger that consent was not freely given. For example, someone who entered into a relationship in fear of losing their job, or of failing a class, cannot be said to have entered a relationship with their supervisor or lecturer consensually.
The consequences of such a relationship will depend on the code of conduct. Generally, it will result in some form of disciplinary action. For a student, disciplinary actions can range from a reprimand to expulsion.
Similarly, disciplinary actions for lecturers can result in a dismissal. Consequences for professionals are graver and can result in the suspension of one’s licence to practice (if such a licence is required).
What Can I Do If I am a Victim of Sexual Misconduct in School?
If you believe you have been a victim of sexual misconduct in school, there are options available to you. You can:
- Approach a close and trusted friend or family member for support. This can be a good first step to work through your emotions before deciding on any further course of action.
- Seek help and advice from a counsellor. Counsellors, such as the ones from AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, have the necessary experience and training to support you emotionally through this difficult period. Apart from approaching AWARE, you can also approach these counsellors.
- Inform another staff member at your school. This can be campus security, your dean, or another lecturer that you are familiar with. Often, the staff will direct you to your school’s designated contact for sexual misconduct cases. This is usually the school’s counsellors. This can be NUS’ Victim Care Unit, Voices@SMU or NTU’s University Wellbeing Centre amongst others. The staff member or counsellors would advise and counsel you on possible actions you can take. Do note that for most schools, informing a staff member does not amount to making a formal complaint to your school. Thus, investigations will not be launched against the person who behaved inappropriately against you unless you lodge a formal complaint.
- Report the incident to your school. You can make a formal report to your school regarding the incident once you feel ready. This will formally launch an investigation by the school that can result in disciplinary action against the person who had allegedly behaved inappropriately towards you. The exact procedure will vary according to your school. But generally, reporting an incident will involve informing the school’s designated contact point for such cases, verbally or through an incident reporting form. The school will investigate any breaches of the codes of conduct for students and employees. If there are, it may impose disciplinary measures as discussed earlier.
- Report the incident to the police. If you feel that your safety may be threatened by the party that behaved inappropriately against you, you are advised to make a police report as soon as possible. The police will investigate the matter and pursue criminal charges against the alleged offender if any offences have been committed. Do note that your school has a legal duty to file a police report of the incident if their investigations uncover certain possible offences under the Penal Code. It does not require your consent to do so.
What Can I Do If I am a Victim of Sexual Misconduct at Work?
If you are an employee and encountered sexual misconduct at work, you have multiple avenues to seek help. You can:
- Inform your supervisor, human resource (HR) officer, or management. They would have the authority to intervene quickly to ensure your safety and well-being. If your company has a buddy or other peer support programmes, you can also inform your buddy for support. Each organisation will have different procedures to handle sexual misconduct complaints. But generally, you should inform your immediate supervisor of any sexual misconduct you experienced. If the source of the sexual misconduct was your immediate supervisor, you should inform your HR officer instead. The matter may then be investigated. If the matter cannot be resolved at the supervisory or HR level, it may be escalated to management. Once the matter has been resolved, you may be informed of the measures that were taken against the party who committed the sexual misconduct. These measures can range from counselling to dismissal.
- Get help from NTUC. This applies if you are a union member. NTUC can offer advice and help with sexual misconduct in the workplace.
- File a report with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). TAFEP is an agency dedicated to the promotion of fair, responsible and progressive employment practices. They can help employees facing workplace harassment and intervene if the company has unacceptable employment practices, such as not handling the employees’ complaints properly or fairly.
- Report the incident to the police. You can also report the matter to the police if you feel that your safety has been threatened. The police will investigate possible criminal offences and pursue criminal charges if there are any.
Can I Get Compensation as a Victim of Sexual Misconduct?
Yes, it is possible to get compensation as a victim of sexual misconduct. To do so, you will need to sue the person who behaved inappropriately towards you.
Do note however that lawsuits can take years to resolve. You may also have to recount your traumatic experiences when providing testimony to the court which may be stressful.
Apart from compensation, there are other more immediate ways you can get the court to help. For example, in sexual harassment or stalking, POHA allows you to apply for a Protection Order from the court to protect you from your harasser.
You do not need a lawyer to make this application. But having one by your side can make the process smoother and relieve you of additional stress during an already difficult time.
If you have been a victim of sexual misconduct, do reach out to a trusted friend for emotional support and to help you consider the avenues for redress available to you. When you are ready, you can file a complaint with your school, your employer or even the police.
Should you decide to get compensation from the person who behaved inappropriately towards you, you can seek advice from our civil litigation lawyers. They can help you assess the strength of your case, and the compensation you may be able to get.
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