How the Law Can Help Domestic Violence Victims in Singapore

man resorting to violence on woman.

The experience of violence or abuse in the context of family or in the domestic setting (i.e within a home) is one of the most dehumanising and painful things that anyone can experience or witness.

While victims may often feel paralysed and lost as to how to handle such a situation, the law is designed to provide safeguards and protection for such victims of domestic violence.

This article seeks to explain some of the processes that you can consider if you or someone you know or love is a victim of domestic violence.

What Can I Do If the Offender is a Member of the Family?

What constitutes family violence (or domestic violence)?

According to section 64 of the Women’s Charter, family violence includes any of the following:

  • Wilfully or knowingly placing, or attempting to place, a family member in fear of hurt;
  • Causing hurt to a family member by such act which is known or ought to have been known would result in hurt;
  • 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.

Family members include the following persons:

  • Spouse;
  • Former spouse;
  • Child (including an adopted child or step-child);
  • Parents;
  • Siblings;
  • Father-in-law or mother-in-law; or
  • Any other relative

File a police report

The most immediate recourse to take upon experiencing or witnessing any family violence would be to call the police and/or to make a police report. This is especially in situations where the danger is serious and imminent, for example, where:

  • There has been a previous experience of injury caused by the alleged offender;
  • Instruments of violence (such as knives etc.) are used to cause an injury or are accompanied with threatening behaviour; or
  • The alleged offender’s behaviour becomes more and more aggressive.

Apart from providing a statement to the police, the following can also be prepared/provided:

  • An oral/written account by the victim regarding the history of violent acts committed (including the most recent acts).
  • Testimonies from others family members (if any).
  • Photographic evidence of the injuries sustained.
  • A medical report documenting the scope and extent of injuries.

If police investigations are started, the police may subsequently recommend prosecution to the Attorney General’s Chambers, should they wish to charge the accused in court.

While there might be various possible offences committed by the act of violence, the most likely charge which fits the act is to be that of voluntarily causing hurt under section 323 of the Penal Code.

Other charges may be imposed if, for example, depending on the facts of the case, the accused is found to have exhibited violence of a sexual nature.

Apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO), Expedited Order (EO) or Domestic Exclusion Order (DEO)

Personal Protection Orders (PPOs)

What is a PPO?

After reporting the matter to the police, the next likely step would be to apply for a protection order, most commonly in the form of a Personal Protection Order (PPO), to protect the victim from further danger or attack.

Under section 65(1) of the Women’s Charter, a PPO serves to restrain the person against whom the order is made (the individual committing violence) from using family violence against the victim.

Who can apply for a PPO?

A PPO is universally available to all Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents and all individuals domiciled in Singapore. Any victim of domestic violence, aged 21 years and above, is eligible to apply for a PPO.

Should the victim be below 21, a family member, or a person responsible for caring for the victim, or any individual appointed by the Minister for Social and Family Development are all eligible to apply for the PPO on the victim’s behalf.

What happens when a PPO is applied for?

A formal PPO application can be made at the Family Justice Courts, certain Family Violence Specialist Centres (FVSC) or online via the Court’s system, iFAMs.

After processing the application, a court hearing (also known as a “mention”) will be scheduled.

At the first mention of the application, the respondent (i.e. the person who allegedly committed the violence) will be given time to prepare a statement in response to the statement set out in the PPO application.

The respondent will also be expected to inform the court of witnesses, if any, who may wish to give statements as well. Thereafter, when the respective parties have exchanged and provided their statements, a trial for the hearing of the PPO application will be fixed.

During the trial, the court will hear evidence from both parties and determine if family violence has been committed or is likely to be committed against the victim, as well as whether the PPO order is necessary for his/her immediate protection.

Relevant factors on whether such an order is necessary include whether the parties are likely to continue to come into contact with each other. For instance, if the victim has moved out of the home and will in all likelihood not see the respondent anymore, the court may be minded to consider that the PPO is not necessary.

Expedited Orders (EOs)

Should the victim be confronted with imminent danger of family violence (as described above), an Expedited Order (EO) may also be applied for in conjunction with the PPO. This can be indicated when one is making the PPO application via the platforms explained above.

Unlike a PPO, an EO is served on the respondent even before the court decides on the PPO application itself (i.e. prior to the court hearings), so as to offer temporary protection and recourse to the victim.

It is either valid up till 28 days or up till the first day of hearing for the PPO application (whichever is earlier).

Domestic Exclusion Orders (DEOs)

A Domestic Exclusion Order (DEO) can also be applied for when making a PPO application. Under section 65(5)(a) of the Women’s Charter, a DEO excludes or restricts the respondent from entering the victim’s residence, or parts of his/her residence.

As most victims of domestic violence continue to be living with their abuser, a victim may find it difficult or unbearable to continue coexisting with a family member who has demonstrated (and continues to demonstrate) violence towards him or her. It would be appropriate to consider applying for a DEO in these instances.

What can be done if an offender re-offends even after a PPO has been granted?

Once a PPO is granted, it is possible that the abuser may re-offend and continue committing violence against the victim, in breach of the court order. In such situations, a police report should be made so that such re-offending behaviour can be placed on record.

If one is found guilty for breaching a PPO, he or she could be liable on conviction to a fine up to $2,000 or to imprisonment up to 6 months, or to both.

In the case of a subsequent conviction, the respondent could be sentenced to a fine up to $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term up to 12 months, or to both.

Such breach is considered a criminal offence, and the sentences serve to enforce protection orders and ensure the continued safety of the victims by deterring offenders from continuing to commit violence against them. Where the court finds it necessary, a jail term may be imposed.

Does the gender of the offender matter?

While a statistics report reflects that 75.7% of protection orders filed in 2018 were filed by women, there are no specific provisions which offer protection on the basis of gender and the judicial system will consider each case on its facts when deciding whether to grant a protection order. For this same reason, the criteria for obtaining a PPO, EO and DEO apply the same regardless of the offender’s gender.

What Can I Do If the Offender is Not a Family Member?

Behind closed doors in a domestic setting, some individuals may be emboldened to commit acts of violence even towards non-family members.

For instance, this may take place between domestic workers and their employers, or within unmarried couples. In such cases, the legal system also provides protection for the individual, albeit via processes other than the application for a PPO.

File a police report

Similar to cases of family violence, situations involving violence committed by a non-family member are also best dealt with by lodging a police report (as explained above).

Once police investigations are completed, the authorities will make the decision as to whether to form criminal charges and prosecute the accused. The case then typically falls within the purview of the AGC, and the Public Prosecutor (PP) will determine how the offender should be dealt with.

File a Magistrate’s Complaint

However, there are occasions where the authorities may form the view that the facts do not warrant a charge being framed or prosecution being commenced by the AGC.

If so, the victim can choose to seek redress by applying for and filing a Magistrate’s Complaint at the Community Justice & Tribunals Division of the State Courts.

A pre-filing assessment can also be done if you are uncertain as to whether the complaint process is appropriate for their matter. The assessment serves as a guide on the eligibility requirements to file for a Magistrate’s Complaint, types of offences covered by such complaints and the remedies you may be able to obtain.

Thereafter, you may fill up the Magistrate’s Complaint form and prepare the following supporting documents for submission:

  • A copy of your NRIC or passport (for foreigners);
  • The police report or report number; and
  • Relevant documents such as medical reports, screenshots of messages which reflect the offending behavior (e.g. threats), etc.

Further detailed information on the application process may be found on the State Courts’ website.

Should the Magistrate be satisfied with the complaint, the Magistrate can direct the police to conduct further investigations or allow the victim to issue a private summons. Private summons refers to criminal proceedings where an individual seeks to prosecute the offending person (i.e private prosecution).

The matter will then proceed to a trial, and if the offending person is found guilty, they may possibly face a criminal sentence – much like in the case of a charge brought by a PP.

Apply for a Protection Order (PO) under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA)

Alternatively, a victim can also consider applying for a Protection Order (PO) under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). This order may be of relevance as situations of violence are often accompanied by related or similar harassing behaviour.

The PO under the POHA covers situations which are broader than those in which physical violence is experienced. It includes situations where threatening, abusive or insulting words/behaviour is demonstrated, or where there is fear or provocation of violence, or where there might be unlawful stalking.