New police command to help sexual crime and family violence victims

By Jessie Lim and Jong Ching Yee

SINGAPORE - The police will set up a new command, which aims to provide victims of sexual crime and family violence with more support, by 2023.

The Sexual Crime and Family Violence Command will be staffed by police officers who have specialized expertise in handling sexual crime and family violence cases and who possess good victim management skills.

Announcing this on Tuesday (April 12), Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said: "All of you know that (the Government) takes a very strong and firm stance on dealing with sexual offences.

"Over the years… we've strengthened our legislative levers. The police have also been active in reviewing its processes. The police are also taking very active steps to increase public awareness about sexual assault and what victims can do."

Mr. Shanmugam was speaking at the inaugural Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar held at the Police Cantonment Complex. It was attended by police officers and representatives from the Ministry of Social and Family Development and other organizations.

Between 2017 and 2020, there were about 9,200 reports of sexual assault, including rape, sexual assault by penetration, outrage of modesty and sexual offences involving children and vulnerable victims, said the police.

Of these, 869 were allegedly committed by family members or relatives.

Last year, there were 1,480 cases of outrage of modesty, which accounted for 42.3 per cent of all sexual crime cases reported. This was an increase of about 12 per cent from the 1,321 cases in 2020.

Child sexual abuse cases jumped 70 per cent from 261 cases investigated in 2020 to 443 cases last year - an 11-year high.

On Tuesday, Mr. Shanmugam outlined how the police will be enhancing its training for police officers so they can better respond to sexual crime cases. This will include seminars where officers will learn about the best practices to manage sexual crimes.

Currently, sexual assault cases are investigated by specialist units in the Singapore Police Force, with the Serious Sexual Crimes Branch leading investigations into rape and aggravated cases of sexual assault by penetration. The police will also be launching a one-stop webpage later this year, providing more resources to the public on the investigation processes for sexual crime cases and victim care measures available.

Another area of focus will be the importance of DNA collection in the context of sexual crimes. Citing an example, Mr. Shanmugam noted how the police were able to crack a rape case that was unsolved for more than a decade using DNA evidence.

In addition to these measures, the police will be working more closely with community partners to better support sexual assault victims.

Ms. Kristine Lam, lead social worker at CCPS, said victims suffer different types of trauma, such as nightmares, anxiety and fear of going out.

She gave an example she came across: “The victim did not even dare to pick up calls from unknown numbers, because anything that she doesn’t know, she just doesn’t dare to try.”

This also included a fear of online ordering, because the victim’s phone number would be shared with the logistical company and beyond.

Station Inspector Norain Omar from the police’s current Special Victims Unit said that every victim’s scenario is unique, but some telltale signs are being evasive or digressing from the conversation topic. For instance, if the sexual assault happened at home, victims might avoid talking about their home.

Earlier this month, a new charity, SG Her Empowerment, was set up to tackle online and sexual harms against women.

Led by veteran lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio, the charity will work closely with the Law Society to provide pro bono legal advice to victims.

Lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio leads SG Her Empowerment, a charity that was set up to tackle online and sexual harms against women.

Mr. Shanmugam said: "I am glad to see a new community-led charity working to empower women and girls and continuing the dialogues started in the Conversations on Women's Development and recent White Paper on Singapore Women's Development."

Last week, Parliament passed the White Paper, which provides a 10-year road map to ensuring all women in Singapore have greater access to opportunities and more equal partnerships with men.

The White Paper also covers plans to support victims of violence, so more victims can report abuse and seek immediate help from the police and social service professionals.