MOE should go beyond motherhood statements and victim-blaming

by Sean Lim

The Straits Times reported on 14 Jan that the Ministry of Education (MOE) is going to take action against ‘lewd’ Instagram account targeting junior college girls. 

While it is worth applauding that MOE is taking action against questionable Instagram accounts, their spokesperson’s response is quite lacking.

The spokesperson said that students ought to be “mindful of privacy settings”, “refrain from revealing personal information online” and “to be safe and discerning users of digital space”.

Such motherhood statements are not helpful because they are merely general guidelines for students to behave on social media for any situations. It does not help anyone to tackle the issue specifically and head-on. The problem is way more complicated and such cold, bureaucratic reply is not particularly reassuring.

What worries me, however, are the words used like “safe and discerning” and “be mindful”. It seems to imply that students are not doing their part to protect themselves online, and this reeks of victim-blaming. 

According to pictures published on Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao, the pictures on the Instagram account were ordinary photos cropped out to single out a particular girl, with suggestive captions added.

The photos were already conservative, and it is not the girls’ fault that their pictures – either public or private – were exploited. I am confident they did not ask for it, nor was it their fault that an individual with fetishism for junior college girls exists in Singapore. 

Based on MOE’s logic, then all girls should stay off social media entirely and not post any pictures of themselves – not even normal innocuous ones – in fear of exploitation. This is akin to suggesting that females should not leave their homes at all if they are afraid of an outrage of modesty.

MOE must acknowledge that the exploitation was beyond the girls’ control, and effort should go into sniffing out the perpetrator instead of blaming the girls.

Lastly, given now the account has been taken offline by Instagram, will it still possible for MOE to carry out its investigation and take action against those behind the page?