After the sexual voyeurism case of National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Monica Baey who was filmed by a male student while showering in her hostel made headlines, ex-NUS student Rachel Koh, who was also a victim of sexual harassment at the school about five years ago, took to her Facebook on Monday (22 April) to pen down her thoughts and opinions on the case.
Ms Koh started her post by saying that the Monica Baey sage made her uncomfortable for a few reasons, mainly because it brought back memories of her personal sexual encounter that she had buried long time ago and her disagreement on how “the internet mob is baying for blood”.
In the post, she shared a link that tells her personal sexual harassment encounter at the school years ago, but she said that her story is restricted only to friends due to personal reasons.
Highlighting the difference on how her case was handled by NUS and the police compared to Ms Baey, Ms Koh expressed that she initially had only reported the matter to NUS. Although the faculty and staff were very supportive of her during that period and even encouraged her to make a police report, but the school went silent on her for a very long time once the police report was made.
However, after she returned from an exchange programme, she got in touch with a professor, who then set up a meeting with the Dean of Student Life to discuss on her case. In the meeting, the Dean asked Ms Koh and what she thought NUS could do to help, and she replied, “I told her that what I really needed was closure since silence for almost a year was unacceptable. She agreed to help me on the status”.
After waiting for a while, Ms Koh received an email from the Dean mentioning that the “perpetrator had been suspended from NUS for a while, not allowed to stay in campus housing again, expelled from supplementary programme we were in (but not his home faculty), and the email also attached his apology letter”.
Although the former NUS student agrees that she had received more support than Ms Baey from the school, she hoped that the learning institute was more forthcoming in terms of internal investigation and timeliness of updates.
Besides NUS, Ms Koh also received the silent treatment from the law enforcement after the police report was made. Only after a year she received a letter noting that the male offender had been sentenced to 18 months’ probation and mandatory counselling.
It appears that Ms Koh’s “perpetrator had committed a series of acts on multiple girls over years”, which explains why the difference in sentences for the male student who filmed Ms Baey.
However, probation is not exactly a jail term, and Ms Koh wonders if the sentence is actually sufficient.
What is adequate punishment?
Upon hearing her offender’s punishment, Ms Koh had an initial thought if it was enough. But after years has passed since the event first took place, she now asked what exactly is adequate punishment as she herself doesn’t know.
Although she perfectly understands how Ms Baey feels right now (in the beginning of her case she herself was caught up in all-consuming rage and hurt), but after a while the strong feelings die down.
“For me, since I only received news of my perpetrator’s punishments from both NUS and the police perhaps a year later, and I had so much time in between to sort out my thoughts and find my way. By that time, I was quite dull. My only thought was, well, I think he’s had his life shaken up already, if he is remorseful and he doesn’t do these things again, then I’m fine, because it means that the punishment did its work,” she wrote.
Currently, there’s a petition going on asking for Ms Baey’s offender to be expelled, which Ms Koh disagrees on. “A petition for harsher punishment in general, I can get behind. But a petition for expulsion? Who are we to decide that’s appropriate?” the former student questioned.
Although Ms Koh thinks expulsion might be too extreme, but she is willing to re-evaluate her “stance on the harshness of expulsion”, after hearing different perspective about this.
In Ms Koh’s case, the police had given conditional warning to her offender, and she pointed out that perhaps conditional warning is the crafted punishment given for crimes like this.
But, she then asked, “What if the statistics showed that some 80 or more % of people with conditional warnings never reoffended again? Would it change people’s perspectives on this? It can never be 100%. There will always be people bound to reoffend.”
Perhaps conditional warning may work and the offenders have changed for the better without scarring their entire life based on one mistake, said Ms Koh. However, she also said that for those who reoffend, then they may be needing a harsher punishment.
“If it really is the case that conditional warnings are generally ineffective then by all means, I wholeheartedly support a harsher punishment. The point is that no one really knows right now, but everyone talks as if they know for a fact that it doesn’t work most of the time. That’s what irks me.”
The bad side of social media
While social media has its perks, but it can also be harmful, and in this sexual assault case, it led to mob justice.
Ms Koh said that Nicholas Lim, Ms Baey’s offender was named and shamed by online users, and even his girlfriend was not left out.
“This isn’t wrong, but the angry mob has shown time and time again that they have no sense of proportion and no limits. Naming and shaming, doxxing, targeting innocent loved ones, targeting companies they work for… some of these can be so extreme.”
As Ms Baey’s story has now gone viral and she has gained a lot of supporters, Ms Koh hopes that the current NUS student uses this attention for good in the long run.
She added if Ms Baey’s motive of highlighting this issue was solely for change, without any vengeance on her part, then Ms Koh fully supports and respects her for telling her side of the story as the victim.
“I’m not in any position at all to determine her motives. I can perfectly understand if it were out of rage, anger, hurt, a desire for revenge and to make the guy suffer – as I said, I’ve been there. If her dominant motivation was personal vendetta and attention, I don’t blame her, but I also wish it could have been done in a better way,”she said.
However, as for the general public, she hopes that everyone realises and acknowledges the kind of power they hold in their hands, be cautious with it, and do their best to keep their motivations in check.
Ms Koh ended her post by saying that although her experience was very different from Ms Baey’s, but she noted that it’s not right to compare the experiences as “each of us are hurting in our own way”.
After her post was published, it appears that some people think that she may be imposing her standards on other victims, which she clarified in an updated post that she isn’t.
She also said she is not in any way against Monica for highlighting her sexual harassment case on social media.
“I am fine with bringing this to social media. In fact, I’m happy that social media is inspiring change in this instance. I only dislike the negatives that came along with it because I personally dislike lynch mobs, and question if engaging the lynch mobs was necessary.”