by James Leong

The Monica Baey saga disturbs me on many levels, especially how the university’s counsellors responded to their students’ cries for help.

According to a Yahoo report, a student said a counsellor told her not to speak up in public after she was interrogated by two male staff and one female staff. No psychologist was brought in and she was accused of being inconsistent. In a separate case, a woman who fell victim to voyeurism was given a rape whistle by the campus security, and counsellors attending to the incident had told her not to report the offender in order to give him a chance to be rehabilitated.

“National University of Singapore (NUS) leadership does not understand the trauma that victims face,” according to a tweet posted by Kellynn Wee, research associate of NUS’ Asia Research Institute, who attended an NUS townhall meeting to address the saga.

What’s disturbing is how individuals and organisations trained in the business of “understanding” trauma to help others are doing just the opposite—whether intended or not. What’s even more disturbing is how this phenomenon is not new. In Jan 2016, Benjamin Lim 14, fell to his death from his Yishun flat after being questioned by police about allegations he had molested an 11-year-old girl. Although the coroner’s report did not find anything that was not in accordance with police or school processes, it did highlight how the school counsellor Karry Lung did not accompany Lim to the police station. Nor did Lung exercise discretion when he “uninvited” him to a school camp via a phone call instead of a personal visit.

How could its counsellors not learn from this episode which occurred three years ago? How many more Benjamin Lim-type cases do we need before things change? Or god forbid should there already be cases which have gone unreported?

The Monica Baey saga has exposed the ugly behaviour of prestigious Singapore institutions, which hide behind the fancy mission and noble value statements. The anger is really the loss of trust and the betrayal of an educational institution tasked to shape young hearts and minds. Apparently, our young are astute enough to spot this contradiction and recognise it as a systemic failure of the university instead.

But this systemic failure has already happened at all levels of society, and it is driven by fear. The fear of losing your job, not belonging, feeling accepted and affirmed. The fear of, “I’m not enough”. Sadly, this fear I speak of has now seeped into the helping profession as well—the counsellors, police and administrators–the very same people we turn to for help.

James Leong is a private counsellor who addresses fear and anxiety at listenwithoutprejudice.org

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