According to the review committee on sexual conduct convened by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the current (old) sanctions were not a ‘strong deterrent’, adding that 12 offenders in prior cases would have been expelled under the newly proposed tougher framework.
The committee, chaired by NUS Board of Trustee Member Madam Kay Kuok, was convened in April 2019 following outcry from the public and students over the case of Monica Baey. Ms Baey called out the school for being too lenient on another student who had filmed her in the shower.
Having seen the committee’s report which was sent to the NUS Board of Trustees on Monday, CNA reported the committee saying that there was a “significant number of sexual misconduct incidents every year” at NUS. The report listed out the issues with NUS’s current framework and gaps it found in victim support.
NUS has said that they accept the committee’s recommendation in full – this includes tougher sanctions such as immediate expulsion in severe or aggravated cases of sexual misconduct and better support frameworks for victims. The committee also recommended that a notation be made on the academic transcripts of offenders noting the length of their suspension.
More involvement of victims throughout disciplinary process
Having looked at the previous sanctions that were meted out by the Board of Discipline (BOD) in past cases, the committee noted that NUS’ current framework had “emphasised offender rehabilitation rather than punishment and deterrence”. This, it said, resulted in less stringent sanctions being imposed that those recommended in the current guidelines.
The report said that the situation around sexual misconduct “has not improved”, adding that while the processes were systematic and clear, it still lacked empathy and support for victims.
The committee found that campus security officers, resident fellows, and other first responders were not properly trained to help victims. What’s more, they were often male. This can be problematic when most victims are female and might feel uncomfortable speaking to male first responders regarding sexual assault/harassment.
They also reported that the way things are done currently, victims aren’t required to provide a statement before the BOD launches its investigations. They also noted that victims are not kept apprised on the proceedings and are only informed of the outcome via phone call.
“Victims have a minimal voice in the current disciplinary process and are also not well supported during the process,” the committee wrote in their report. They added that the composition of the BOD is not balanced in terms of gender.
In the case of Monica Baey, the offender was required to write a letter of apology to her as part of his penalties. This, the committee highlighted, should not happen as it may “inadvertently trigger unwanted memories” in the victim.
Furthermore, the committee asked that victims be kept updated on the disciplinary proceedings going forward and that they be asked to make a statement of facts and an impact statement before the BOD beings proceedings.
“To ensure that the victim’s voice is always considered, the committee recommends that the victim’s statement be a requirement for the BOD to proceed, unless the victim specifically decides against providing a statement,” the committee said.
“In addition to the statement of facts, victims should be allowed to submit other documents relating to the case, such as impact statements and/or medical reports.”
Additionally, the committee urged that victims be allowed to make an appeal to the Disciplinary Appeals Board (DAB). Currently, that privilege is only available to offenders.
Tougher sanctions against offenders – a focus on punishment
As part of the review, the committee analysed 25 sexual misconduct cases at NUS over the past three years. It was noted that 24 of those offenders would have received harsher penalties under the new framework.
In fact, 12 out of the 25 cases would have result in expulsion under the new framework. A further four would have been given two-year suspensions while eight would receive at least one-year suspension. One case didn’t have enough evidence. Of the 25 cases, five offenders were sentenced to prison. The new framework would have compelled them to be expelled.
The committee recommendations for sanctions include a minimum one-year suspension which cannot be overridden by the BOD or appeals board as well as mandatory expulsion in severe cases.
“The committee agrees with what many stakeholders and the public have said – that it is timely for NUS to implement tougher sanctions for sexual misconduct,” the report read, as quoted by CNA.
Previous cases will not be reopened
While the new tougher framework may come as a relief in future cases, the committee noted that old cases cannot be reopened.
“The committee has also consulted with external legal advisors and determined that past cases on which the BOD had formally ruled, and for which sanctions have been meted out, cannot be reopened,” the report said.
“Our recommended changes will form the basis of the university’s tougher stance on sexual misconduct and discipline going forward,” it added.
How cases are handled
On the issue on case management, the committee said that all allegations and complaints should be considered a possible serious offence and referred to the Provost who can then decide which cases should be looked at by the BOD or head of a unit.
Some cases, said the committee, may be handled by heads of units instead of the BOD. These are limited to single incidents only, however, such as cases of unwanted kissing, inappropriate touching and staring, using of expletives, and stealing of undergarments.