Outrage of modesty prevention posters carry “strong deterrent message” to potential perpetrators indifferent to harm their victims may suffer: Police, in response to AWARE’s criticisms

The recent posters that highlight the punishments for committing certain crimes, including outrage of modesty, are aimed at sending “a strong deterrent message” to potential perpetrators, said the Singapore Police Force (SPF) on Sat (16 Nov).

Said posters, which are among the latest additions to SPF’s lineup of crime prevention visuals, were “designed to warn would-be offenders, who are unable to exercise self discipline or control themselves, regardless of their knowledge of the harm that their act will cause to the victim”, SPF added.

The posters, which were produced in collaboration with the National Crime Prevention Council and Singapore Polytechnic’s Media, Arts & Design School, also included details on punishments for other crimes such as shop theft and dishonest misappropriation of property, SPF highlighted.

SPF’s statement arose following gender equality rights organisation AWARE’s criticism of the posters, in which it was stressed that the posters focused entirely on the penalties suffered by the perpetrator instead of the harm suffered by the victim.

Stating that AWARE “does not seem to have understood the purpose of the posters”, SPF said that the posters “were designed to influence” the behaviour of potential offenders by “telling them what punishment they will face”.

“AWARE’s suggestion, on the other hand, is unlikely to have the intended deterrent effect on such offenders,” SPF added.

Stressing that it fully acknowledges that outrage of modesty victims suffer from trauma and other consequences, SPF said that it is for that reason that the visuals were designed to “prevent such harmful actions in the first place, by driving home the point that outrage of modesty is an egregious offence with serious penalties”.

“Hence, our crime prevention messages are carefully curated, based on our understanding of the profile of offenders,” according to SPF.

“It is unfortunate that AWARE has chosen to make these public judgements against the Police without any attempt to contact us to understand our perspective, despite having worked with us in the past to enhance support to victims of sexual offences,” SPF concluded.

Many commenters defended the posters made by SPF, suggesting that those who commit outrage of modesty crimes do not usually care for the victims’ wellbeing in the first place, and that the Police’s direct, deterrent approach may serve as a more effective means of curbing such crimes:

Many other commenters, however, also supported AWARE’s rationale behind its earlier criticism of SPF’s posters, stating that the commodification of crimes of molestation and sexual assault is troubling and problematic, given the lifelong trauma of victims of such crimes:

One commenter in particular suggested doling out harsher punishments against perpetrators of outrage of modesty crimes, and criticised the law enforcement and arbiters for “incompetent” rulings, under which said perpetrators are not  adequately and appropriately punished:

One commenter said that the perspectives of both SPF and AWARE are both legitimate and are not necessarily incongruent with one another, and suggested that they should put in a collaborative effort:

One commenter criticised AWARE’s approach in giving a public statement on SPF’s posters, stating that the criticism could have been conveyed in a private manner beforehand:

“Putting a price on molest likens the victim to an object on a store shelf that can be purchased if one is willing to pay the price”: AWARE

On Sun (17 Nov), AWARE clarified its earlier position, stating that its “earlier comments did not fully spell out our position” on the issue of SPF’s outrage of modesty posters, which is to “discuss the negative impact that public education materials may have on women and sexual assault survivors, even when these implications are unintended”.

Claiming that the earlier post was not aimed at SPF “with whom we have worked and continue to collaborate”, AWARE said that while it fully supports SPF’s key deterrence message, namely “that molest is a crime recognised by the state, and that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions”, the poster “does not say that this act is wrong, only that it is expensive”.

“This analogy has the effect of erasing the experience of the victim and any viewer’s empathy for the victim,” said AWARE.

 

Highlighting that survivors of molestation and sexual assault have written to the organisation to share their discomfort with the SPF posters, AWARE said that it “takes a survivor-centric approach that underscores each individual’s dignity and rights”, and that it would “like to see all ads, public-service or otherwise, informed by that belief”.

“We understand that these posters are part of a series that also target theft of property and rioting. While the price tag approach may work for those crimes, they do not work so well when applied to sexual assault crimes.

“These posters, while targeted at perpetrators, will be read by survivors as well, who may be put off by the messaging,” stressed AWARE.

Explaining its rationale behind making its stance on the posters public in its previous post, AWARE said: “As the posters had been posted in public, at MRT stations where they had already seen by many commuters, we thought it was appropriate to post our comments in public.”

“These ideas affect all of society, so there is value in opening this discourse to the public,” AWARE added, while also stating that it would be “very happy to offer feedback and suggestions on any posters that the Police and other authorities wish to launch before they are published” due to the “complex and nuanced” nature of such matters.

AWARE, however, noted that the new posters “are a significant improvement from some of the older “outrage of modesty” posters, with taglines like “Don’t get rubbed the wrong way”, which seemed to place responsibility of preventing sexual harassment on the potential victim, instead of on the perpetrator”.

“The Singapore Police Force, the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs have been extremely dynamic and effective in the last few years to enhance sexual assault laws, and reduce the trauma faced by sexual assault survivors while they step up their enforcement efforts.

“Much progress has been made and the commitment of the State to address sexual assault issues is not in question. We are heartened to see the State commit resources to continue its crime prevention efforts,” said AWARE.

In response to SPF’s claim that AWARE does not understand the purpose of its posters, AWARE said: “We fully support SPF’s key deterrence message—that molest is a crime recognised by the state, and that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions.”

“It is critical that the consequences of committing sexual violence be known to the general public. We were not suggesting otherwise and there was no criticism directed towards this,” the organisation added.

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