In a bid to raise greater awareness on how to better support survivors of sexual assault, student-led organisation safeNUS released infographics on five things people should never say to survivors, citing resources from the American Psychological Association and Psychology Today.
1. “You should have reported it!”
The first thing that people should never say to a survivor of sexual assault immediately after a sexual assault is “You should have reported it!”, said safeNUS.
Often, a survivor’s priority is to get to safety right after the incident.
Most individuals, added safeNUS, are “too traumatised” to go to the police station and file a report, and “having to testify about their experience is demoralizing”.
If the justice system fails to convict perpetrators, victims are likely to feel “as bad as experiencing the whole thing all over again”, the organisation added.
The most important thing to do, hence, is to support survivors in their decision whether or not to report their assault.
“Only they can make that call,” said safeNUS.
2.“What were you wearing?”
The question of “What were you wearing?” is rooted in victim-blaming, said safeNUS.
“What survivors wear doesn’t make it their fault. It doesn’t matter what anyone was wearing or not wearing,” stressed the organisation.
“Modesty or lack thereof does not make someone less worthwhile, and does not give permission to anyone to be raped,” said safeNUS.
3.“Why didn’t you fight back harder?”
safeNUS also discouraged people from asking survivors why they did not “fight back harder”.
Often when someone is being assaulted, they “go into state of shock” and dissociation, particularly if they were sexually abused as a child.
“The onus should be on sexual assaulters for their horrible actions and not on the victim to ‘fight back harder’,” it said.
4.“It’s time for you to move on”
The fourth thing that people should never say to sexual assault survivors is “It’s time for you to move on”.
Noting that a survivor may change a lot due to the assault and throughout the recovery process, safeNUS said the survivor may never be able to go back to the way things were.
“This kind of trauma doesn’t heal like a broken bone, and mental issues like PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], depression, and anxiety can all become a part of the survivor’s life afterwards,” it added.
It also advised the public to do some research on the effects of sexual abuse to see how they can be supportive and avoid pushing the survivor into being exactly how they were before.
5.“Oh well at least it wasn’t as bad as this one story I heard…”
Lastly, safeNUS urged people to refrain from comparing survivors’ sexual assault to other stories they have heard.
Doing so is “dehumanizing” for the victims and only demonstrates to belittle their pain.
The infographics released by safeNUS came in the wake of former NUS professor Jeremy Fernando’s dismissal, following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Dr Fernando’s case has again raised public concerns over the students’ safety in the campus.
It was said that NUS started its investigations after it received two complaints highlighting that Dr Fernando had behaved “inappropriately” as a lecturer.
Dr Fernando was then sacked from his position at Tembusu College as internal investigations revealed that he “had an intimate association” with an undergraduate, which is a serious breach of NUS’s code of conduct for staff, The Straits Times reported.
Given the seriousness of the allegations, NUS has also made a police report against Dr Fernando.
Minister of State in the Ministry for Education (MOE) Sun Xueling said in Parliament on 3 November that institutes of higher learning in Singapore have handled a total of 172 disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct by students and staff between 2015 and 2019.
“This translates to the incident rate of 0.12 sexual misconduct cases involving staff and student perpetrators per 1000 staff and student,” she added.
According to Ms Sun, the autonomous universities handled a total of 56 disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct committed by students from 2015 to 2017, which translates to the incident rate of around 0.21 sexual misconduct cases involving student perpetrators per 1000 student.
In 2018, the number of such cases dropped to 17 with the corresponding incident rate of 0.16 and in 2019, the number of cases fell to 14 with a corresponding incident rate of 0.13.