The victim of a former director of the National University of Singapore (NUS)’s East Asian Institute (EAI)’s sexual harassment on Monday (23 November) broke her silence on the circumstances surrounding her case and the ‘victim shaming’ she had to endure since last year.

The NUS staff member, who identified herself as Charlotte, said in a statement sent to TOC that while she appreciates the efforts of the Singapore Police Force and NUS in investigating her complaint against Professor Zheng Yongnian, she was forced to deal with “deep disappointment, agony and even the pressure from many sides” to remain silent.

Ms Charlotte alleged that from the start of the police investigations last year, Prof Zheng had “continuously made up and circulated defamatory posts to discredit, attack and humiliate” her with the “help of his close aides, overseas media partners and business partners”.

Source: Charlotte, via email

“Among them are not only distorted facts and slanders from someone claimed as EAI colleagues and insiders, but even my archival information and photos in EAI were leaked out and exposed online,” she said.

Source: Charlotte, via email

Ms Charlotte said that despite repeated complaints to EAI and requests for “investigations and clarifications” on how Prof Zheng was able to obtain such archival information, the institute’s current management had rejected her requests and told her that it has “nothing to do with EAI management”.

Ms Charlotte added that even Prof Zheng himself had engaged in the distortion of facts, including by alleging that she had approached him “by asking to meet his daughter” and that she had “joined his family gathering”.

She clarified that it was Prof Zheng who had invited her to travel with him with the “excuse of his daughter’s visit to Singapore”.

Ms Charlotte added that she has never even visited his house.

Source: Charlotte, via email

Ms Charlotte alleged that Professor Zheng and his allies have been able to “distort facts and misguide public opinion” by cooperating with media partners as illustrated above.

“In fact, during the whole process, I also felt an invisible force covering up the predator and continuously persecute (sic) victims to keep silent, thus indulging the predator to be more emboldening (sic) and ruthless,” she added.

While the entire ordeal of being silenced has left her traumatised, Ms Charlotte said that she has “never regretted” making a police report against Prof Zheng.

She strongly believes that harassers can only be punished for their misconduct “when the victims of sexual harassment speak out bravely”.

Ms Charlotte highlighted that she has reported the aforementioned “cyberbullying to the police and will take necessary legal actions after consulting legal opinions”.

The Straits Times reported last week that Prof Zheng was found by a Committee of Inquiry (COI) appointed by the university to have engaged in inappropriate behaviour against one of his then-subordinates by hugging her without her consent during a work meeting.

Ms Charlotte, however, said that “[m]essage records indicated that the incident happened in Mr. Zheng’s office, not in (a) “public meeting” occasion distorted by some media to reduce the severity of the case”.

In her statement on Monday, Ms Charlotte also took the opportunity to express her “heartfelt gratitude to those who have helped and supported me in due course of investigation”.

She thanked “Singapore’s just and civilized society and Singapore Police Force for the investigation”, which she said was “the only light of hope for me in darkness”.

Ms Charlotte also extended her gratitude to NUS, non-government organisation AWARE, media outlets that have “reported impartially”, and the public who bore a “sense of justice” for supporting her.

“Since the very beginning, I have realized that this is an investigation which involves two parties having extremely asymmetrical power, and I have struggled and stumbled alone in the endless darkness for nearly two years.

“It’s time for me to move forward now. I will carry with all the support, love and justice I received and pass them on to those in need in our society,” she concluded.

Background of Ms Charlotte’s case

Ms Charlotte’s case was one of several allegations of sexual misconduct involving Prof Zheng, which the academician had vehemently rejected through his lawyers in September, according to ST.

Prof Zheng added that his departure from NUS was not connected to the allegations made against him.

The university in a statement last Tuesday (17 November) said that it was made aware of allegations against Prof Zhang in May last year and subsequently suspended him.

This entailed him to stay off-campus and to carry out his work from home, pending police and university investigations at the time. He was also prohibited from contacting the subordinate in question as a result of a “No-Contact Order”.

Police then issued a stern warning to Prof Zheng in April this year for outrage of modesty in relation to the case at hand.

The COI appointed a month later determined that at least one of the staff member’s allegations had occurred, ST reported.

Prof Zheng had admitted to hugging the subordinate without her consent during a work meeting on 30 May 2018 in his office, according to the university.

The COI, however, could not establish some of the allegations made by the staff member, such as that Prof Zheng “had patted or touched her buttocks in the absence of evidence” or that he had held her back while taking a group picture.

It could also not establish if Prof Zheng had placed his hands on her shoulder and head during a meeting between the two of them in his office as she had alleged.

NUS and EAI, said the university last week, have been “extending assistance to the affected EAI staff member since she had first raised this matter, and we will continue to provide her with the support she needs”.

“We take a strong stand against all forms of inappropriate behaviour. All allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken seriously and internal investigations are conducted to look into such allegations,” said NUS.

The university added that it would have issued Prof Zheng a written warning following the COI’s findings. However, the university decided to record the outcome of its internal review in its staff records as Prof Zheng had left NUS.

According to ST, Prof Zheng is understood to have joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen as the head of its Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies.

Prof Zheng’s case is not the first instance in which an NUS staff member has been accused of sexual misconduct in the university in recent times.

Lecturer Jeremy Fernando was dismissed from his position at Tembusu College last month after complaints arose of his alleged sexual misconduct against students.

A spokesman of NUS was quoted in an article by TODAY stating that Dr Fernando was found to have “fallen short of the standards of professionalism that the university expects of a teaching staff”.

Although the university did not provide details of the complaints, a report by ST disclosed the details of what the lecturer allegedly did to the two undergraduate victims. Both of them did not want to be named.

Commenting on Dr Fernando’s dismissal, the victims said that they were disappointed with the lack of communication and statement of clarification from NUS to the students. They added that the university only did so after the issue surfaced on social media.

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