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Family violence: Pharmacists from Unity Pharmacy trained to double up as ‘eyes and ears’ amid uptick in cases

SINGAPORE — In an effort to increase the ways for victims of family violence and the community to report such cases and get immediate help, more than 40 pharmacists from Unity Pharmacy have been trained to identify signs of violence among their customers.

Ms Sun Xueling (right), Minister of State for Social and Family Development, speaking to Unity Pharmacy staff members who are trained to detect family violence.

Ms Sun Xueling (right), Minister of State for Social and Family Development, speaking to Unity Pharmacy staff members who are trained to detect family violence.

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  • The pharmacists were trained by the Ministry of Social and Family Development
  • They are stationed at 42 Unity Pharmacy stores islandwide
  • This is part of the Government’s effort to have more eyes and ears on the ground to detect family violence

SINGAPORE — In an effort to increase the ways for victims of family violence and the community to report such cases and get immediate help, more than 40 pharmacists from Unity Pharmacy have been trained to identify signs of violence among their customers.

The pharmacists, who received training from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in November last year, are stationed at 42 Unity Pharmacy stores islandwide.

They are taught to watch for telltale signs such as cuts and bruises on victims that might be inflicted by members of their household and provide potential victims with information, including phone numbers from agencies where they may seek help.

This is part of the ministry’s effort to have more eyes and ears on the ground to detect family violence, so that timely intervention can be given to victims, MSF said.

In January, the police said that they received 5,135 reports of offences associated with family violence last year, and referred 1,115 cases to Family Service Centres or Family Violence Specialist Centres that are supported by MSF. 

The ministry said earlier that it had seen more referrals and enquiries on domestic violence since the start of the circuit breaker to combat Covid-19 from April to June last year, when people largely stayed home.

Community helplines that deal with family violence also received 40 per cent more calls between January and October last year than in the same period in 2019.

Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development, said on Thursday (March 11) that since Unity Pharmacy has a large presence in Singapore, pharmacists who are trained to be frontline officers may form one of the avenues for outreach.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to a Unity Pharmacy store at VivoCity mall, Ms Sun, who co-chairs an inter-agency task force on family violence, said: “We’ve always been increasing our channels of outreach, so that victims of family violence will find it easier to be able to report cases of family violence.”

For customers who may not feel comfortable approaching staff members, brochures to help link victims to the relevant channels to seek help will be made available at all the pharmacy counters.

Two pharmacists with Unity Pharmacy who underwent training said that some signs they have been taught to identify include cuts and bruises.

Still, pharmacy manager Grace Yeo, 40, said the challenge is that customers come in with these injuries almost daily.

One sign to watch for is when a customer consistently returns to the store to buy an item for the same injury, she added.

Pharmacist Muhammad Riduwan Mohammad Noor, 33, said that he usually asks customers how bruises and cuts came about before advising them on the next course of action.

“I’ll tell them it’s okay if they are not comfortable to share, but if they do, I’m here to listen,” he said.

“Knowing the signs to look out for can help us identify potential victims and render help by providing them with necessary information.” 

Ms Ang Sor Teng, general manager of the health and wellness division of supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice, which manages Unity Pharmacy, said that aside from specialised qualifications, pharmacists are armed with counselling skills, having undergone training in a hospital environment or a retail pharmacy setting.

By next month, a training programme to detect family violence will be rolled out for several hundred retail assistants at Unity Pharmacy’s 29 other drugstores that do not have dispensaries, Ms Ang said. 

Ms Sun said that the task force is also focusing its efforts on rehabilitating perpetrators.  

It held a focus-group discussion in January with key stakeholders and community partners who work with culprits of family violence, to understand possible causes of such violence and explore ways to enhance their rehabilitation.

The discussion revealed that financial stress, mental issues, and drug or alcohol abuse were among the reasons perpetrators resort to violence.

“If it’s due to financial stressors in the family, we may have to look at what financial assistance or help we can provide to the family to reduce that financial stress on the perpetrator. 

“If, on the other hand, the perpetrator has other conditions, such as mental issues, drug abuse or alcohol abuse, then the counselling and the treatment need to be of a different nature. So we need different solutions to best address the underlying root causes,” Ms Sun said.

Those wishing to report cases of family violence may call the 24-hour national anti-violence helpline: 1800 777 0000.

Related topics

assault MSF Sun Xueling Unity Pharmacy domestic violence family

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