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New student group at NUS aims to foster stronger community support for sexual assault victims

SINGAPORE — It was after a town hall on sexual misconduct, held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in April, that four students decided that they needed to do something to raise community support for sexual assault victims on campus.

The founding members of Students for a Safer NUS. From left: Mr Luke Levy, Ms Carissa Cheow and Ms Lune Loh. Not pictured is the fourth founding member Rayna Kway.

The founding members of Students for a Safer NUS. From left: Mr Luke Levy, Ms Carissa Cheow and Ms Lune Loh. Not pictured is the fourth founding member Rayna Kway.

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SINGAPORE — It was after a town hall on sexual misconduct, held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in April, that four students decided that they needed to do something to raise community support for sexual assault victims on campus.

The town hall was prompted by a widely publicised incident where undergraduate Monica Baey was illegally filmed while showering in a hostel bathroom. She, as well as many other students at the town hall, felt that NUS had not done enough to support her.

The incident sparked a national discussion on the issue, which was also brought up in Parliament.

Ms Lune Loh, 22, a second-year philosophy and literature major, said: “Many of the students in the town hall blamed the administration for not stepping up. But I’m not sure if the students even know what to do (in the event of a sexual assault) as well.”

It was the lack of awareness among the student body that prompted Ms Loh, along with third-year politics and philosophy major Carissa Cheow, second-year geography major Luke Levy and second-year literature major Rayna Kway, to eventually kick off a student-run group called Students for a Safer NUS.

On Monday (Dec 16), when TODAY spoke to three of the four founding members — Ms Cheow, Mr Levy and Ms Loh — they said that the group was a ground-up initiative that aimed to keep the student community educated on how to deal with sexual assault, so that affected students need not solely rely on institutional support.

The group aims to recruit 32 members before it launches in the second week of January next year. It now has 16 members, spread across different faculties and years, including the four founding students.

NUS said in a statement on Tuesday that it is touch with the group’s members.

“NUS has many student groups that promote and raise awareness of meaningful causes on our campuses, and welcomes ground-up efforts by members of the university community,” its spokesperson said.

“We are in contact with members of Students for a Safer NUS, and look forward to working with our students to help build a safer and more secure campus environment.”

‘WE STILL HAVE PEOPLE TRIVIALISING IT’

While the four founders met irregularly between May and August to discuss the direction of the group and what initiatives it could introduce on campus, it was in late August — after school reopened — that they saw the pressing need to create the group to provide better community support. 

It was during that period when NUS held a module on consent, which was recommended by the NUS Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct and rolled out across all its colleges and halls.

It was also then that the students noticed that many of their peers did not take the topic of sexual assault seriously.

Within her college, Ms Loh said that the topic of respect and consent had become “a kind of joke” for students who attended these workshops.

“It became very trivialised. People will randomly make contact with each other and say ‘remember to ask for consent’ in a joking way.”

This was in contrast with what the students saw at the town hall.

“Many of the students in the town hall were very vulnerable when they spoke of their experiences,” Ms Loh said. “And yet we still have people who are trivialising it.”

The mission of the group was soon established: To cultivate a safer and more supportive campus.

Ms Cheow, 24, said: “We want to equip every student with an understanding of what sexual assault and sexual violence looks like, and how to best support each other and care for each other.” 

GROUND-UP INITIATIVE

NUS may already be doing a lot to help students, such as setting up a Victim Care Unit in August for assault victims, Ms Cheow said, but she believes that there has to be ground-up support as well from the community.

“The first line of support that we can have is having our own students form our own community to look out for each other no matter where our students are,” she said.

In the upcoming year, the group plans to do this by conducting group discussion sessions on topics such as consent and survivor support, as well as relaying information on their social media channels to educate students on the topic.

The group is also working with the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), and hopes to hold a first-responder course to the campus next year, where students will learn how to provide immediate support to sexual assault victims, many of whom may be their friends.

Agreeing with Ms Cheow, Mr Levy, 22, said that peers are an important source of support for survivors.

“The one thing is that most people tend to do is reach out to their friends first. And what (Students for a Safer NUS) does is to make sure that the friends whom they know are equipped (to provide care),” he said.

Rather than having a call-centre service for students, the group serves to educate the student body so that survivors can seek better support from their friends, before they refer their case to a higher authority.

“(Institutional support) is necessary, but then where is the care before that, and during it, and throughout the process?” Ms Cheow asked.

“It’s up to us as students to provide the care for each other, equip ourselves with the skills to be able to care for each other, to represent each other, and do the necessary work on the ground to step up.”

WHAT STUDENTS THINK

NUS students interviewed by TODAY agreed that the initiative to garner community support is important with matters as “complex” as sexual violence.

Ms Jolene Tan, a third-year computer science major, said that Students for a Safer NUS can work on aspects that are “better done by students themselves rather than top-down from the university”.

This includes sustaining continual discourse and education about sexual violence within the student body, something that students are in a better position to do, the 23-year-old added.

Agreeing, final-year political science major Sean Lim, 24, said that a student initiative is encouraging, because it means that “we are being proactive and actually doing something concrete, instead of just being keyboard warriors”.

Some also said that if the university had done more to address the issue in the first place, that the group need not have been created.

“The fact that there are students who come out with such initiatives to protect fellow students may possibly be a sign that the school is not doing enough, or at least perceived to be not doing enough,” Mr Lim said.

Related topics

NUS sexual assault voyeurism safety consent students Monica Baey

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