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Police need to ask 'difficult questions' but victims shouldn't be made to repeat telling of sex crimes, say volunteers

SINGAPORE — Having to describe the details of their sexual assault many times during the investigation process can be traumatising for victims. It is therefore important that front-line police officers be trained in handling a victim since they are usually the first point of contact, victim care officer Jenny Giam said.

During the course of investigations, police officers have to ask difficult questions to build a case, which may come across as insensitive to sexual assault victims.
During the course of investigations, police officers have to ask difficult questions to build a case, which may come across as insensitive to sexual assault victims.
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  • A victim care officer said it is important that front-line police officers be trained in handling a victim since they are usually the first point of contact
  • This is because victims experience a lot of guilt and shame, she said
  • During investigations, police officers have to ask difficult questions to build a case, which may come across as insensitive

SINGAPORE — Having to describe the details of their sexual assault many times during the investigation process can be traumatising for victims.

It is therefore important that front-line police officers be trained in handling a victim since they are usually the first point of contact, victim care officer Jenny Giam said.

Ms Giam, a trained counsellor who volunteers as a victim care officer with the Singapore Police Force to provide emotional support to sexual assault victims during investigations, added: “Some of the things that we hear from victims are that nobody believes them, so they experience a lot of guilt and shame."

The counsellor at the Singapore Management University was responding to TODAY’s question on the importance of training front-line officers, on the sidelines of a seminar organised by the police on sexual assault awareness on Tuesday (April 12).

At the seminar, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K announced a series of initiatives by the police, aimed at improving how sexual offences are handled here. The measures are part of the police’s review on sexual crimes.

Among them is the setting up of a new police command next year, which will oversee sexual crimes and family violence, as well as regular training for investigation officers and front-line police officers on sexual crime investigations and victim care.

Mr Shanmugam also announced that the police will be conducting a survey of sexual assault victims this year.

These victims will be engaged on a voluntary basis to provide feedback on existing processes and victim care measures, and help identify areas for improvement.

These moves came several months after online discussions about police officers’ insensitive handling of sexual assault victims.

In response to TODAY’s request for comment, Superintendent of Police Cindy New, who is also the principal specialist of investigations, said: “During the course of investigations, police officers have to ask difficult questions to build a case, which may come across as insensitive.

“The questions are not intended to impute responsibility on the victims. They are necessary to ensure investigations are conducted objectively and can withstand the scrutiny of court proceedings.”

Ms Giam agreed that it can be difficult for police officers to suss out information and use a gentle approach at the same time. 

It takes a lot of practice, she said, adding that even victim care officers like herself had to undergo a series of training, assessments and role-playing activities to equip them with not only the knowledge but the confidence and skills to engage victims.

“So I suppose this kind of training structure can be applied to police officers,” Ms Giam added. 

Veteran lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio, who is leading a new charity called SG Her Empowerment (SHE) that was launched this month, also told the media on the sides of Tuesday's seminar that her team is also looking into improving the reporting processes of victims, especially those affected by online harms. 

Mr Shanmugam on Tuesday announced that SHE will set up a victim support centre for online and sexual harm and work with platforms to simplify the reporting of harmful online content for removal, among others.

Ms Yuen Thio said: “Online harms is a very new space. It’s not very well-supported. I think it’s a newly developing area so it is something we are trying to work with the whole community to help resolve.”

She added that SHE’s first initiative will be to work with social media and search platforms to streamline processes so that victims need not retell their experiences more than once. 

“Right now, if your younger sister had her photograph or a telephone number put on the internet and she comes to you (and asks), 'What do I do?', you need to go to each of the tech platforms, (read their) terms and conditions and their community standards, and try to figure out what that tech platform needs.

“Then you also need to call your friend if you have a friend who's a lawyer and say, 'Does she have a reportable case here? What should be done?'" Ms Yuen Thio said. 

“She doesn't need to go through that trauma. She doesn't need to talk to five different sets of people about the same facts. So I think that streamlining process is really important.”

Related topics

sexual crime Police sexual assault victim

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