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Privileges committee hearing: WP's Dennis Tan asks expert if Raeesah Khan's sexual assault trauma led her to lie

SINGAPORE — The question of whether Ms Raeesah Khan was prone to lying owing to the trauma of her sexual assault took centre stage before Parliament's privileges committee on Wednesday (Dec 22).

Privileges committee hearing: WP's Dennis Tan asks expert if Raeesah Khan's sexual assault trauma led her to lie

Psychiatrist Christopher Cheok (left) and the Workers' Party's Dennis Tan at a hearing by Parliament's privileges committee.

  • Former MP Raeesah Khan’s state of mind was the focus of privileges committee member Dennis Tan’s line of questioning on Dec 22
  • For about 50 minutes, the Workers’ Party MP pressed psychiatrist Christopher Cheok on whether Ms Raeesah was likely to lie because of her traumatic experience with sexual assault
  • He wanted to know if the trauma had an impact on her ability to make decisions and tell the truth
  • Dr Cheok maintained that he does not believe Ms Raeesah has dissociation or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • There are many other explanations why someone may want to lie than traumatic symptoms alone, he said

SINGAPORE — The question of whether Ms Raeesah Khan was prone to lying owing to the trauma of her sexual assault took centre stage before Parliament's privileges committee on Wednesday (Dec 22).

A committee member from the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) repeatedly asked a psychiatrist whether it had any bearing on Ms Raeesah’s communications with WP leaders and her aides. 

However, Dr Christopher Cheok, acting chief and senior consultant from the Institute of Mental Health's department of forensic psychiatry, maintained throughout his testimony to the committee that this was unlikely to be the case and that Ms Raeesah, a former WP Member of Parliament (MP), was of sound mind.

The psychiatrist was invited to testify before the committee after he assessed her, following a suggestion by WP chief Pritam Singh that the committee undertake a psychiatric evaluation of her.

Based on Mr Singh’s testimony last week, Ms Raeesah had told WP's leaders that she suffers from dissociation, a condition she described as speaking without thinking. 

Dr Cheok testified on Wednesday that Ms Raeesah did not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or even from dissociation, and she probably had a layman’s understanding of what dissociation was.

He said: “My overall opinion is that while she did have transient symptoms or some symptoms of PTSD, it was not enduring or persistent, and over the course of 10 years as you have asked, she did not have symptoms that persisted and it did not impair her ability to function as a wife, as a mother and as an MP.”

He was responding to questions from Mr Dennis Tan, WP's MP for Hougang, on Ms Raeesah’s mental health as a result of her traumatic experience with sexual assault as well as her state of mind over the past few months since she told the lies in Parliament.

She had falsely claimed in Parliament that the police treated a sexual assault victim insensitively in her presence, but the truth was that she was not there and had heard the account from someone else.

For about 50 minutes, Mr Tan, the sole opposition member on the privileges committee, pressed Dr Cheok repeatedly on whether the trauma would still have some effect on Ms Raeesah whenever the sexual assault is raised, such that it would affect her decision-making on the incident.

In response, Dr Cheok said that Ms Raeesah’s speech on Aug 3, when she first told the lie, was a prepared one, and so, it was not something Ms Raeesah said impulsively.

“In my opinion, she did not dissociate, or there was no psychiatric disorder that would have influenced her ability and her soundness of mind to write that speech and to deliver that speech,” the psychiatrist, who gave evidence for about one-and-a-half hours, said.

Dr Cheok added, however, that it was not in his remit to determine Ms Raeesah’s motivations as to why she decided to lie in the first place, though he testified that she told him it was due to her passionate belief in women’s issues.

This was in response to Mr Tan’s question on whether Ms Raeesah’s experience with her assault led her to tell the lie or why she had failed to substantiate her anecdote in Parliament as Mr Singh had requested.

Dr Cheok stated again: “I do not think that her experience of trauma would have directly caused her to want to write that particular anecdote.”

DID SHE CREATE ‘FALSE MEMORIES’?

On Ms Raeesah’s admission of her dissociation to WP, Mr Tan also asked the psychiatrist repeatedly whether a person with trauma-induced dissociation or a dissociative disorder would show symptoms whenever the subject is brought up.

In particular, Mr Tan sought to find out if “false memory creation” or “memory lapses” — possible symptoms of dissociation — had an impact on Ms Raeesah’s actions after her Aug 3 lie.

These included the phone text message that she sent to her assistants Loh Pei Ying and Yudhishthra Nathan after her Aug 8 meeting with Mr Singh, party chairman Sylvia Lim and vice-chairman Faisal Manap.

In the message, she said that she was told to take the information on her lie “to the grave”.

Mr Tan asked the psychiatrist: “Would you agree that this could be an example whereby a person suffering from a certain trauma, while still generally high-functioning, could send out a message but would selectively put in a lie in her statement in her message?”

Dr Cheok replied to say that he disagreed with Mr Tan’s statement. He noted that such a scenario is possible in general, but there are many other explanations why a person may want to lie.

Later, answering Mr Tan’s question on whether Ms Raeesah’s trauma could trigger false memory creation, Dr Cheok said that he did not assess the former MP to have dissociation or traumatic dissociation.

“I do not think that, even when she speaks, or the topic of her sexual assault was mentioned, it affected her so severely that she lost her mental capacity.”

This led Mr Tan to ask if he would definitively exclude her from even committing lapses of judgement and telling a lie when her trauma was brought up.

Dr Cheok replied: “In the handbook of the Mental Capacity Act, it is said that people can make bad judgements and making bad judgements doesn't mean it is due to mental illness… Any normal human being can make bad judgements.”

To Mr Tan's further question on whether it could still be caused by the trauma, Dr Cheok said that in Ms Raeesah's case, he did not think so.

DID NOT SUFFER FROM PTSD, DISSOCIATION

Mr Tan also pressed the psychiatrist on his finding that Ms Raeesah did not suffer from PTSD or dissociation, despite her admission to WP that she suffered from dissociation.

Dr Cheok said that he believed Ms Raeesah did not have a deep understanding of what the condition meant.

“If I recall correctly, she said that her psychotherapist told her that she had dissociation. I had asked her what she meant by dissociation, and her reply made me believe that she didn't fully understand what dissociation was and when she used that term.” 

Mr Tan then asked whether it was possible for someone who suffers from dissociation to make use of that knowledge as "an excuse”, thereby using it to his or her advantage.

“That would be malingering, isn’t it?” Dr Cheok asked. “If you say it in general, of course that is possible, but that would be malingering.”

Referring to Mr Tan’s premise that such a person would be suffering from dissociation, Dr Cheok repeated: “(Ms Raeesah) does not suffer from significant dissociation during the periods from August to Dec 3.”

Separately, Mr Tan presented Dr Cheok with evidence from the three WP leaders showing that Ms Raeesah had become emotional at several points during her discussions with them on her trauma and her lies.

“How would you reconcile the fact that she is constantly emotional whenever this incident is mentioned… with your earlier findings that she does not have PTSD or dissociation?” Mr Tan asked.

Dr Cheok clarified that although Ms Raeesah did not cross the threshold for PTSD, it does not mean that she did not suffer from symptoms of being psychologically traumatised.

He said that her emotional reactions were understandable and normal, and while people may show such symptoms, they do not necessarily impair their mental functioning and judgement.

“A sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences that someone has gone through. It is a violation of their person. 

“I would be very surprised if anyone can speak about their sexual assault cleanly, carelessly, without emotion. I think that is even more abnormal than being emotional when talking about their sexual assault,” he added.

He also said that Ms Raeesah’s case did not reach the threshold in such a way that her judgement, decision-making capacity or her reality testing were affected, even though the memories of her sexual assault may still upset her. 

Reality testing is a concept that describes one's ability to interpret a situation for what it really is, rather than what one wishes or fears it might be.

Dr Cheok said: “She was of sound mind." 

Related topics

Raeesah Khan Committee of Privileges Workers' Party WP psychiatrist mental health sexual assault trauma

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