Singapore minister wants tougher response to sexual misconduct

Campus voyeur let off too lightly, critics complain

April 23, 2019
Ye Kung Ong speaks at the World Academic Summit

Singapore’s education minister has condemned a “manifestly inadequate” response to a case of sexual misconduct on campus, in an intervention set to embroil all of the island’s universities.

The episode, involving an undergraduate who allegedly filmed a fellow student in a college shower at the National University of Singapore, has drawn thousands of signatories to online petitions.

The perpetrator, a chemical engineering student, was suspended for a semester and incurred other sanctions including exclusion from campus housing and 30 hours’ community service. He also received a 12-month conditional warning from the police.

But the university stopped short of booting him out, with vice-provost Florence Ling explaining that NUS pursued a “second strike and you are out” policy for instances of sexual misconduct.

“We want to give the students a chance,” she said in a statement reported by the Straits Times. “Student offenders who appear before the board of discipline for the first time are given a range of punishments, but not immediate expulsion.”

The victim, communications student Monica Baey, has called for “real consequences…so other potential perpetrators will know they face punishment”. Now education minister Ong Ye Kung has intervened in a 22 April Facebook post.

“Two strikes and you are out cannot be the standard application,” he insisted. “For offences that affect the safety of students on campus, we have to take a tough stand and send a strong signal to everyone.”

Mr Ong’s comments come after NUS promised to review its disciplinary and support frameworks for cases of sexual misconduct. Dean of students Peter Pang said that a committee would “study the approaches taken by other international institutions and solicit views from various stakeholders”.

The university said that the committee would be led by barrister Kay Kuok, a member of the NUS board of trustees, and would include NUS president Tan Eng Chye. “We note the strong public interest in this matter,” it said in a statement. “The committee will proceed swiftly and decisively.”

Mr Ong predicted that the NUS review would spawn “a more robust process and stricter framework”. He said that he had asked other universities to review their frameworks for similar offences.

Two online petitions, one demanding stiffer penalties and the other calling for police to reopen the case, have collectively garnered more than 50,000 signatures. A separate “statement of concern” issued by almost 500 NUS students says that the punishment falls short for “one of the world’s top universities”.

“It signals…that survivors of sexual violence and harassment will not receive adequate institutional and social support even if they voice their concerns to the relevant authorities,” the statement says.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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