Recap: Real Conversations
for Real Change
The Moon, 37 Mosque Street
18th January 2020
How can we create a culture of consent? What stops someone from responding to harassment? How can these barriers be overcome?
Dialogue + Q&A Sessions
featuring representation from a spokesperson for AWARE’s Aim for Zero campaign, a psychologist, a legal expert, a university representative & survivors
A VR session targeting responding
to sexual harassment was hosted.
Session 1 | 0900-1200 | Consent & Barriers to Responding
Ms Devika Panicker
Aim For Zero campaign
Ms Sylvie Lian
Ms Monica Baey
Ms Priscilla Chia
Peter Low & Choo LLC
PANEL 1: Barriers to responding
Moderator Question: As someone who has seen many cases unfold, what are the different types of barriers that prevent people from firstly, responding in the moment and secondly, reporting after the incident has occurred?
Ms Devika Panicker said: “When it comes to responding [in the moment], people usually have three responses: fight, flight or freeze. Most survivors are in shock that it is even happening and it’s a lot to process and you wonder ‘Am I overreacting? Why is my body showing signs of arousal? Do I want it?’
“ [As for reporting after the incident,] when the perpetrator is someone close to you, you start caring about how this is going to implicate them. You start to wonder how is this going to affect their life and their career. You want to prevent something so drastic [like going to jail] from happening. You fear the reaction from family members, from friends, from perpetrators themselves. You don’t want to complicate things even more.
“When you’re sexually assaulted or harassed, it’s forced upon you and you are very powerless. When you pressure [survivors] to report it, you’re making them feel even more powerless. You need to let them make their own decision to restore this power to them.”
Moderator Question: When one is overcome with shock, fear, guilt and pressure to remain silent, how can a survivor better process and manage their emotions?
Ms Sylvie Lian: “There’s no right way to respond and expecting [survivors] to know the ‘right’ way to respond can be traumatising. When you think there’s a ‘right’ way, you’re making it more pressuring for yourself.”
She said that in the moment, we often think we will react in a certain way but there is usually an affective forecasting error, where we are inaccurate in our assessment of how we respond in a high pressure situation.
She further explained: “Like how the police and soldiers practice [their skills] so that it becomes automatic in high stress situations. We can do so through roleplay to make it more likely that you’ll do it in a high stress situation. Having discussions and roleplay helps with how you’ll react.”
Moderator Question: As a survivor who chose not to remain silent, what kind of role do you think social media played in empowering you and allowing you to empower others?
Ms Monica Baey said: “It took me quite a while to come up and speak up. It takes time to be comfortable and speak up about it.
“Instagram was just a place that I can tell everyone I know. I was very angry back then but a lot of people reached out and wanted to know what did NUS do [after my reporting]. And [I told them] nothing was done. People asked ‘why is it being taken so lightly’. And with the support of the people around me, I realised that, ‘yeah, why was nothing being done?’”
She said that at the height of the virality of her case, her intention was never to severely punish her perpetrator, such as getting him expelled or getting his personal information online. She just wanted awareness of her case.
Looking back, Ms Baey added that when it comes to social media, it’s important to be careful about it, as you might say something ugly without realising.
PANEL 2: Consent
Moderator Question: How does the law define consent and in situations where it's blurred, even by the law's definition, who decides if there was consent or not?
Ms Priscilla Chia replied: “The issue of consent is very heavily contested when someone is facing charges. There’s usually very little direct evidence and it’s a very ‘he said, she said’ matter.”
She added that under the law, there is a logical understanding of what consent is. For example, when you’re intoxicated, you don’t have the mental capacity, when you are unconscious or you’re not able to understand the nature and logic of what consent you’re giving, or when your consent is given under misconception of fact. Sometimes when you tell people, that’s corroborative effort to know whether there was consent.
She said: “You not reporting to police [immediately] won't be used against you [in court]. There’s no set behaviour for survivors and the courts have been quite empathetic that even if the survivor doesn't seem to be traumatised, it is not indicative of anything.”
Moderator Question: Why is consent important?
Ms Panicker replied: “We practise consent very often in life, example in school, there are consent forms, and in hospitals, there are consent forms too. As community we practise consent quite frequently and the same thing should be practiced in our sexual lives.”
Ms Panicker said: “If we create communities that are okay with talking about sex and consent and distance it from the taboo that it used to be, we are able to have better conversations. I am now able to better draw boundaries because I understand consent. As survivors, we tend to believe that if we bring certain things up, then we are painting people as bad people but we need to know that good people can do bad things as well.
Ms Baey added: “Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about consent. When consent is broken, you need to communicate [to the perpetrator] that this thing you did hurt me and I’m not trying to attack you or paint you as a bad person but you need to understand that this thing hurt me and it’s not okay
“It’s easier to talk about consent in sex, but there’s consent in our day-to-day activities too. It’s important to talk about what being respectful is. Once you understand what being respectful is, you can understand consent.”
Participant Question: For example, you and your current partner had this sexual activity and it’s non-consensual and you made a report. But it’s a ‘you say versus I say’ situation and the police conducted the investigation and there’s inconclusive evidence. What other recourse can we get?
Ms Chia replied that the law does not offer any other recourse and the police won't take up the case anymore, but you can file for a protection order and that does not fall under police charges. There are no known appeal processes for the inconclusive results the police have reached. It is unfortunate but that is what the situation is currently as she knows.
Session 2 | 1215-1430 | Responding to Sexual Harassment
Ms Jennifer Chih
Senior Lawyer & Director
PK Wong & Nair LLC
Ms Tan Siok San
Student Affairs, NTU
Ms Jerlyn Lam
PANEL 3: Responding to and reporting harassment
Ms Jennifer Chih said: “[Back then], I didn't have the POHA with us and basically, we had to deal with harassment in our own ways. Most people forget or just move past it but every incident makes people a little more angry and a little more capable to deal with the next incident.
“If you feel that you’re constantly harassed, that’s one case you might consider applying for a protection order. You can apply for this on your own without engaging a lawyer. There are centres in Singapore that help you go through this process. Once you file the paperwork and the whole procedure starts, you can’t just decide you want to stop.
“You need to know the identity of the harasser to serve the documents to them. You have to sit in a mediation with the both of you [there at the same time]. It will take a while and it goes forward to a hearing. A judge makes the decision for the outcome, whether you like it or not. For the protection order, it is either you get it or you don’t. So you might go through the entire process but not get it.”
She added that these days, we are constantly travelling with mobile devices, which act as nifty recording devices. It is easier today than in the past to take down evidence of harassment or assault, such that you have something to go to the police to, if you wish to press charges, or for filing for a protection order.
When asked about the legality of recordings and photographs, she advised, “It’s better to have the recording and photograph and then you can talk about it in court whether it’s legal or not. It is better to have it than not at all and it becomes a ‘he said versus she said’ scenario again.”
Moderator Question: “What kind of power does the school hold just because it happens in an institution? And why should we report it to the school when sexual harassment is a crime and not an academic offence?”
Ms Tan Siok San said: “It really doesn’t matter whether you report to the university or police first but it does help that if it happens in a school environment, the support system that the university has put in place, can jump in and give you the relevant support. They can highlight the options you have and give you the support that you have from the school.
“If it happens in a campus environment and you make a police report, the police will loop in the school eventually.”
Ms Jerlyn Lam said: “The moment I felt uncomfortable, it should be enough reason for me to leave. If you want to leave, you should not feel like you can’t leave. People need to have the courage to say no.”