SINGAPORE — Students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) recounted traumatic experiences of sexual misconduct on campus and lambasted NUS for its inertia in tackling the longstanding issue at a packed town hall meeting at the University Town auditorium on Thursday (25 April).
The closed-door meeting was prompted by the furore over the handling by the university of the incident involving Nicholas Lim, a male NUS student who was caught filming undergraduate Monica Baey, 23, in a hostel toilet in November last year, and the perceived light punishments that Lim received.
The NUS Board of Discipline had ordered Lim, also 23, to be suspended for one semester. In addition, he was banned from entering into hostel premises on campus, had to undergo counselling sessions and was ordered to write a letter of apology to Baey.
Lim, who was a first-time offender, was also given a 12-month conditional warning by the police. If he were to commit another offence over the following 12 months after the warning, he would be prosecuted for both offences.
Around 800 people attended the meeting, with the attendees spilling over to a second auditorium.
The meeting organised for NUS students, faculty and staff was chaired by Professor Florence Ling, Vice-Provost (Student Life) and Associate Professor Peter Pang, Dean of Students.
Isaac Neo, a 25-year-old NUS undergraduate majoring in political science, told Yahoo News Singapore that Baey, who was also among the attendees, gave several suggestions to curb sexual misconduct on campus.
She proposed a separate office to provide support for victims of sexual assault, longer periods of suspension for offenders, and mandatory rehabilitative counselling for offenders to better understand sexual assault.
‘Systematic failure’ at NUS
One attendee who said that she was molested by a male student on campus decided to recount her ordeal of being attended to by counsellors from the university’s Counselling and Psychological Services unit.
The student said a counsellor told her not to speak up in public. “I was interrogated by two male staff and one female staff. No psychologist was brought in…I was accused of being inconsistent,” she added.
The personnel handling her complaint decided to drop the case, citing lack of evidence, while the perpetrator went on with his life and graduated without a criminal record to his name, she said. The incident had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, poor appetite and a fear of showering at night, she added.
Another attendee read out a statement by a female friend who was a victim of voyeurism while she was showering on campus.
The woman was given a rape whistle by the campus security and counsellors attending to the incident had told her not to report the offender in order to give him a chance to be rehabilitated.
“I was utterly failed by the administration… Overall there is a systemic failure in the way that NUS handles these cases… NUS leadership does not understand the trauma that victims face,” the statement said, according to a tweet posted by Kellynn Wee, research associate of NUS’ Asia Research Institute, who attended the meeting.
Tighter security measures
The attendees demanded that NUS immediately enhance its security infrastructure on campus, particularly in hostel bathrooms and toilets. They proposed measures including installing facial recognition cameras in halls and card access to enter bathrooms.
Prof Ling said NUS will immediately implement two measures: the setting up of a care unit for victims of sexual misconduct and the enhancement of its infrastructure and campus security system.
NUS has said that it will convene a committee to review the current disciplinary and support frameworks, which will study the approaches taken by other international institutions, and solicit views from various stakeholders.
While students who attended the meeting felt it was a useful start of a two-way dialogue regarding sexual offences on campus, Neo felt that much more needs to be done.
He said, “The town hall meeting showed that the NUS administration is out of touch with the student’s feelings and grievances regarding sexual assault on campus, and their response to current cases is ‘woefully inadequate’, in their own words.
“I think it is good that they have promised to listen to our feedback and make changes, especially to provide greater victim support, but it has a long way to go to getting a fuller picture of our needs.”
When the meeting was about to end, one student directed her frustration at the two NUS academics. She said, “Having victim care is incredible, but we have told you that this is inadequate. We have no affirmation from you that the perpetrator in question who has started all of this will be punished more severely.”