Trust Yoga instructor sues ex-student, claims harassment in wake of alleged sexual misconduct saga

(SCREENSHOT: Trust Yoga's website)
(SCREENSHOT: Trust Yoga's website)

SINGAPORE — A co-founder of Trust Yoga has begun legal proceedings against a former student in the latest development following molest allegations against one of the yoga studio’s male instructors.

Yoga instructor Wong Shiou An, who co-owns the business with fellow instructor Manoj Kumar Deshwal, has accused Judy Ni Chia Min of harassing her in the aftermath of allegations that Trust had mishandled sexual misconduct complaints involving one of its teachers.

The allegations and complaints were made public on social media, where it subsequently went viral, in late July. The male yoga teacher at the centre of the molest allegations has been placed on a leave of absence.

When contacted, Ni told Yahoo News Singapore that Wong commenced legal proceedings against her under the Protection from Harassment Act. According to her, the suit referred to a Facebook post and Google review she made after her request for a refund of membership fees was denied. Ni stopped attending classes at Trust after the sexual conduct allegations came to light.

She has appointed lawyers Josephus Tan and Darren Tan of Invictus Law to act for her and the suit is still at its pre-trial conference stage.

“Essentially, I am taking the position that I was justified in communicating with the manager with regard to my membership issues with Trust Yoga,” Ni said.

She declined to give further details as the case is before the courts.

Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to Wong and Trust, which has branches in Telok Ayer and Tampines, for comments and updates on Trust’s internal investigations. Phone calls and text messages to Wong were unanswered.

Students unable to get refunds

Like Ni, a number of students have tried unsuccessfully to get refunds from Trust following the allegations of sexual misconduct.

When contacted, Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) executive director Loy York Jiun said that from 13 July to 23 September, a total of 11 complaints were filed against Trust.

Consumers reported that they were unable to terminate their arrangements with Trust or get a refund for unused sessions, Loy said. The complaints include how their contractual agreement did not have a refund policy. The students had wanted to terminate their memberships because of the sexual misconduct allegations, Loy added.

CASE advises consumers to understand and agree with the terms of any contract before signing a package.

A current student with Trust who failed to get a refund for unused sessions after the molest allegations, and who then decided to continue with her classes for the remaining two months of her package, said, “The reason I was asking for refund (is) their unethical and irresponsible (manner) in handling the incident. And the reason I (am) continuing with them is because I don’t think I am able to get my refund before I leave Singapore…So I am trying to finish the sessions.”

A 29-year-old female former member, who made a police report alleging that she too was a victim of molest by the same instructor at the centre of the saga, said that she messaged Wong on 6 August to demand a refund of her membership fees. However, Wong had asked her to sign a termination form which included the sentence: “She requests to terminate the membership after an allegation on one of our instructors was reported by other [sic] member.” The woman has an unused package worth $1,782 that was supposed to have begun in mid-August.

When she questioned Wong about the clause, Wong allegedly stopped replying to her texts.

The woman, who works in the financial industry, then turned to CASE for help but that too proved futile. She has since lodged a case with the Small Claims Tribunal.

“To be honest it’s not about the money at this point... it’s about fighting for what is right. If I don’t do something about it, it means I condone (it)... I’m willing to pay the money or whatever it takes to fight (this),” she said.

She added that “it’s not just about me anymore”. “Besides myself, I think I’m also speaking up for... people who have been through this but may not be able to come forward.”

She said that the instructor had smacked her buttocks during a class in mid-November last year.

Multiple police reports made

Yahoo News Singapore has seen police reports filed by five female ex-students – filed between 13 July and 29 August this year – which detail alleged incidents dating back to November last year.

All five women, aged in their 20s and 30s, reported that the male instructor had touched their private parts while assisting them with yoga positions.

One woman felt his hand on her crotch as she was performing a handstand while another claimed that the man had smacked her on her buttocks while she was performing an inversion. Most said that they were uncomfortable with the touches but had brushed them off – they said they were not experienced yoga practitioners and had trusted the instructor. The man also apparently acted as if nothing untoward had happened after the alleged acts.

It was only after one of the alleged victims took to social media to air her grievances that the other women started to think that the man’s actions could have been deliberate.

The first alleged victim took to Instagram to detail two acts of sexual harassment that occured during a class on 11 July this year.

While in a forward fold, she said the teacher had smacked her left buttock. Later, as she did an inversion, the teacher allegedly stroked her buttocks and crotch area.

The woman said she was stunned by the teacher’s actions and experienced bad anxiety thereafter. The following day, when she confronted the studio owners, the latter allegedly deflected the accusations by claiming that the teacher was a good instructor with a strong base of followers.

On 3 August, the studio published a statement on its Facebook page, saying that it took the sexual misconduct allegations seriously and that the teacher had been placed on a leave of absence pending internal investigations. The statement added that the studio would “further strengthen internal reporting mechanisms to ensure optimal learning environment for our students”.

In a second statement on 25 August, the studio said that it had added more CCTVs on its premises and refined its standard operating procedures on reporting and complaint resolution. It also raised concerns about the way staff members and a student was “publicly attacked online for speaking up for the accused (teacher)” in a Facebook post.

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