Violence against any person, regardless of sexual orientation, won't be tolerated: MSF

People gather at a park in Singapore for a vigil in remembrance of the Orlando shooting victims on 14 June, 2016. (AP file photo)

SINGAPORE — Violence against any person, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will not and should not be tolerated, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Wednesday (7 August).

The ministry was responding to a parliamentary question filed by Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira on actions taken by the MSF to reach out to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community who are facing domestic violence from family members or intimate partners.

The ministry pointed out that the Penal Code criminalises violence and the use of force against all persons, including members of the LGBTQ community.

Particularly, the recent Criminal Law Reform Act strengthened protection in both the Penal Code and the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) by enhancing penalties for offences against vulnerable persons and victims of violence in intimate or close relationships with the perpetrator, the MSF noted.

Dr Theseira also asked if state-run institutions are trained to be sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ victims when they report such incidents and whether there are plans to launch public education initiatives with non-governmental organisations to support these victims.

“Our institutions and social workers are trained to be sensitive to the diverse needs of victims of violence, including those of LGBTQ persons,” said the MSF.

Victims of violence can approach the ministry’s social service agencies - such as family violence specialist centres and family service centres - for assistance.

“These services are provided to anyone in need, without discrimination,” said the ministry.

The MSF added that it has run public education initiatives to raise awareness on the subject, such as their Break The Silence campaign, which focuses on the role of bystanders in preventing and reporting acts of violence, “regardless of marital status or sexual orientation of the victim”.

No LGBTQ-related data for mental health care

Separately, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that it does not keep track of the number of LGBTQ people seeking mental health care, in response to Dr Theseira’s parliamentary question on such figures and trends.

”Public mental health services are available to all Singaporeans, irrespective of gender identity,” said the ministry in a written response.

Dr Theseira had also asked about the MOH’s plans to provide resources for targeted counselling and social services, as well as LGBTQ-sensitivity training to service providers.

The ministry pointed out that the Gender Care Clinic was set up in 2017 by the Institute of Mental Health, where counselling and mental health support for persons experiencing emotional difficulties pertaining to gender identity are offered.

“As the service is relatively new, it is premature to infer trends at this point in time,” it said.

Healthcare providers caring for those with mental health issues “are trained to support these persons with empathy, sensitivity and due consideration of their specific care needs”, the ministry added.

A qualitative study published by local LGBTQ rights NGO Sayoni in May found that most LGBTQ women here who have experienced violence and discrimination did not report the incidents to authorities due to the fear of “further stigma”.

The study noted that “societal stigma” associated with sexuality “further isolated” those in the LGBTQ community, “impacting their mental health”.

It also found that those coping with their struggles typically seek help and support from friends and LBTQ social networks, but observed that such avenues could “fail” if those offering support were also dependants without resources.

Related stories:

80% of Singaporeans say LGBTQ community still faces discrimination: survey

Parliament: MPs divided over decriminalisation of attempted suicide

COMMENT: Mental health must be a national priority in Singapore