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AWARE clarifies initial statement, responds to SPF’s rationale of anti-molestation ad

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has put up a statement with regards to women’s activist group AWARE criticising one of SPF’s recent ads on outrage of modesty displayed on the public transport networks. The initial statement by AWARE, which first surfaced on 14 November 2019, questioned why the poster was only focused on the crime the perpetrator would have to pay, and not what the victim would go through. It added, “ We desperately need a shift in the way we talk about and frame sexual violence.”

Since then SPF said that the ad in question was produced in collaboration with the National Crime Prevention Council and Singapore Polytechnic’s Media, Arts & Design School. The ad was part of a bigger series where other crimes such as shop theft and dishonest misappropriation of property are also featured in the visuals. It added that these visuals target potential perpetrators, and specifically highlight the punishments for committing the criminal acts, in order to send a strong deterrent message. SPF said

AWARE has criticised the posters, on the basis that they focus on the punishment, and do not refer to the harm suffered by the victim. AWARE does not seem to have understood the purpose of the posters

“It is unfortunate that AWARE has chosen to make these public judgements against the Police without any attempt to contact us to understand our perspective, despite having worked with us in the past to enhance support to victims of sexual offences,” it added.

Clarifying the content of the poster further, SPF said it was “designed to warn would-be offenders, who are unable to exercise self discipline or control themselves”, regardless of their knowledge of the harm that their act will cause to the victim. Moreover, SPF added the visuals were designed to “influence their behavior”, by telling them what punishment they will face, adding:

AWARE’s suggestion, on the other hand, is unlikely to have the intended deterrent effect on such offenders.

SPF also added that it fully acknowledges that outrage of modesty victims suffer from trauma and other consequences, and for this reason, the objective of these visuals is to prevent such harmful actions in the first place – by driving home the point that outrage of modesty is an egregious offence with serious penalties. “Our crime prevention messages are carefully curated, based on our understanding of the profile of offenders,” it said.

Since then AWARE has put up another statement stating that its intentions were to contribute constructively to the ongoing public conversation about sexual violence in Singapore. “Our earlier comments did not fully spell out our position on this,” it said, adding, “[Sexual violence] is a complex and emotive issue, with nuances that cannot reasonably be encapsulated in a single poster.”

The new statement by AWARE further added that the initial post put up did not target the SPF, with whom it has worked and continue to collaborate. It added that AWARE fully supports SPF’s key deterrence message—that molest is a crime recognised by the state, and that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions. “It is critical that the consequences of committing sexual violence be known to the general public. We were not suggesting otherwise and there was no criticism directed towards this,” AWARE said in the statement.

It also acknowledged that the new posters are a significant improvement from some of the older “outrage of modesty” posters, with taglines like “Don’t get rubbed the wrong way”, which seemed to place responsibility of preventing sexual harassment on the potential victim, instead of on the perpetrator. Nonetheless, it added that AWARE’s concerns remain that:

  1. a) the visual motif of the price tag on the molester’s hand
  2. b) the tagline “2 years’ imprisonment: It is not worth it”.

AWARE added that it understands that these posters are part of a series that also target theft of property and rioting.

“While the price tag approach may work for those crimes, they do not work so well when applied to sexual assault crimes,” it said, adding:

These posters, while targeted at perpetrators, will be read by survivors as well, who may be put off by the messaging.

Meanwhile, the statement also made full acknowledgement that the Singapore Police Force, the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs have been extremely dynamic and effective in the last few years to enhance sexual assault laws, and reduce the trauma faced by sexual assault survivors while they step up their enforcement efforts.

“Much progress has been made and the commitment of the State to address sexual assault issues is not in question. We are heartened to see the State commit resources to continue its crime prevention efforts,” it added.

(Photo courtesy: Singapore Police Force)

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