Wish list for the Protection of Harassment Act

Unmarried couples may soon get more protection from abusive partners, announced Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam recently. This would make for easier and more efficient enforcement of a POHA order.

Today, a person can apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO) under the Women’s Charter, but this would only be applicable against a family member (that is to say a spouse, parent or sibling). For all other relationships, one can rely on protection orders under POHA.

The difference is that a PPO can be filed by an individual. Application for a POHA order needs to be done so through a lawyer.  Breach of a POHA order is not an arrestable offence. Whereas in the breach of a PPO, the police can step in.

We spoke with actress / producer Debra Teng, who also spearheads the movement “Under The Carpet: #metoo ”, an online talk show series that looks at the topic of Sexual Harassment and Assault from perspectives of survivors, corporate executives, mother and AWARE Singapore, with the hope to raise awareness on sexual harassment, violence and abuse.

“It is good that the law is turning its attention to unmarried couples. Abuse and violence, whether emotional or sexual, can take place in any kind of relationship.”

Debra hopes to see four other areas where law and policy can be sharpened.

1) Special training to manage victims of harassment, assault and violence

Sensitivity, empathy, tact and care need to be applied to women seeking help from enforcement persons. There have been instances where they are not taken seriously because they may not have exhibited behaviours that law enforcement deem “typical” of assault victims.

Every case should be investigated.

There have been cases which had been dismissed by enforcement initially only to have victims suffer devastating consequences.

“Often not, lawyers also double up as a counsellor when representing these victims. It is prudent that lawyers are able to guide these victims through the legal process carefully whilst balancing the victims’ emotions.” said Cherie Tan, a lawyer from IRB Law.

2) Protection for whistleblowers

Debra highlights the importance of whistleblowers in cases of domestic violence. It takes great effort for a woman to go to the police or a lawyer for help. Studies show that as many as 3 out of 4 sexual assault cases go unreported. Oftentimes the assailant is someone whom is in a close relationship with the victim, because of this the victim does not want to bring harm to this person.

“I have this friend who acted on behalf of her friend and it later turned out she (the whistleblower) became the target of the assailant when he found out.”

MSF’s “Break the Silence” campaign is a cheerful move. With stronger policies and legislation that encourage and protect those whom are helping their friends, more will be motivated to do so.

3) Requiring female staff and/or training as part of liquor licensing

Pubs, clubs and places where alcohol is served is fertile ground for harassment to occur. Many places are ill equipped to deal with this. Debra suggests to make hiring of female staff and/or training on how to deal with harassment to form part of the conditions required for a liquor licence.

Today, the conditions only require that the licensee shall not permit “drunkenness, disorderly conduct or gambling in his premises” but there is nothing that will make the proprietor responsible for the safety of his patrons. (https://www.police.gov.sg/e-services/apply/licenses-and-permits/liquor-licence)

4) All-of-Government approach

Tackling the problem of abuse is not a matter of criminal justice alone. It involves education, manpower and even foreign policy to change the discourse around how men and women socialise and work together. The job cannot rest solely on just one or two government agencies.

Debra continues to believe in the good of mankind. That the reason why abuse and violence happens is the result of the environment one is raised in.

“We need to examine the root cause (of domestic violence). I don’t believe people are born evil. I believe circumstances and conditions cause people to behave in ways that are hurtful and unkind.”

“While the victims certainly need to be protected, I think the perpetrators need even more help, therapy and counselling.”

About Under The Carpet

Under The Carpet is an online talk show that explores topics that affect people deeply but are difficult to talk about. You may view their episodes on their YouTube Channel: Manta Pictures, and follow their Facebook page.