SINGAPORE – From the moment a student falls victim to a sexual offence, the university must do all it can to help him or her, and this includes allowing them to speak up during the disciplinary process.
An online survey conducted by the National University of Singapore (NUS) in May found that 86 per cent of students felt that the victim should have the right to appeal against the university’s decisions on sentencing and sanctions, an option that was not previously available.
NUS has since said that it will let victims be more involved in the process, including having an avenue to ask for a review of case outcomes in some circumstances.
The survey, which was done by an independent research consultancy in the wake of a case of sexual misconduct at NUS, also found that more than 70 per cent of students felt the most important support the university can offer victims is to provide them with legal advice, followed by counselling and a no-contact protocol or restraining order.
The survey drew responses from about 5,200 students, of whom 51 per cent were female. The majority were not residents at university halls. NUS has about 39,000 students.
The survey results were released on Thursday (June 13) to students, staff and alumni, along with an e-mail from NUS president Tan Eng Chye, who also shared the university’s timeline for implementing various measures.
Professor Tan said NUS studied the survey findings, which were taken into consideration by the review committee set up to overhaul existing sexual misconduct policies.
This was undertaken after a female undergraduate’s Instagram postings expressing her unhappiness at how NUS had dealt with her being filmed by a fellow student in the shower sparked a discussion about how sexual misconduct should be handled in institutions of higher learning.
The survey showed that students felt that NUS’ new Victim Care Unit, which will open in August, should give victims assurance of confidentiality and urgent support, and appoint dedicated and qualified care officers who can follow them throughout the process.
At the same time, 94 per cent of students said that offenders of sexual misconduct should also be rendered support, including rehabilitation, legal advice and a case officer to guide them through their options.
The poll also laid out several detailed scenarios and asked students to indicate which offences they felt were severe, moderate or mild. The top instance of severe sexual misconduct for 94 per cent of students was if a person spiked the drink of another and took advantage of him or her.
More than 80 per cent of students also considered voyeurism and filming, physical and sexual assault and outrage of modesty as severe offences.
An example of what they thought was mild was if an inebriated person verbally pesters another individual, without any physical contact.
Nearly 90 per cent of students felt that the severity of the offence plays the biggest role in determining penalties for offenders, while 77 per cent said the pattern of behaviour – whether it is a single or repeat offence – is another key factor.
The majority of students also said the recent security upgrades by NUS – such as increasing CCTV coverage and securing shower cubicles – had made them feel safer.
Most also supported some of the new measures like a notation of sexual misconduct on an offender’s transcript, and more than half felt the record should remain for longer than five years.
About a third of respondents said NUS should have an education module on respect and consent every year, while 43 per cent indicated that it should be taught by expert third-party organisations in person.
Half of them also felt that the university’s sanctions and victim support system should be reviewed every two years, and a survey to understand students’ concerns should be conducted annually.