As a local charity, protecting the interests and wellbeing of women and families is of utmost importance to us, even as we build on our upstream work of helping marriages and children thrive. We thank MSF for sharing its recommendations that extensively deals with the issue of family violence and in turn allowing us to give our inputs. We are saddened about cases where individuals, particularly those in vulnerable groups, experience abuse by family members with whom they expect to feel safe.
Over the years, our staff and associates trained as help professionals in the area of counselling, social work and psychology have worked directly with victims and perpetrators of family violence. Our Family Life Educators are also regularly engaged in the upstream work of building strong families. We refer to the MSF Consultation Paper on their recommendations on the Women’s Charter amendments in relation to family violence, and herewith offer our perspectives with regards to strengthening protection for survivors of family violence, enhancing the accountability and strengthening rehabilitation of perpetrators of family violence, enhancing sensitivity towards differently-abled persons and protection of other women and girls.
In this feedback paper, we address the above four objectives cited by MSF. Collectively as a society, we hope to co-create the best possible outcome for families and for Singapore as a whole, both now and in the future.
A. Feedback on proposed amendments to strengthen protection for survivors of family violence
Prohibit publication or broadcast of identifiable information for family violence cases and to provide the Family Court to make takedown orders to remove or stop such prohibited publications or broadcast.
We support the proposed amendment in order to protect the identities and wellbeing of the persons involved, especially for the person experiencing family violence and/or when it involves the vulnerable young.
However, exceptions should be made where it is necessary to break the silence around abuse (e.g. sharing one’s testimony of overcoming family violence as either a victim or perpetrator), or to alert of and protect against potential (ongoing) harm inflicted by the person perpetrating violence. Perhaps a time-bound prohibition tied to the duration of the PPO can be implemented.
This should also be clearly differentiated from the reporting of suspected family violence cases (Annex item 15), otherwise a person who acts in good faith and with reasonable care to intervene in the case of family violence would be subject to the unhealthy secrecy that shrouds and perpetuates such unacceptable behaviour.
B. Feedback on proposed amendments to enhance the accountability and strengthen the rehabilitation of perpetrators of family violence
- Disallow applications for the revocation of PPOs where the counselling order has not been completed.
We support the proposed amendment as safety – physical and psychological – is paramount, and positive change in terms of rehabilitation or restoration should be the ultimate goal. In the thick of a volatile and perhaps chronic family violence situation, both the PPO applicant and respondent are prone to swing between extremes of behaviour and less objective changes of mind.
Exceptions may be made where the case worker or help professional* is able to assess that there is sufficient safety and stability in the relationship for the PPO to be revoked, despite the counselling order not being fulfilled. A possibility is to make the exception based on the stage or degree of completion of the counselling order where there is a valid reason for incompletion, such as a severe or prolonged medical illness; or based on assurance of mitigating support (e.g. family members who are available and able to intervene as necessary).
In any case, given that the premise of the counselling order is to bring about a complete cessation to the violence as well as healing to the person(s) involved and their relationship, there should be a commitment and attempts made to complete the healing journey even after the PPO is revoked.
*This could fall within the jurisdiction of the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW) and its appointed protectors e.g. selected MSF offices, appointed social service professionals, to make the judgement as well as third-party (time-limited) immediate PPO applications.
- Take a stronger approach against breaches of counselling orders and the proposed mandatory assessment and treatment orders, including making breaches of both types of orders a criminal offence.
The proposed mandatory assessment and treatment orders are intended for perpetrators with treatable mental conditions that contributed to or exacerbate the risk of occurrence of family violence.
We agree that a stronger approach for breaches of both counselling orders and assessment and treatment orders – which should be broadened to include other interventions and programmes aimed at reducing the risk of recurrence of family violence and increasing the success rate of recovery – would help to ensure that perpetrators of family violence take these orders seriously and make a reasonable effort to follow them through.
Making such breaches a criminal offence would definitely lend weight to the orders and enable help professionals to enforce them as necessary interventions and hold their clients accountable. The moot point is likely about how heavy the penalty should be for a breach, which could be guided by the severity of the case and how recalcitrant the offender.
It may be necessary and fair to enforce a counselling or treatment order on the applicant as well, in which case there should be differentiation of the penalty incurred for the applicant vs the perpetrator of family violence for a breach of such orders.
All said, while the “punishment” should fit the “crime”, one can lead a horse to water but cannot force it to drink. The penalty should not be limited to a fine or prison sentence and criminal record; “exposing” a perpetrator to their supervisor and identified colleagues can help hold them accountable for their actions while providing the necessary community support towards better prosocial and respectful behaviours.
C. Feedback on other proposed amendments
Remove the derogatory term “mental defective” from section 144 of the Women’s Charter.
MSF welcomes feedback from the public on a more appropriate description to be used.
We commend MSF for being sensitive to the times. Some more appropriate terms that can be considered: “differently-abled persons” or “persons suffering from mental illnesses” or “persons with an intellectual disability” or “persons with a mental health issue”.
D. Other feedback on Women’s Charter provisions in relation to family violence and the protection of women and girls under 21 years who are under the protection of the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW)
We welcome other feedback regarding the Women’s Charter provisions in relation to family violence and the protection of women and girls under 21 years who are under the protection of the DGSW.
In order to protect such vulnerable groups of women and girls under 21 years old, we should go upstream to address the root issues of abuse and violence against women, and take a stronger preventive rather than a remedial stance. In the area of family violence, prevention is better than cure, especially when a (more vulnerable) person’s life could be at stake.
- One key strategy would be to adopt an early and holistic approach to sexuality education, by equipping parents to be the main source of such critical information on relationships, health and values.
- We should seek to uphold a culture of respect and honour for women in our young from an early age, going beyond merely teaching consent to emphasising healthy boundaries, self-restraint, mutual respect and care. The intentional shaping of such positive gender narratives will also empower women to better protect themselves.
- As a society, we must raise the awareness of the dangers of children and youths viewing sexually explicit content. Viewing such material can negatively influence their knowledge about sex and distort their expectations of relationships. Teenage boys who view pornography frequently are more likely to view women as sex objects and display aggressive behaviour.
Reference: https://aifs.gov.au/publications/effects-pornography-children-and-young-people, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/watching-porn-getting-addicted-experts-tell-cases-theyve-seen-and-risks-linked-sexual
- We should rally families and the wider community in extending proper, practical and emotional support for pregnant teenagers and single mothers.
Through such an integrated, long-term and cohesive approach, and by upholding the importance of Family as the first line of defence, we can work towards a healthy appreciation of the different yet equally valuable roles of men and women, resulting in stronger marriages and families, and reduced occurrences of familial breakdowns and violence.
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