Task force calls for stronger protection for family violence victims

Proposals include letting third parties apply for personal protection orders on their behalf

Victims of family violence will find it easier to get help and better protection against their abusers if recommendations released by a task force yesterday are accepted.

Proposals include letting third parties, such as the director-general of social welfare, apply for personal protection orders (PPOs) for those experiencing violence even without their consent, if the victims are at risk of serious harm and under undue influence from their loved ones not to apply for a PPO.

A PPO is a court order restraining a person from committing violence against a family member.

Also called for are stronger enforcement actions on perpetrators who flout rehabilitation orders.

The key recommendations include:

  • A new emergency response team of social service professionals who will work with the police to attend to emergency cases. The plan is to extend such help, which exists for cases of child and elderly abuse, to spousal abuse cases;
  • Training police officers investigating family violence to have the relevant skills and knowledge;
  • Allowing the Family Justice Courts to order mandatory assessment and treatment for perpetrators if their mental health conditions were factors in the violence;
  • Making it an offence if perpetrators flout rehabilitation orders, such as counselling.

Task force member Sudha Nair, executive director of Pave, which specialises in tackling family violence, said about 10 per cent of perpetrators ordered to attend counselling do not show up.

She said: "This is one of our greatest challenges as the law at this point doesn't have enough teeth to compel them to come. We need legislative levers to compel them."

The recommendations by the Taskforce on Family Violence come as the Covid-19 pandemic has seen more cases of such violence and as Singapore reviews a range of issues concerning women.

There were 4,574 inquiries about family violence received by specialist centres in the 2020 financial year that ended on March 31 - a 57 per cent jump from the 2,906 inquiries in FY2018. These centres handled 1,103 cases in FY2020, a 24 per cent increase from 891 cases seen in FY2018.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, the task force's co-chair, said: "We want to break cycles of violence so our young can grow up in safe environments and understand what respectful relationships are about."

Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, the other task force co-chair, said the recommendations address key areas that need to be strengthened "to prevent family violence wherever we can and to support the victim-survivors better, even as we deal firmly with perpetrators and strengthen their rehabilitation".

The task force, set up in February last year, made 16 recommendations in four areas: Increasing awareness of family violence, making it easier to report the violence and get immediate help, boosting protection and support for victims, and taking a stronger enforcement approach and beefing up rehabilitation for perpetrators.

The co-chairs have submitted the report to the Government, which will study these recommendations in the coming weeks.