Punishment alone won't change culture of sexual harassment at NUS
Education is vital in tackling culture of sexual harassment at NUS
When the National University of Singapore (NUS) suspended its orientation week in 2016 over sexualised activities, many students and alumni took to social media to express their disappointment at how the situation was handled.
Many felt the move was draconian, unnecessary and an overreaction.
I reported on that, and received numerous hate-filled messages myself.
Last year, after The New Paper and The Straits Times reported on NUS students being investigated for stripping at Siloso Beach after participating in an orientation camp, students once again railed at the media for exposing such practices.
A reporter was even told to go kill herself.
Today, NUS is again in the headlines, this time over the peeping Tom incident involving Miss Monica Baey.
She spoke up as a victim seeking recourse from NUS and the judicial system.
The culprit, who filmed Miss Baey taking a shower at Eusoff Hall in NUS last November, was given a 12-month conditional warning by the police.
He was suspended by NUS for a semester, counselled and banned from entering all campus accommodation.
He was also asked to do 30 hours of community service and attend rehabilitation sessions, was issued an official letter of reprimand and told to write a letter of apology to Miss Baey.
Many have expressed their outrage at NUS' handling of this incident, with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung calling the punishment meted out by NUS "manifestly inadequate".
He said NUS has to make its campus safe for all students, especially female students.
So, yes, a more punitive approach may be necessary, to send a strong message and deter students from committing such acts.
What is the point of constantly boasting about your school's ranking if you show scant respect for your students?
But while committees are being formed and town halls are called, the real issue is that a culture of sexual harassment and silence exists.
It is even encouraged by some students who feel there is nothing wrong in humiliating women via sexualised games or by filming them in the shower.
Punishment as deterrence is limited in its effect.
This is evident from the way NUS has continued to struggle in preventing students from engaging in sexualised activities during orientation, despite taking increasingly punitive action over the past decade.
An apparent lack of conviction in dealing more directly with the culture of sexual harassment suggests the problem is likely to remain.
As long as it does, victims will continue to suffer the same trauma Miss Baey now suffers.
There is a need for punishment, but it will not undo the scars left on victims.
That is why I urge all committees, boards and reviewers to tackle the bigger issue that confronts us. Do more to educate all staff and students that boundaries must be respected.
And if some individuals feel they have a right to violate the privacy of others, then the school must show it means business and punish them swiftly and fairly.
There is also a need for restorative justice for perpetrators to understand the extent of harm caused by their actions, and hopefully never commit such crimes again.
Empower the women to say no, and educate the men to do the right thing.
Only then can we hope to eradicate a culture of sexual harassment in our universities.