Gay sex law repeal ‘can help victims’
Aware: Male victims of sexual assault dare not seek help from police out of fear they could be found to have violated Section 377A
Decriminalising gay sex may help some sexual assault victims to be more willing to report abuses, said the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
The gender equality advocacy group made this point in light of renewed discussions on the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code recently.
Under the section, a man found to have committed an act of gross indecency, in public or private, with another man can be jailed for up to two years.
The law is rarely enforced.
Aware, which runs the Sexual Assault Care Centre, said its experience working with male victims of sexual assault shows that 377A makes them afraid the authorities would treat them not just as victims but also as perpetrators.
Aware executive director Corinna Lim told The New Paper yesterday: "377A can discourage some men from reporting sexual violence against them to the police. They fear that in describing the sexual assault or their interactions with their attackers, they will reveal that they have themselves violated 377A, and be subject to police investigation.
"Even if it is not 'actively enforced', 377A has chilling effects on sexual minorities and ends up punishing, stigmatising and silencing them further."
Despite this, many Singaporeans are "deeply split" over the issue of legalising gay sex.
According to a recent study, 55 per cent of the 750 Singaporeans polled still support Section 377A, even as one in three is more accepting of same-sex relationships compared to five years ago.
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore told TNP that while there is a considerable minority who are either neutral or for repealing 377A, there remains a majority of people who would be upset should the section be repealed as they see it as being against their religious or moral convictions.
Dr Tan said: "They are concerned that normalising gay sex would erode their social values in society and its ramifications for what and how our children and young people would be educated whether in school or the media."
He added that they might also be concerned that the repeal might lead to a kind of political correctness, where people who speak in support of heterosexual marriage and oppose gay sex and possibly gay marriage would become labelled as purveyors of hate speech.
But Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun said he believes that it is not necessary to view the repeal of 377A as a threat to society.
He said: "Gay people are contributing members of society as well. They are filial sons, patriotic citizens and responsible members of society, whether an artist, a hawker or even your neighbour. Why are they a threat to society?
"Why should they not have this fundamental right, and will giving them this right actually affect our social structure?"
MP Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) said that for such decisions, which could have major repercussions, it is important for the opinion of the majority to be considered.
Mr Peter Low, a lawyer, said a repeal of 377A may not have any effect on other laws.
After a similar law was struck down in India last week, prominent figures in Singapore have addressed the issue.
Last Friday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore "is a deeply split society" on the issue.
"The majority are opposed to any change to Section 377A, they are opposed to removing it," he said.
"A minority - I have to say, a growing minority - want it to be repealed. The Government is in the middle."
Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, who is Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reacted to the Indian ruling by encouraging the gay community here to "try again" to challenge Section 377A.
Mr Janadas Devan, chief of government communications at the Ministry of Communications and Information, said: "Speaking personally, I support Tommy's position. 377A is a bad law; it is bad law. Sooner or later, it will go. Pray sooner rather than later."
Aware said that given India's recent repeal, our Government should take the opportunity to remove the "archaic law".
Dr Tan said: "All things being equal, and extrapolating into the future, this suggests that the pro-appeal people would form the majority in the not-too-distant future."