by Lydia Tan
If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you might have seen the name “Monica Baey” popping up a lot. On 19 April 2019, NUS undergrad Monica Baey released a series of Instastories about how a fellow schoolmate, Nicholas Lim, had filmed her showering in the campus hall’s toilet last November.
Despite immediately reporting the incident to the school and the police with sufficient evidence, she was dissatisfied with the lax punishment dealt on Nicholas and demanded for more action to be taken. Since the news broke, petitions calling for stricter rules put into place by NUS to protect their students better have since been created, garnering thousands of signatures.
But Monica’s case is not the first and only case of sexual harassment and voyeurism in Singapore schools. What makes this such a big deal now and what does this show about how we treat cases like this in Singapore?
Speaking out on social media
The key reason why this case gained so much attention could be because Monica was very vocal about the experience; she went on to social media to make her displeasure known. In this day and age where social media can be the catalyst for news to spread like wildfire, it is no surprise that her story went viral so quickly. Looking at Monica’s Instastories, you can tell that this incident has understandably traumatised her, so to speak up on such a public platform must take a lot of courage.
Not only was Monica vocal in sharing her experiences, she was also very firm and clear in what action she wants taken by NUS and the police. Initially, Nicholas was only given a 12-month conditional warning since it was his first offence and so far, he has only been suspended from school for a semester, prohibited from entering the campus hall, and made to write an apology letter to Monica.
Monica made it clear that she was not just making a big fuss for the sake of it; she wanted to nip the issue in the bud and prevent Nicholas from potentially doing this again to other victims in the future.
The tables have turned
Ever since the case went viral, Nicholas has become the subject of public scrutiny and even his girlfriend and family has come under attack — the perpetrator has become a victim. Since Monica revealed Nicholas’ identity, online vigilantes have dug up false rumours about him; for example, his parents were rumoured to be “powerful people” when in fact it was revealed that his father is a public transport driver and his mother a housewife. Unwittingly, Monica might be guilty of an offence herself: doxxing.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to “dox” or “doxx” someone is “to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge”. While Monica claimed to not have any malicious intentions in revealing Nicholas’ name and Instagram profile, her exposé could still fall under the newly-proposed Protection from Harassment Act (PHA). Should the Act be passed, Nicholas can take legal action against Monica if he deems it a form of harassment towards him. So has this gone too far?
So all this begs the questions: in the name of social justice, how much of the perpetrator’s identity should be revealed before it becomes an invasion of privacy, and how far should we go to defend the victim? When you step back and look at the whole situation, the way online vigilantes have been vilifying Nicholas make them bullies as well, and two wrongs do not make a right.
Even though he is in the wrong and should be held accountable, there have been calls for Nicholas to be treated fairly as well. Monica has also reached out to NUS to ensure Nicholas is getting support from the school, as he is a student of the school as well.
What does this show about our society?
This whole fiasco actually reveals a lot about our society. Firstly, the disappointing revelation that these incidents are not new and uncommon in Singapore schools; in fact, just two days after the Monica Baey case was made public, the police had received a call alleging that a man had taken pictures of another man showering at a hall’s toilet in NTU. Then just last week, there was a report on another peeping incident at NTU – the third in three weeks.
The fact that this is still a recurring problem makes us wonder how seriously schools actually take these issues. NUS’ “two strikes and you’re out” policy came under fire after the Monica Baey incident, with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung coming out to say that it “cannot be the standard application” and the penalties delivered were “manifestly inadequate”. Looking at the discouraging results of the recent NUS town hall — where the panelists were extremely vague and unprepared, and even walked out on the final student’s question — doesn’t give us confidence in the school’s management of this issue.
Secondly, it demonstrates the power in the voice of the masses in evoking change. After the public outcry towards how NUS initially handled Monica’s case, NUS reacted quickly by releasing a statement and official apology, as well as additional punishments meted out to Nicholas. This pressure also made other local universities review their own sexual misconduct policies to better protect their students.
However, that power can be a double-edged sword: it can affect someone’s life. With all the backlash targeted at Nicholas, his family and friends, it shows how toxic and ugly the online community can get. A Facebook user wrote on her page that this case has made her feel the internet can be such “a scary place”, after seeing how many people were digging up details about Nicholas to name and shame him. In this digital world we live in now, perpetrators like Nicholas have nowhere to hide.
As much as it is heartening to see people standing up for the victim, the hate directed at the perpetrator and his loved ones also show the Janus-faced nature of netizens. The only silver lining in this case is the hope that it will spark a notable change in how Singapore schools handle sexual misconduct matters like this.