Raeesah’s Resignation and the Questions Raised About Sexual Assault | campus.sg

Raeesah Khan

Singapore was gripped by the 9-hour-long Committee of Privileges (COP) hearing on Dec 10, in which the Worker’s Party (WP) was scrutinised for making mistakes in handling Raeesah Khan’s lies in Parliament.

Raeesah, once recognised as the darling of the country’s politically-awakened millennial generation, posted her resignation letter on her various social media accounts on Tuesday, 30 November.

In her resignation letter, Raeesah acknowledged her behaviour in parliament on 1 November, when she admitted to lying about her anecdote on 3 August about the police being insensitive towards a sexual assault survivor.

Fabrication, privacy, and sexual assault reporting

Raeesah said she had accompanied a 25-year-old woman to make a police report three years ago, and the police officer allegedly made comments about the victim’s dressing and her drinking, which made her come out crying. However, after an extensive search, the police said it has not found the case of sexual assault that Raeesah mentioned.

Raeesah subsequently admitted that the anecdote was shared by someone else in a sexual assault survivor support group which she was a part of, as she herself had been sexually assaulted when she studied abroad as a teen.

Many people would agree that the point she was trying to make would’ve been stronger if she had just told her truth from the very beginning. “I’m a survivor and this is my story” works better than “I was afraid to tell people my story so I’ll make up a story about another survivor.”

However, in midst of the fanfare during the hearing which focused on the lies (and who knew about it), the public seems to have forgotten about the issue Raeesah raised in the first place.

Invasive interrogation

While her story was fabricated, it may not mean these types of situations don’t happen. A Vice World News report found that sexual abuse survivors at NUS were subjected to lie detector tests and harsh interrogations, with questions surrounding private life and the use of dating apps. When reporting to the police, victims also have to suffer the stress of being taken to a public hospital for the necessary examination.

Male survivors were subjected to even more intrusive interrogations, which included questions about drug use and their sexual habits.

It’s no wonder survivors don’t often report their cases to authorities – in addition to invasive interrogations, there’s also a knee-jerk victim-blaming response that so many people give, like, “Why didn’t you fight back?” or “Maybe you misunderstood his meaning?”, which compounds their trauma. Having people who don’t judge means that survivors don’t have to deal with the anguish of being dismissed by loved ones.

Therefore, it’s crucial for anyone who interacts with victims of sexual violence – police officers, doctors, lawyers, etc – to be trained in victim-centric sensitivity training, such as AWARE’s Sexual Assault First Responder Training (SAFRT) which debuted last year.

Also, according to official reports, Singapore only prosecuted 50 cases of serious sexual crimes (ie. rape) out of about 250 reported cases a year, between 2014 and 2018. No actions were taken in 130 of those cases, while 60 resulted in just warnings.

A matter of privacy

Support groups play an important role in allowing survivors to process feelings and recognise they aren’t alone, but they’re unlikely to talk about the trauma they experienced unless they feel they can do so without their privacy being violated. This was one of the issues AWARE raised when Raeesah used another victim’s anecdote to discuss the subject of police reporting in Parliament.

AWARE also stated that her behaviour “plays into the persistent myth that women frequently lie about assault.” This myth that has long been used to discredit survivors of violence while enabling perpetrators to escape accountability.

Based on official reports, only 4% of cases are false (about 10 out of 250), meaning that the vast majority of women who come forward about sexual assaults aren’t lying. Sadly, high profile instances of untrue stories can disproportionately colour society’s judgement.

The more worrisome fact is that the majority of survivors don’t file police reports – seeing what they have to go through during interrogation and the victim-blaming involved, it’s probably no surprise.

Taking the right steps

The Singapore Police Force streamlined their process of reporting sexual violence by establishing the OneSAFE Centre in 2017, which allows survivors to report sexual crimes and get medical tests in one place. From 2017 to July 2021, only 180 examinations took place there.

Victims who do step forward to report their assaults elsewhere also have access to rape kits, but they’re currently only available at three hospitals, and can only be administered within 72 hours of an attack (scientifically the most effective window to recover forensic evidence).

Currently, OneSAFE Centre reporting is only for victims who report their cases within 72 hours. More mind-boggling is that those below 21 years old require parental permission because they’re considered minors under common law (in contrast, the age of consent in Singapore is 16). MHA has been reviewing the minimum age of consent to these examinations.

However, this doesn’t take into account the fact that many of those who’ve encountered sexual abuse are teenagers who tend to be assaulted by the people they know, usually from the same household. Even the Ministry of Social and Family Development received the highest number of enquiries and investigations of child sexual abuse ever last year—four times more than in 2011.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Given that there’s been a rise – or at least more reporting – in cases of sexual assault, victims should have access to a safe and open space to report their assault, because in too many cases, they don’t speak up for fear of retribution. Too many victims of sexual violence live with trauma of not being able to feel safe to trust others, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

The larger picture

Raeesah lied, yes, that is wrong. She violated privacy, yes, that is wrong. But what exactly needs to be discussed and debated?

That Raeesah herself found it difficult to disclose her own experience proves that it can be traumatic for victims to identify themselves, particularly to the public. This shows how important it is to ensure broader institutional support for victims across the board, starting from the criminal justice system.

Raeesah’s resignation would prove to be a major test for the Workers’ Party, as the 9-hour-long hearing on Dec 10 shows.