NUS students grilled management at town hall meeting, past sexual assault cases recounted

Emotions ran high.

Matthias Ang | April 25, 2019, 11:35 PM

Senior administrators of the National University of Singapore (NUS) were grilled by their students at a town hall meeting on Thursday evening, April 25.

Some 500 to 600 students showed up at the auditorium in the Stephen Riady Centre within the University Town at 5pm, which became a venue for the blunt questioning of the university's failure to adequately address sexual misconduct and assault on campus.

According to CNA and The Straits Times, a second auditorium had to be opened up for a live-streaming of the town hall as there were more students than vacant seats.

Scheduled for an hour, the eventual town hall meeting was stretched to an hour-and-a-half.

Monica Baey kicks off the town hall with her experience and feedback

The town hall began with NUS undergraduate Monica Baey -- the original whistle-blower -- giving an account of how her case was handled by both the police and the university.

Baey had alleged that victim support and communication had been handled poorly.

She said she recounted her incident to a male police officer over the counter, apparently unaware that the victim had to be taken to a private room to have her statement recorded.

She added that the experience of retelling her story was highly uncomfortable and terrifying.

Baey also alleged that the university had arrived at a punishment without hearing her account due to a breakdown in communication between her and the Investigating Officer (IO).

Baey also highlighted that her communication with the IO and the head of student conduct had been done over the phone, instead of face-to-face, in which she said she was provided incomplete information.

Baey then provided suggestions about how the university could improve in helping victims of sexual harassment.

This included the establishment of an office and hotline for victim support and harsher punishments for the perpetrator.

Twitter has details about what went down at the town hall meeting.

Screenshot from Twitter

NUS apologises, says will set up a unit for victim care

In response, NUS vice-provost for student life, Florence Ling, apologised to Baey for the insufficient support that had been rendered by the university and added that a unit for victim care would be established.

Ling elaborated that this unit would serve as a central point that would attend to both the victim's immediate needs, as well as provide therapeutic support.

Screenshot from Twitter

Other students also share their cases

Student told to drop her case to give voyeur a chance at "rehabilitation"

Baey was not the only student to share her case at the town hall.

A male student recounted another case on behalf of a female friend, who was the second victim of another voyeur still attending classes in NUS.

The student alleged that the Office of Campus Security (OCS) had responded in a highly inappropriate manner by giving his friend a rape whistle to use.

To top it off, he further alleged that she had also been pressured by the school's counsellor to drop the case, so as to supposedly give the perpetrator a chance at "rehabilitation".

Screenshot from Twitter

The student highlighted that his friend was so traumatised that for two weeks after the incident, she needed her friends to stand outside the toilet to help assuage her anxiety and fear.

Quoting a statement that she had written, the student said:

"I am angry, scared, and I no longer feel safe here."

Molest victim alleged that she was accused by NUS staff of inconsistent testimony

Another student took to sharing her experience of being molested in July 2016.

The student added that the offence had been carried out by one of her seniors in the Faculty of Science.

The student then complained that the investigation had supposedly been carried out in a highly unprofessional manner, with the lack of a psychologist assigned to her case.

She alleged that she had instead been accused by the investigation staff for being inconsistent with her testimony, with regard to where she had been touched and even squeezed.

The student added that some of the investigation staff were also adult males, which made her feel exposed in recounting the moment of molest.

To top it off, the officers handling the case were also allegedly vague about their investigation, and her case was eventually dropped on the basis of a lack of evidence.

The student pointed out that the perpetrator then left for "Duke" to go on exchange and has since graduated from NUS.

Screenshot from Twitter

Dean of Students acknowledges victim care is "totally inadequate"

In his closing remarks at the town hall, the Dean of Students, Peter Pang acknowledged that victim care was "totally inadequate" and that the university would aim to make things right.

Additionally, NUS would also take measures to strengthen the safety measures at hostels.

Pang further highlighted that feedback by the students would also be referred to the review committee established by the university to review its current disciplinary and support frameworks.

But frustration still seemed to be running high at the town hall, with one last student saying:

"Having victim care is incredible, but we have told you this is inadequate. We still have no affirmation that the perpetrator in question will be punished more severely."

Other details reported by ST and CNA

At one point, ST reported, one student asked if NUS would relook its punishment for the perpetrator in Monica Baey's case, and if it would expel him.

Another student asked if the review committee would adopt a "zero-tolerance" policy, to signal that it takes sexual assault cases seriously.

Ling and Pang said in response that the university would have to wait for the review committee to decide on these matters.

CNA reported that some students thought the town hall was a "disaster", even though it appeared promising at the start that one was organised by the management.

“Overall, it went to show that ultimately, it was a little bit of tokenism on their part. They failed to adequately address the root of the issue,” said a fourth-year law undergraduate.

Another student said the management appeared unprepared for the "vitriol" shown by the students, and yet another student said the management appeared "unprepared" for the onslaught of hard questions.

At the end of the session, Pang said another town hall will be organised, this time with the review committee, CNA reported.

This was after questions were raised about why the town hall did not include the review committee.

Requests for the town hall meeting to be extended were not met.

Celestine Chua from the University Counselling Services was present with Pang, who is Dean of Students, and Ling, who is vice-provost for student life.

Top image screenshot from Google maps