Aware Questions Anti-molestation Posters, Police Say They Misunderstood

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If you haven’t seen the latest crime prevention posters put out by the Singapore Police Force, here’s a brief background: the police has recently rolled out a series of posters as part of their crume prevention campaign. Each poster depicts a perpetrator about to commit a crime and hung around his wrist is a “price tag” that indicates the severity of the punishment if caught.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) had called out two posters on the MRT, both depicting a man about to molest a woman and a tag on his wrist with the words “2 years’ imprisonment. It is not worth it”.

On social media last Thursday, the gender equality advocacy group criticised the posters for putting a price on sexual violence and neglecting to mention the harm suffered by victims.

The Singapore Police Force have come out to defend crime prevention posters being criticised for the way molestation is being portrayed.

Police: Posters Are Deterrent Messages

But in a statement issued on Saturday night, the police said Aware misunderstood the purpose of the posters, which are part of a series featuring other crimes such as theft and rioting.

The posters, displayed on the public transport network, specifically highlight the punishments for committing the crimes to send a strong deterrent message, said a police spokesman, who added that it was unfortunate Aware made public judgments without first contacting them to understand their perspective.

He said crime prevention messages are carefully curated based on the police’s understanding of the profile of offenders, and the police fully acknowledge that outrage of modesty victims suffer from trauma and other consequences.

Also read: What You Need To Know About Revenge Porn In Singapore

“The posters are designed to warn would-be offenders, who are unable to exercise self-discipline or control themselves regardless of their knowledge of the harm that their act will cause the victim,” he added.

The new series of posters were produced in collaboration with the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and Singapore Polytechnic’s (SP) Media, Arts and Design School.

An SP spokesman said its students came up with several concepts, including the one eventually selected by the police.

In a statement yesterday, NCPC chairman Gerald Singham said it was never its intention to downplay the hurt that victims of crime, especially sexual crime, suffer.

But in this instance, the NCPC felt the crime prevention messages would be more impactful if it highlighted the personal costs to the perpetrator.

Mr Singham added: “In crime prevention, we seek pragmatic, effective solutions to keep our community safe.”

Giving a fuller explanation of its criticism yesterday, Aware clarified its earlier posts were not targeted at the police and lauded the authorities for their commitment and the progress made in addressing sexual assault issues.

It also noted that the new posters were a significant improvement from older ones that seemed to place responsibility of preventing sexual harassment on the potential victim, instead of on the perpetrator.

Aware said it took issue specifically with the visual of the price tag and the “2 years’ imprisonment. It is not worth it” tagline.

Aware: Approach Does Not Work Well With Sexual Assault Crime

“While the price tag approach may work for (other) crimes, it does not work so well when applied to sexual assault crimes,” Aware said.

“The poster does not say that this act is wrong, only that it is expensive.

Also read: What Counts As Sexual Harassment, And What Can You Do?

“This analogy has the effect of erasing the experience of the victim and any viewer’s empathy for the victim.”

Criminal lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said Aware’s criticism was an over-reaction and the anti-molestation posters are much needed in light of the holiday season and the recent rise in sexual offences.

She also suggested that posters could be designed to deter molesters by asking would-be offenders to imagine if a loved one had been a victim of molestation instead.

Psychologist Evonne Lek said she could see both sides of the argument but felt that igniting one’s empathy, rather than using consequence and punishment, would be a better way to impart values.

“Harsh punishments may not deter people. People need to be educated about boundaries,” she told The New Paper.

Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong said she hopes the current discussion does not take attention away from the urgent need to tackle the issue of sexual violence as a society, even as the police step up enforcement and deterrent efforts.

“I do think how we describe sexual assault and harassment must be nuanced… so I do hope that the police and Aware can work together more closely so we can move towards our aim of zero tolerance for sexual violence,” she added.

Also read: Why It’s So Hard To Speak Up About Sexual Harassment

Image: Unsplash, Singapore Police Force’s Facebook
Text: Kok Yufeng / The New Paper / November 2019

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