My previous post has generated a lot of ire. While I don’t mind criticism, virtually all of my detractors have misrepresented me. Apparently, my last post was a lot easier to misinterpret than I thought. I reckon part of it was my fault – I did, after all, write it the way I did, and how a person writes something influences how it is seen. This is pretty much the same way how a person acts influences how the person is seen, which I will write about later. This post is dedicated to clarifying all the points I have made – and maybe, just maybe, it will shed some more light on the situation.
1. Prevention, not damage control.
No amount of damage control can match crime prevention. I wrote the article from this perspective with a view towards answering this question: How could the crime have been prevented? The answer: the victim should have kept well away. She could choose to stay home instead of going out late at night to a strange place filled with strange men and drinking before she was of age. Crimes occur in places – to avoid crime, just don’t go where bad things happen and don’t attract the attention of criminals.
2. The criminal is responsible for the crime. The victim is responsible for pre-crime behaviour.
People can choose how to act. Before a crime happens, a victim is almost always doing, or not doing, something. Crimes always take place in some kind of context defined by time and place, possibly cultures or subcultures, and the actions that led up to the crime.
The victim in this gang assault was responsible for her behaviour. She did not explicitly invite the accused to attack her, but she did choose how she acted. She chose to meet the stranger who called her late at night. She chose to go alone to meet him, even though she had a boyfriend. She chose to go to a stranger’s flat late at night. She chose to stay on even though she did not know most of the occupants. She chose to play drinking games with them, even though it is illegal. She did not choose to invite an attack. But her choices put her in the time and place when the attacks happened.
She could have chosen to rebuff the caller. She could have chosen to stay home. She could have chosen to not go into the flat. She could have chosen to leave the flat. She could have chosen to not play the drinking game. Her choices placed her in the context in which the assault occurred, while the alternatives available to her took her out of that context. The accused could have chosen to leave her alone instead of attacking her – but they did attack her, and that attack in that context was made possible because her choices had placed her in that context. In effect, her choices set up the circumstances that made the attack possible.
Granted, there are crimes that are a lot harder to avoid. The courts also do not usually penalise pre-victim behaviour, or harp on the victim’s choices before the attack. In this case though, the victim went out of her way to meet her attackers and stayed with them for a while before the attack. This may be gregariously stupid, but it also made the attack possible, and that is why the courts need to consider her actions before the assault.
The court cannot ignore her choices. The judge must contemplate her actions, because in this case her choices placed her in the context the crime took place, and she committed a crime while doing so. The prosecution cannot afford to gloss over what she did, because the defence will definitely use her behaviour as part of the defence strategy. They all know the choices the victim could have made that would have taken her out of the context in which the crime occurred, and they also know that she freely chose to act differently. Arguably, her high risk behaviour hindered the prosecution and helped the defence. Because of that, the victim’s pre-crime behaviour becomes a factor here.
3. Criminals select targets by behaviour and perceived payoff.
Criminals do not target random people. They screen their targets before acting. Those who don’t tend to get caught very quickly. Criminals look for targets that present a high risk-reward ratio.
Let’s take a hypothetical scenario. John Tan walks into a coffeeshop and orders a cup of coffee. He loudly announces that he was just won the top prize at 4D (a popular form of lottery in Singapore). He takes out his wallet, puts the winning ticket on the table and counts his winnings. Later, he goes home. After a half hour, he’s struck in the back of the head and faints. When he wakes up, he discovers his wallet is gone.
What happened? While he was busy boasting to his friends, he failed to notice a group of young men in a corner eyeing his money and whispering amongst themselves. When he left, he didn’t realise the young men followed him, too. They hit him from the back when he wasn’t looking, grabbed his money, and got away before he could recover.
The fictional John Tan did not invite someone to rob him. But by acting the way he did, he is signalling that he is worth robbing. By flashing money around, he is telling everyone around him that he has plenty of money on him, and therefore presents a high payoff for robbers. When he left alone, he shows that he doesn’t have any friends who can interrupt a robbery. By not noticing the young men, he is showing them that he won’t see them coming. John Tan has shown that he is rich and can be attacked by surprise – and that is exactly what happens.
Most victims of crime do not normally invite people to attack them. But most criminals do not care about invitations. They care about behaviours, and if a potential target behaves in a way that meets their internal criteria, they are more likely to act against the target. Yes, the criminal can always choose not to act – but expecting a criminal to choose to not act if you meet his criteria is wishful thinking. Crimes happen every day. That means many criminals choose to act, instead of choosing to not act.
The victim in the case I’m discussing sent a lot of signals which said she was an easy target, was easy, and maybe even both. Common sense says that a young woman should not meet a strange man late at night for supper. Common sense says that a young woman should not enter a flat late at night when she doesn’t know most of the occupants and when she has a boyfriend. Common sense and the law say that an underage young woman should not play drinking games, especially when in a group of strange young men. By ‘common sense’ I mean what most women would do to protect themselves from harm or unwanted sexual attention, by not acting in ways that signal target availability. The way she acted sent signals to criminals, especially rapists and would-be rapists, that she is sexually available and is an easy target. That makes her more vulnerable to unwanted attention. People who act in ways that make them vulnerable tend to get attacked more often, and their pre-crime behaviour could muddle the case their attackers.
4. The accused is as guilty as the courts can prove.
Courts administer justice. Retribution may be a part of justice, but is not the overriding principle of justice – even and especially in the field of criminal justice. To prevent abuses of power, wrongful convictions, and disproportionate punishment, the prosecution needs to prove that the defendant is guilty, what he is guilty of, and how liable is he for the crime. Sometimes, this may mean that the defendant is punished for a lesser crime. This may be undesirable, but the alternative could very well be punishing a criminal for a crime more serious than what he has really done, or punishing an innocent person.
In the previous article, I showed how difficult it could have been for the prosecution to definitively prove rape. In rape cases, one of the criteria is that the prosecution must show where the line between consent and non-consent is crossed. The prosecutor could not do that very easily. All he (I’m assuming the prosecutor was a man) had to go on was the testimonies of the victim and the defendants. The victim was drunk at the time, making her testimony suspect. Two of the defendants (Firdaus and Shafie) said she did not give consent, but two more (Sadruddin and Rishi) said that she showed no sign of being unwilling. They were probably under the influence of alcohol too at that time; this combination of contradiction and alcohol has compromised their testimonies. The gynaecologist said she had found no ‘obvious clinical signs’ of injury, so the prosecutor has no definitive proof that there was a sexual assault. The victim herself engaged in high risk behaviour, including underage drinking (which is punishable by law) and meeting men she did not know to play drinking games, which prevents the prosecution from portraying her as an innocent victim before the court. The courts care about consistency and proof, of which there was precious little available for the prosecutor.
The victim’s behaviour harmed the prosecution’s case. Most young women do not go out alone late at night after receiving a phone call from a stranger who lied to her, enter a flat full of strange men, stay on even though the stranger who called her admitted that he had called her, and play drinking games with these strange men. Most young women don’t consent to have sex with a complete stranger – and the victim did. This sort of behaviour is usually associated with women of looser inhibitions. The prosecutor would find it very difficult to show that she is indeed an innocent victim in court, especially since she claimed to have drank when she was underage. The defence lawyers can also say that their clients, who were inebriated at the time, thought that she was willing to have sex with all of them because of her behaviour and the connotations associated with her behaviour. The defendants agreed to have sex with any girl who showed up – but there is no evidence that they agreed to rape any girl who showed up. They could have agreed to pressure her into giving consent to have sex, but not taking her by force. The defendants did not attack her immediately and did withdraw after they noticed (or thought?) that she was bleeding, which tends to support this argument. It may not be a perfect argument or an impenetrable defence, but in light of the victim’s behaviour the judge has to take this into consideration.
This does not mean that the defendants are any less liable for what they have done. But it does mean that it is harder for the prosecution to prove what they are liable for, and the courts can only punish a criminal to the extent of what the prosecution can prove. If a man is found guilty of manslaughter, he cannot be punished for the more serious crime of murder if the prosecution can prove manslaughter but not murder – even if the man really did commit murder. In this case, the defendants have been found guilty of aggravated outrage of modesty, but as the prosecution did not prove that they had raped the victim, the courts can only punish them for outrage of modesty and not rape.
5. Victim blaming versus responsibility
I have been accused of victim blaming. But what is that, anyway?
The English language is very fluid. Part of this fluidity is that different words have different meanings depending on the context. ‘reading’ can mean what you’re doing now, a personal interpretation of a text, the precise form of a particular passage of a text, or even a formal presentation of a bill in a parliament. According to the dictionary I’m using, the Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary, ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ have a lot of meanings. In this context, though, to blame someone is to declare that that person was responsible for something. Responsibility, in turn, is being the cause of something.
If represented on a Venn diagram, ‘blame’ intersects with ‘responsibility’, but is not the same as responsibility. A person can blame someone else when that person is not responsible for an act, and the person who may be responsible for something may not be the one who is blamed for it. The trouble is sorting out the two. Further complicating things is that the blame attached to someone does not necessarily reflect how responsible that person really is for something.
In this article, and in the previous one, I have sought to determine responsibility. The criminals were responsible for their deeds. That, I think, goes without saying – the biggest problem here is what the courts can prove.
The court was responsible for trying the case. The prosecution was responsible for proving the case against the accused, hindered by compromised and contradictory testimonies, lack of evidence, and the victim’s high risk behaviour. The defence was responsible for providing a legal defence for the accused, helped by the same factors mentioned above. The judge was responsible for interpreting the law to the case, by considering the arguments of the prosecution and the defence, and the factors explained above. The judge laid down a conviction of aggravated outrage of modesty, and this may be because the prosecution could not easily prove rape. The accused might have raped the victim – but if the prosecution cannot prove it, judge cannot sentence them for rape. To do otherwise would set up dangerous legal precedents and undermine the principles of justice.
The victim was responsible for the choices she had made prior to the attack. She chose to act in a way that is termed ‘high risk behaviour’, as her actions can be interpreted as sexual promiscuity and crime vulnerability. Her choices put her in contact with the attackers for a period of time, placing her in the context in which the attack occurred. Her actions could have influenced the trial, and the sentence that was handed down. She also chose to break the law by drinking when she was still underage, which could have had an effect on the trial, too. This is what she was responsible for, and what I had hoped to demonstrate.
Is this victim blaming? Is seeking to understand and demonstrate how the courts could have acted and what the victim did and could have done ‘victim blaming’? If it were, I hope I have proportioned responsibility as exactly I could have given the information I could dig up – after all, to blame is to hold responsible (Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary). Among many, many other meanings.
6. AWARE and ‘rape agenda’
Marc MacYoung, the expert I consulted for my last post, advised me to look into a possible link here. Based on his experiences in America, he thinks that advocacy groups in America are seeking to make money out of spreading a so-called ‘rape agenda’ to make money, and might have thought that this hold true for Singapore. I have found that there is no evidence to suggest that the Association of Women for Action and Research is out to spread a rape agenda, as examined in my previous post.
I chose to write about the courts and the victim because they were underreported and underanalysed. The news media and feminist advocates have written at length about the criminal’s behaviour, and I saw no need to add on to what they have said. Discussion about the courts and the victim’s behaviour was severely lacking in comparison. Local personal safety experts, if any, have said nothing about this incident in public. So I wrote about the courts and the victim to make up for this deficiency, and because personal safety is one of the many things I am interested in.
I won’t even try to talk about what I have not said, what I have not done, what I do not believe in, the attitudes I do not hold towards women, or what I do not think about criminals and society. I honestly hope that, this time, people will finally understand what I’ve written about.
I would like to thank Magical Chicken at Barnyard Chorus for publicising my previous article, my blog, and for thinking so highly of me, going so far as to say I am Magical Chicken’s ‘favourite Rational Male Blogger’ and to actually write about what I have said previously. Magical Chicken has referred more viewers to me on this issue than any other single source, and I am grateful to Magical Chicken for helping to raise my online profile. May you live long and prosper.