Ten years on

Note: This is not meant to be commentary of any kind. It’s nothing more than personal musing and reflections on the human condition, from a fiction writer’s perspective.

On the morning of 11 September 2001, I was daydreaming. While my teacher tried to teach some English concept or other, I let my mind wander through a wilderness of words mated with moving images. Schoolwork meant little to me; I had embraced the art of storytelling, and where others sought grades, I quested for the next big story. The real world was irrelevant, my writing was everything. I was all of twelve years old, and I was ready to be The Next Big Thing in writing.

When night fell, a friend called me, telling me there was an accident at the World Trade Center in New York. I thought little of it – I had homework to do – and hung up. When I finished my work, I turned on Cable News Network in time to watch the Twin Towers ablaze. Reporters and news anchors from CNN, BBC, and every other news channel I could find were talking about the same thing: two planes flew into the Twin Towers, a third hit the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field. A few minutes later, the Towers collapsed.

I was twelve then. And already I knew the world had changed forever.

My school officially did nothing. There was no commentary, no announcements, nothing about the deadliest act of terror in human history. My teachers would only refer to it in passing. We were all children, and to us, passing the examinations was more important than three thousand deaths half a world away. Except for me.

George Bush declared his War on Terror. Though I didn’t know it then, I started mine.

The moment I found some free time, I booted up my computer. For the first time, I started Microsoft Word. Not for homework, for myself. I opened a reference book, played that little projector in my had, and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Over the weeks and months, the story came to life. In the near future, Earth is invaded by aliens. Once they called Earth home, before leaving for the stars. Now they are returning to reclaim what they saw was their world. Their preferred strategy was to attack population centres and arm local insurgent groups, in order to intimidate global governments and populations. In response, a secret organisation deployed a small army of special forces personnel to destroy the alien menace. Employing the technologies of the day after tomorrow, they could go anywhere and do anything, free from government oversight, their names and activities censored in the press. The aliens recruited humans to do their bidding, with one of them rising to lead the campaign against Earth. That human was a former US Army soldier. The story ended with the death of the alien leader – but the war would still go on.

I completed the novel in late 2002. Looking back, I wonder at the parallels with the real world. Under the Umayyad dynasty, the Caliphate ruled over much of the known world, with territories in Hispania, North Africa, Persia and the Indus Valley in Pakistan. The power of the Caliphate would shrink over ensuing dynasties, until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President of Turkey, abolished the role of the Caliph. al-Qaeda would claim spiritual succession in the 21st century, and attempt to instate a new caliphate. al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations attacked civilians to intimidate governments. Intelligence agencies and special forces around the world stood at the front lines of this new War on Terror. Militaries – conventional and otherwise – would employ some of the technology I described in my stories in the real world. States pledged to cooperate against terrorism. Osama bin Laden, once trained by the Americans to fight the Soviets during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, embraced the way of terror while cloaked in religious zeal, and became the de facto head of global terror. He was killed on 2 May 2011, and the War on Terror continues to this day.

I was just twelve years old then. I didn’t even do much research for that novel. It was never meant to be a metaphor, only an action-packed novel. It was more Rainbow Six (book and video game series) and X-COM: Enemy Unknown than the War on Terror. I spent more time writing firefights than developing plot or structure. I wrote the story completely by ear, doing only enough research to get some of the technology right. I studied only enough military tactics to describe close quarters battle, not military and intelligence strategy. I didn’t even look into the history of terrorism or Osama bin Laden. All I did was sit at my desk, day after day, and bang out a few hundred (or thousand) words on my manuscript each time.

Thinking about it now sends chills down my spine. I don’t call myself prescient. I didn’t see any of this coming. But I was, and am, a writer, and the events of 11 September had indelibly marked my work. For better or for worse, I grew up when the Towers fell.

I would write more stories, and those would more explicitly deal with the War on Terror. I would do more research, pore over biographies and case studies and white papers. From where I am now, it seems that every generation in recent history is defined by war.

The wars of my grandparents’ were industrial wars between the ancient nation-states of the Old World – of the European, and later Asian, powers with many centuries of history behind them. Historians, pundits, and students came up with many reasons: resources, expansion, ideology, revenge, national security. To my grandparents, war was about powerful states attempting to define the future of Europe, and the world. When both wars ended, the balance of power swung towards the great powers of the New World: the young nation known as the United States of America in the west, and the experiment called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the east. The end of the World Wars was supposed to have ushered a New World Order, a time of peace, prosperity and international cooperation.

There was a New World Order. Just not the one many people wanted. This time there was a new war. One side claimed to fight for freedom and democracy, the other for freedom and communism. They didn’t directly engage each other, though, so history called it the Cold War. The Western allies competed with the Eastern bloc for influence over the rest of the world, engaging in small wars and propping up useful political leaders. Historians, pundits and students came up with many reasons: resources, expansion, ideology, revenge, national security. The Cold War saw the New World Order tread slowly, surely, ever-so-inevitably towards nuclear annihilation, before taking a few steps back. The defining war of my parents’ generation was the Vietnam War, in which a conventional army was frustrated and eventually defeated by guerrillas. In their generation, the big wars were about a superpower moulding the world in its image through force of arms. When the Soviet Union died on Christmas  in 1991, the world heaved a collective sigh of relief. The United States stood alone. While Moscow sought to impose order through tanks in its sphere of influence and foreign aid outside it, Washington sought to make money with friendly nations and send soldiers only in troublesome faraway states. It was something the world could live with. The end of the Cold War was supposed to have ushered a time of peace, prosperity, and international cooperation. Military action would be limited to punishing rogue regimes, aiding the downtrodden and keeping the peace in less fortunate lands.

Then the Twin Towers fell.

The powerful militaries of the Old and New Worlds were mobilised and brought to bear against a faceless, stateless, amorphous foe that based its tactics on guerrilla warfare. Historians, pundits and students came up with many reasons for this brave new war: misunderstanding, resources, expansion, revenge, national security. One side says it fights for civilisation, freedom from brutal dictators, and democracy. The other says it fights for civilisation, freedom from foreign oppressors, and Allah. Both sides are struggling to impose their vision on the rest of the world.

The face of battle changes. The soul of war doesn’t.

But there is one critical difference between the wars of my forebears and the war I live: the conditions for victory.

The industrial wars of the First and Second World Wars had a concrete endgoal: the defeat of the opposing alliance. Victory would come when the political leadership sued for peace following the destruction of sufficient military forces and the capture of strategic territory.

The Cold War had a definite endpoint: the demise of the opposing political system. One side could declare victory if the other’s political infrastructure collapsed under the weight of revolution and reform. Or if both parties were vapourised in nuclear fire.

While the industrial wars and the Cold War were conflicts between states, the War on Terror is a war on an idea that dates to the Sicarii Zealots of the 1st century. The basic notion of this War on Terror is the belief that one can use bombs and bullets to kill and intimidate something that has no physical existence. This belief is patently ridiculous, but it continues still. And so long as it remains, there is no end point in sight. Now, all it takes is proof of  involvement with terrorism, or credible threats against national or regional security, and the drums of war will begin to roll. The casus belli of the Iraq War was a continuation of the War on Terror, justified by claims that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction and would consequently threaten regional stability. The Israelis invaded the Gaza Strip to prosecute Hamas terrorists, and Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah. The War on Terror has spread from a concerted campaign against al-Qaeda and its allies to assorted terrorists calling themselves Muslims, with no end in sight.

Bush outlined the goals of the War on Terror in 2003. But Iraq had little, if anything, to do with international terrorist groups. Saddam Hussein had no reason to tempt the might of the United States. But the proposal to invade Iraq was packaged as part of the War on Terror anyway – and the American public approved. If the invasion of Iraq could have been passed off as part of the War on Terror, I wonder what else will.

I’ve seen arguments about justice, national security, and international stability to justify the War on Terror. Some of them may even have merit. Regardless, the War on Terror continues, and there is no end in sight. It’s difficult enough to destroy al-Qaeda as it is. The death of Osama bin Laden merely marked a new chapter in the War on Terror, not the epilogue. The victims of 9/11 may have been avenged, but they remain dead, and a war is still fought in their names.

A war without focus is a war without a clear objective, and without a clear objective, blood and treasure would be spent pursuing goals that may or may not lead anywhere. Current enhanced security measures are better remembered for invading privacy and causing inconvenience than defeating terrorist threats – and for failing counterterrorism security exercises. The war in Iraq, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, and American unilateralism have been packaged as proof that the United States is hellbent on oppressing Muslims and conquering the world, inspiring many youths to join the nearest terrorist cell. Or to start their own.

I thought the War on Terror was supposed to make us safer.

Terrorism is an idea. You can’t kill an idea. Not with the weapons of war. I think what can realistically be done about terrorism is to reduce it to a manageable problem. I don’t think it can be eradicated: it is an idea and a strategy, which has worked in varying degrees. Pandora’s box is open, and there is no closing it. I’m no expert, and what I can offer are arguments repeated elsewhere.

The War on Terror would probably be won with soft power, not hard. The use of hard power, of military and security forces to crack down on terrorists, should be used sparingly, only to seek justice for victims, or prevent attacks. This would tend to discourage terrorists from mounting attacks, without giving them any more reason to attack you or any more ammunition to draw recruits and money.

The real focus should be on presenting an alternative to terrorism. Different people in different people have different reasons for joining terrorist groups; they must be given reasons to stay away. True believers become martyrs out of religious conviction – they need to learn that no religion condones violence against civilians. Politicals take up arms to express dissent – the people and the state must cooperate to air differences and meet the needs of the people. The poor sign up with insurgents to make money for their families – create legitimate jobs and make terrorism an unappealing career path. We need to understand why people turn to terrorism, look at personal, societal, and national causes, and systematically cut off means and motivations to embrace terrorism while simultaneously build superior alternatives to terror. Every culture and region have different circumstances, and solutions must be tailored to meet them. It won’t eradicate terrorism. Not by a long shot. But it might just reduce terrorism to a manageable problem, and take the peoples of the world to a time when they need not obsess about terrorism and worry when the next big attack will come.

But I’m no expert. Make of it as you will.

It’s been ten years on since 11 September. For better or for worse, 9/11 has left its mark on me through the way I write, through what I write. The war of my generation seems to be the War on Terror, and if it continues the way it has been, it looks like it’s shaping up to be a forever war.

Looks like we’re living in interesting times.

The Spectre of Incomplete Thinking

Note 1: I rewrote the first section of this essay. After reading through this article, I realised it was a shoddy piece of work. It was basically a giant straw man argument. I apologise for allowing something so poorly written out into the public domain, and I’ll strive for even higher standards of writing.

Note 2: There used to be an argument in the middle of the essay, centring on dates. In essence, the victim couldn’t remember when she was attacked. Li’s original article said she couldn’t place the date between 1997 to 2008. Li has since informed me that that was a typo. the victim couldn’t remember if the offence occured between October 1997 and February 1998. I don’t know much about the impact of post-attack trauma on memory, so I’m going to give Li the benefit of doubt here when she says that the Disciplinary Committee should be more understanding that the victim can’t accurately place the date of the attack.

Lisa Li’s article on sexual assault is disquieting on many fronts. It is the epitome of incomplete thinking in the field of women’s self-defence and personal safety. It settles the for the shallow and the emotive, repeating buzz words and slogans without analyzing the issues it purportedly talks about. Take a few minutes to read it through. I’ll be attacking it point by point.

(Note on terminology: Li prefers using ‘survivor’ in her essay, because she feels it’s empowering. I use ‘victim’, because that’s the standard terminology used by the media and legal system. I’m treating them as interchangeable for this essay.)

A matter of statistics

Li argues that the majority of sexual assaults are unreported. She says

In 2009, the International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS) in Singapore found that 77.5% and 71.7% of the survivors of non-partner and partner assault respectively did not report the incident to the police, and only 7% of those who experienced violence contacted specialised agencies for assistance . Although these figures refer to all types of assault, sexual assault is definitely part of this trend of under-reporting. What is it about rape and sexual assault that silences the majority of its survivors?

Yes, violent crimes are unreported. I’ve known people who’ve survived violent crimes without reporting them. But this paragraph seems to say that these figures of 77.5% and 71.7% as starting points when talking about how rape and sexual assault silences the majority of its victims. I almost did, in fact.

Physical violence is not necessarily the same as sexual violence. If she wants to talk about sexual assault and use statistics to support her argument, Li needs to get statistics on the people who didn’t report sexual assault. The document she provided had the authors’ contact information at the bottom – I doubt the authors wouldn’t have these figures.

It’s a shame, really. For a long time, it’s been a truism that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported. Li had had a chance to provide some real figures in her article. She didn’t.

The unknown trauma of reporting rapes

Li later argues that reporting rape is a very traumatic process. She says that the victim cannot bathe until she has taken the rape kit, face insensitive police questioners, and face even more trauma when examined in court. This, she argues, means that most victims ‘choose silence’.

But this argument does not hold water. It assumes that victims know what they are in for. But it’s extremely unlikely in Singapore.

Crime is not a major obssession in Singapore. Police and medical procedures rarely make it to the news, and courtroom examinations rarely so. Local police and court dramas don’t accurately capture this feeling either, because they are designed to entertain, not reflect reality. Foreign crime shows are irrelevant to the Singaporean context – it’s easy to dismiss foreign accents, cultures and procedures.

The average Singaporean woman would not be aware of the trauma she may experience during medical examinations, police interviews, and courtroom examinations until she is actually undergoing them. She might know of the procedures, to be sure, but not about the feeling of having to answer difficult questions by stone-faced men following the most violent incident of her life. Since crime is not a major facet of Singapore life, a relative few people have actually experienced post-rape trauma. Of this few people, even fewer would want to talk about their trauma. While it is perfectly understandable, it is extremely unlikely that these few women have managed to imprint the post-rape trauma experience into the collective female consciousness in Singapore.

Case in point, there were 202 rape victims in 2009. Just how many of them speak publicly and repeatedly about their experiences? And of these, how many have succeeded in telling Singaporean women what to expect after a rape?

Imogheena brought up a valid point about imagination. To whit, the victim’s imagination puts her off reporting the rape, because she feels it is worse than it actually is. I don’t have a problem with this. My real contention is that Li’s argument about knowledge is false, because it assumes knowledge when there is no proof of such collective knowledge.

Denial

Li says that many victims do not report their assaults to the authorities because they know the attackers. She also says that the vast majority of rapes were committed by people known to the victims.

And I agree. This statement agrees with my research.

What I don’t understand, however, is that Li drops this point entirely. She had a chance to address the majority of rapes, and prevent future ones, simply by dispensing advice like she dispensed arguments at the end of the paragraph. Since she didn’t, I’ll point you to someone who can tell you how to avoid being raped by someone you know.

Read all the links. They do a better job than me in this regard.

Repeal Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act?

Li argues that Section 157(d) must be repealed. To quote:

Although the Penal Code protects sexual assault survivors, the continued existence of Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act is almost a gap in the bulwark, an invitation for the accused and his defence lawyers to further traumatise the survivor by portraying her as a ‘slut’, since this can aid in the defence of the accused. This is because 157(d) allows the credit of the survivor to be impeached if she is shown to have “generally immoral character” – the strange assumption being that if she has a colourful sexual history, she cannot be trusted or she must have consented to the sex act in question.

Section 157(d) says:

157. The credit of a witness may be impeached in the following ways by the adverse party or, with the consent of the court, by the party who calls him:

(snip)

(d) when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.
Li cited a 2002 

case

 to prove her point.
During the questioning, the accused attempted to turn the tables on his Complainant by portraying her as “a woman of loose morals”, even calling her a “part-time prostitute”, by producing security records which showed that the Complainant had various male visitors late at night at the office. Although she reasonably explained that this was because she feared a second sexual assault by the accused, and sought the protection of various male friends as she worked late into the night, the insinuation remained.
The link Li provided did not recount this part of the testimony. I’ll assume she didn’t randomly pluck a case out of thin air, so the lawyer was Lim Kien Thye and the employee Linda Koh. But the report simply stated that there was ‘no cause of sufficient gravity for disciplinary action’. That is legalese for, ‘there is no proof Lim did something wrong, so we can’t do anything’. Since Li’s link doesn’t tell what happened in the courtroom, and I’m not obliged to find out for her, I can’t believe her at face value.
Instead, let me show you what happens if Section 157(d) were repealed using a hypothetical example similar to this. A female employee at a law firm having sex in the office late at night. She takes a series of lovers and men to her office for nocturnal activities as a result. Later, she takes a fancy to her boss, and tries to seduce him. He turns her down. She gets angry, and proceeds to accuse him of molest.
In Singapore, the onus is generally on the defendent to prove his innocence, 

not 

on the prosecutor to prove that the defendent is guilty – at least when the trial starts. It is very hard to prove a molest has happened without physical or video evidence. When a molest charge is filed, it is even harder to prove that a molest has 

not 

happened. 
Proving the absence of something is impossible unless you have proof that completely negates the possibility of absence – that is, you need to prove you could not have molested someone.
That’s why Section 157(d) exists. To defend men against false charges of rape and molest. I’m not saying that the majority of women like falsely accusing men of rape. But some women have, and men need a means to protect themselves in court.
The boss can testify that the woman took revenge against him because he rejected her, using security videos to reinforce his point that the woman liked having men in her office, and use the law to have charges against him dismissed. Without the law, the boss has to prove an absence, which is a significantly harder defence, and may even be impossible in certain situations.
Li seems to take the view that the woman must definitely be innocent and the man must definitely be guilty in this case. This is clearly not true. While there are no definitive sources on the actual number of false rape allegations, there have been 

some research

 into the phenomenon. No matter the actual percentage, false accusations have occurred so many times that one cannot definitively say that a rape accusation is 

not 

false without proper investigation.
Granted, Section 157(d) can be used to “ask the sexual assault survivor humiliating questions”, and it would “deter victims to come forward and report the crime” (those that know of it). But justice must apply to all, and that means men, too, must be defended against female villains.
So what should be done? Section 157(d) does need to stay on the books to protect innocent men from false charges. I do think there needs to be some discussion about what ‘generally immoral character’ entails in the eyes of the law. It shouldn’t be used as a weapon to discredit rape victims and force women to reveal their sex lives in public, but it should remain as a shield against false rape accusations. I’m not a legal expert, so this guideline is all I can offer.

Victim blaming?

Li brings up the ever-popular argument of the culture of victim blaming. I’ve dealt with her assertions 

here

 and 

here

. I encourage you to read the links there, because they elaborate on the arguments used below.
Li brought up a 

gang sexual assault

 to prove her point.  About the victim, Li said,
She was certainly naive and careless, but it is a huge leap of logic to conclude that by consenting to sex with one of them, she was somehow responsible for being gang-raped by all five of them. By reporting the crime, she had to endure intense questioning from the defence lawyers who publicly made her out to be a ‘slut’ with ‘loose morals’, someone they described as partially responsible for her own rape, thereby lessening the culpability of her rapists. Is it any surprise then that most survivors would rather keep silent than endure this potential public humiliation and victim-blaming?
Which is missing the point.
As I pointed out in my 

original post

, the court needs proof that she was raped. The standards of rape are higher than that of aggravated sexual assault. The prosecution must prove that the accused forced themselves on the victim and that the victim did not give consent. The prosecution also must show when this happened. The victim in the case approached the men and played drinking games with them (she was 17, and the drinking age is 18). She said she consented to have sex with one of them, but only after being pressured and under the influence of alcohol. Everybody in the case  wasn’t sober, if not exactly drunk, compromising recall. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to prove when the line between consent and nonconsent was crossed – and therefore, difficult to make a rape conviction.
Further complicating matters is that the girl went to the men. She only knew one of them. That man called the girl and invited her for supper. One of the other four men met her. The girl followed the stranger to the flat, where they played drinking games, and the crime happened. Most girls would go straight home when met with a stranger, and most girls wouldn’t play drinking games with strangers. While this incident does not show that she wanted to have sex, it doesn’t show that she didn’t want to have sex as well. Since the girl didn’t tell the world what was on her mind, her actions are a matter of debate. Li apparently quoted the defence lawyers, but she didn’t quote the prosecution’s response.
All this made it difficult to prove when the line between consent and nonconsent was crossed. The prosecutor could not prove when it happened, so he could not make the rape charges stick. By lowering the charges, the prosecutor managed to make the men pay.
It’s not about victim blaming; it’s about standards of law. 
The second example Li brings up is used to shore up a difficult argument. She returns to the case of the lawyer and the employee, saying that victim blaming meant the accused got away.
First, she said there was a ‘major flaw in the accused’s alibi’. If so, she didn’t say what it was. Because she didn’t, this is not acceptable in an argument.
Secondly, she argued that the victim’s inconsistent testimonials was not a reason to reject the case. These three testimonials are:
“the accused “tried to kiss her”, that he “had in fact kissed her on her lips” and that he “had inserted his tongue into her mouth and had tried to roll her tongue with his tongue.”
She said that the Disciplinary Committee (DC) rejected these accounts “due to their insistence on absolute consistency”. Granted, victims of sexual assault – of any crime – may have difficulties remembering what happened. But presented this way, it seems that the victim was trying to embellish what happened. Li says the events are similar. But I don’t think ‘tried to kiss’ is similar to ‘kiss’, and kissing someone on the lips is different from kissing someone with tongue action. The actions are so mechanically different, and implications vastly different, that they can’t be ‘similar’. 

Li says

Surely it is understandable that sexual assault survivors may give slightly different accounts due to their embarassment at the time of questioning
It may be understandable, but it is not acceptable. Bad liars and criminals do the same thing too, changing their stories when questioned repeatedly, to protect someone or turn the police against someone. And people in the justice system work with criminals and liars all the time. If a bunch of lawyers are faced with something that looks like criminal behaviour, they are more inclined to assume that the person is lying.

Finally, Li took offence with the way the DC described Koh under cross-examination.

Thirdly, the DC described the Complainant as “[showing] resilience under cross-examination and at various points [reacting] with anger or annoyance”. Using the illogical reasoning that ‘strong’, ‘resilent’ individuals cannot be sexually assaulted, they then concluded that “we find it difficult to fully accept that such an individual would put up with an assault on her”. The decision-makers seemed unaware that even ‘resilient’ people may behave in non-typical ways when confronted with traumatic sexual assault.

I agree with this statement. Having a resilient personality does not make anyone proof against violence. That being said, there is one problem here: some liars tend to get angry or annoyed when cross-examined.

If you look at all three arguments as a whole, just based on what Li picked, you can see the profile of a liar. Someone who gives inconsistent and poorly-detailed stories, who then cracks under pressure. I’m not saying that Koh is a liar. There is no evidence that shows that she was definitely lying. But what I am saying is that Koh’s behaviour, as quoted by Li, is very similar to that of a liar. Li didn’t provide any evidence that Koh acted to the contrary. The DC cannot judge a lawyer guilty of molest based on the testimony of someone whose behaviour resembles that of a liar. While the DC can’t prove Koh is a liar, the DC can’t prove that Koh is telling the truth either.

Just one more thing on this case: the link she provided gave no details of what actually occurred. Were transcripts available, I would have gone through them the way I looked over the IVAWS report, to gain a better understanding of the situation.

Now let’s leave aside discussion of these two cases. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that victim blaming did indeed influence the outcomes of these cases. In that case, all Li has proven is that in two separate cases, there may have been evidence that the authorities were blaming the victim. Li has not conclusively proven the existence of a widespread culture of victim blaming, nor has she proven that the legal system has entrenched a culture of victim blaming. She needs to show this through studies of court cases and the application of the law over the years. She has not. Therefore, she has not proven that widespread victim blaming exists.

Rape kit before police report?

Li says that rape victims should be allowed to take a rape kit before making a police report, “which can be a difficult decision to make within the 72 hours following the attack”. (She doesn’t say which; I’m assuming the police report.)

I don’t think it’s a bad idea. But her suggestion, by itself, opens a loophole for women to uniquely exploit against men.

Here’s a scenario. The husband of a married woman is stationed overseas for a few months, and she’s getting lonely. So she goes to a bar, and is sweet-talked by a dashing young man. They have a one-night stand. In the morning, she regrets her decision to have sex with a stranger. She heads to the nearest hospital and takes a rape kit. Armed with forensic evidence, she goes to the police and reports she’s been raped. As the police now have  ‘proof’ of rape, they are duty-bound to pursue the handsome stranger and arrest him for rape.

How does Li propose preventing this or similar events from happening? Police reports don’t just register offences. The police officers screen the complainant too. The cops taking down the statement need to make sure it’s not a false statement, too. This, among other reasons, is why some countries require victims to file a police report first.

Let’s assume now that the handsome stranger is arrested. He needs to prove that the sex act was consensual, and that his accuser was lying. In Singapore, the best defence I can think of is to evoke Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act, or a variant thereof.  Except that, Li wants this section repealed. So, without such a defence, the man needs to prove he didn’t force himself on her – which can be challenging, especially if she falsified signs of struggle. The case may be eventually thrown out of court, but at that point, the man’s reputation would have been destroyed and his bank account drained by legal expenses. Not exactly an ideal outcome.

I’m not saying that allowing rape kits before making a police report is wrong. What I am saying is that Li’s argument is incomplete. She needs to address the flaw mentioned above before policymakers will take it seriously.

Everything else…

Li raised a few other suggestions: sensitivity training for police officers and medical personnel, better support for groups like SABS, education to curb rape, criminalise marital rape, greater awareness of post-crime human psychology, and more research on sexual violence.

And I agree. I don’t actually see anything wrong with these proposals, so long as facts – not dogma, actual facts – are passed on.

Conclusions

Li’s work is built on incomplete thinking. Her point that knowledge of future trauma prevents women from reporting rapes is unsound, because this presumes that the average woman actually knows the nitty-gritty details of post-rape legal and medical procedures. Li says that Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act must be repealed, yet it is the same law that protects men from false accusations. Li claims there is a culture of victim blaming, but the cases she cites does not prove that such a culture exists, and the behaviour of the prosecutor and the DC can be explained more clearly without the victim blaming hypothesis. Finally, Li argues that women should be allowed to take rape kits before making a police report, but doesn’t propose a means to prevent criminal abuse – especially since she proposes to remove a law that prevents this.

Which is not to say I disagree totally with her. I agree that a lot of rape victims know their attackers, and victims should stop protecting their attackers are start prosecuting them. I agree with her other suggestions about training police and medical staff to be more sensitive, improving rape help groups, and increased research and awareness of sexual violence.

Nevertheless, I must disagree with Li. Her work has so many holes in it, it sadly resembles every major argument ever raised by straw feminists on sexual violence. That is, so-called feminists who only exist in fiction solely to be made fun of. This article looks like a call to dogma, twisting facts to suit its ends, not a careful analysis of reality

I don’t doubt that many victims of sexual assault don’t speak up about their experiences, and  I think there are public policy solutions to reduce the overall sexual assault rates. But you can’t implement policies on shoddy arguments, and you can’t change the world effectively without first understanding it.

Building Nations, Dividing People

It’s refreshing to see a government body give straight answers for once. The People’s Association has declared that it is a de facto arm of the state. Its mission is to “bond the community and connect people with the Government”.  Grassroots advisers should “connect people to people”, and “are required to help the Government connect with people and help promote government policies and programmes”. Therefore, the government should appoint “grassroots advisers who support its programmes”. Opposition Members of Parliament “cannot be expected” to support the government’s policies, and so may not be grassroots advisers.

In so many words, the People’s Association is the bridge between the people and the government. And it’s only a small step away from the government to the People’s Action Party. As described by the Central Intelligence Agency, the People’s Association was “a nation-building program” that aimed to sway the populace away from the Barisan Sosialis and towards the PAP.  The Agency described three key characteristics of the PA, specifically:

First, it was wholly an Asian creation and at no time depended to an important degree on idea, or resources from outside. Second, the program aimed at two-way communication between government and ruling party at the top and the people below, and it aimed also to prove that the government could be responsive to the people’s needs. Finally, the program deliberately confused the roles of government and party so that the people tended to praise the party for activities undertaken by the government[.] Funded by the government but exploited by the ruling party, it cultivated an image independent of both.  (Corrections mine)

I’m not against grassroots organisations or advisers by any stretch. But I believe that should such organisations should be independent of any party. They should not be used as tools to promote one political ideology over another. Their mission should be to serve the people, not political interests. That’s why they’re called grassroots organisations.

Ooi Hui Mei’s letter is based on the assumption that opposition MPs will always oppose the government’s policies. This is profoundly untrue and antidemocratic.

In 2006, I interviewed Low Thia Khiang, the Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party, for a project. When I asked him about the Workers’ Party ‘s stance vis-à-vis the government’s policies, and how he represents that position in Parliament, he gave a fairly nuanced answer. He said he – and by extension, the party – will first assess any given policy. If he agrees with it, he’ll support it. If he doesn’t, he’ll oppose it.

Opposition politicians do not exist to make trouble for the government. Their job is to represent the views of a slice of the population. It is disingenuous to suggest that their views are necessarily opposed to that of the government. There are definitely issues both the government and the opposition can agree upon. It does not necessarily follow that the opposition will oppose every government program. In its pending press release, the  Singapore People’s Party says that Chiam See Tong, its Secretary-General, “has always done his part for the aged and fought dengue with the Potong Pasir Town Council”. The opposition has raised no strenuous objections to the government’s anti-dengue policies and active ageing stance, and as the SPP points out, supports them.

Opposition politicians who have been elected to Parliament have won the support of the people. By being Members of Parliament, it is their job to bridge the people and the state. Winning the elections fosters on them the moral authority and the obligation to represent their constituents’ views to the government. Their office grants them the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of their constituents, and communicate the government’s views to their constituents. In this way, they connect the people and the government. In this role, they are no different from PAP MPs.

There are no more qualified people than elected MPs to take on the role of grassroots advisers. The PA counts among its grassroots advisers current members of the PAP. Since it’s clearly not independent of political parties, it is profoundly antidemocratic to prevent an opposition MP from being a grassroots advisor on the assumption that an opposition MP will never support the government’s policies. This effectively disrespects the people’s decision to support a certain politician in favour of another, by tacitly suggesting that the opposition MP will make trouble for the government instead of serving the people.

Alex Au has argued more extensively that it’s time to disband the People’s Association (and sack the members of the Housing Development Board). And I agree.

Leaving aside discussions on the historical necessity and effectiveness of the People’s Association, PA’s time is past. The PA was formed in a time when the people were divided between left-wingers (the Barisan Sosialis) and democratic socialists (the PAP). Today, the nation is divided still, this time between the PAP and various opposition parties. This time, the PA is dividing the people, by favouring the PAP over the opposition, and by making insinuations about the opposition. If it ever were a nation builder, the PA is one no more. Instead, it insists on continuing its historic mission of promoting government policies, and blurring the government and the party, without adjusting to political realities.

The PA is a relic of the past. It’s time to consign it to history.