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.
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:
(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
- 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,
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Li brings up the ever-popular argument of the culture of victim blaming. I’ve dealt with her assertions
- . I encourage you to read the links there, because they elaborate on the arguments used below.
- Li brought up a
- 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
- , 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’.
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.
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.
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.