Investigation of suspected sexual assault cases

I asked the Minister for Home Affairs to outline what procedures the police have in place when investigating suspected sexual assault cases, including rape, to ensure that victims do not feel humiliated or faulted for what happened to them.

I asked the Minister for Home Affairs on 21 January 2014 to outline what procedures the police have in place when investigating suspected sexual assault cases, including rape, to ensure that victims do not feel humiliated or faulted for what happened to them.

I was very concerned after reading a report in the Straits Times on 8 December 2013 (“A rape victim speaks up”), in which a rape victim in Singapore recalled feeling humiliated when she identified her attacker from a photograph and a woman police officer remarked: “He’s handsome. Are you sure he is not your boyfriend and you willingly did it with him?”

After doing some reading up, I learned that it is important for the police to have in place standardised protocols for recording the rape victims’ statements and training in subjects like “common rape myths“, so that the officers do not inadvertently put the rape victims at risk of re-victimisation or secondary trauma.

Below is the transcript of my exchange with Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran in Parliament.

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Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs what are procedures that the police have in place when investigating suspected sexual assault cases, including rape, to ensure that victims do not feel humiliated or faulted for what happened to them.

Mr S Iswaran (for the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs): Madam, victim care is a key aspect of the Police’s procedures for handling suspected sexual assault cases. It is provided with the aim of minimising further trauma to the victims, as well as to establish trust and rapport in order to facilitate the investigations. Let me highlight the key areas of victim care.

Firstly, our first response officers are trained to be empathetic and supportive when interviewing the victim, who may still be in a state of shock. They will take an initial account from the victim, in accordance with established case reporting guidelines.

Secondly, the cases are normally assigned to experienced police investigators, who are trained in sexual offence investigation techniques, and who have the requisite level of victim support and forensic awareness, to deal with the cases sensitively.

Thirdly, the victims are provided with a single point of contact and, throughout the investigation process, they deal with officers trained in victim care management.

Fourthly, Police have set up specialised facilities, such as separate consultation rooms, to provide personal space and privacy to the victims so that they feel at ease while providing critical information to Police in their investigations.

Fifthly, in certain cases where the victims require more specialised support, Police also works with relevant agencies, crisis support groups and medical social workers to provide information about the criminal justice process and additional victim care, such as professional counselling and aftercare services.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Non-Constituency Member): Madam, I thank the Minister for the reply. Research has shown that the police officers’ skill in recording rape complaints is important because it may affect the willingness of victims to cooperate with the authorities, the quality of the crime report that results and the degree of secondary trauma experienced by victims. Can the Minister clarify whether the Police have specific and standardised protocols for recording the rape victims’ statements?

The Minister mentioned that the Police have to undergone training. Does this training include subjects like common rape myths, so that they do not inadvertently put the rape victims at risk of re-victimisation?

Lastly, the Minister said that the Police will work with counsellors. Is there a standard protocol to refer the victims to counsellors at every instance or is it only on specific instances where the Police make a judgement?

Mr S Iswaran: Madam, first, there are clear protocols for investigation procedures and these will be adapted and customised to certain types of situations and crime, and that includes cases of sexual assault or alleged sexual assault cases

Second, one cannot expect our officers to be trained to be empathetic if they are given to – I think the Member used the term “common myths” – and, certainly, that is not the case. Our officers are trained to be empathetic and sensitive. But, also, to do their work, they need to establish the facts, so that has to be done. Sometimes, that may come across, for some individuals, as being a bit too forthright, but that is part of the investigation process. That is also why I enumerated in some detail the range of measures that are put in place at different levels in different ways to ensure that those who are allegedly victims are treated with empathy and sensitivity.

[Source: Singapore Parliament Reports]

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After note: The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) has, in a letter to the Straits Times Forum on 26 January 2014, urged the authorities to stop using lie detector tests on victims of sexual crimes.

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