- The Straits Times
The National University of Singapore (NUS) has accepted new recommendations proposed by its Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct as the university overhauls its support system for victims of sexual harassment.
In a statement released on Monday (June 10), the committee – convened by the chairman of the NUS Board of Trustees on April 30 – said it had concluded its review and submitted a list of 10 recommendations to the university earlier on the same day.
The Board of Trustees, headed by NUS chairman Hsieh Fu Hua, has accepted the recommendations in full, the statement said.
The review came in the wake of a call to arms by third-year NUS undergraduate student Monica Baey, who expressed frustration about the lack of tough measures by the university against sexual misconduct. In April, Baey revealed via social media that fellow student Nicholas Lim had filmed her in the shower at an NUS residence last year.
In its statement, the committee said it had been studying “global best practices” at leading universities, and has consulted with subject matter experts and engaged the NUS community through a survey. It added that the university would be sharing its findings from the student survey “in the coming days”.
“The committee believes that these recommendations set a new benchmark for disciplinary sanctions for sexual misconduct. The higher benchmark will send a strong message that the university does not tolerate sexual misconduct and serve as a strong deterrent,” it said.
Here are the 10 recommendations NUS has accepted:
1) Tougher penalties for sexual misconduct
The committee proposed five facets to implementing a tougher sanctions framework for sexual misconduct.
- Minimum sanctions for serious offences, including a minimum one-year suspension that the university’s Board of Discipline and/or the Disciplinary Appeals Board cannot veto or remove.
- A recommended immediate expulsion at the first Board of Discipline hearing for severe instances or aggravated forms of sexual misconduct.
- A notation of disciplinary action on all academic transcripts of sexual misconduct offenders, which can be expunged after three years from the date of degree conferment at the offender’s request.
- Prevention of recidivism by allowing offenders to return to campus only if they have been certified fit by a counsellor and/or a medical professional.
- A no-contact protocol between the victim and offender.
The committee added that the Board of Discipline can impose any or all of the existing sanctions in addition to the recommended measures, namely: mandatory counselling and rehabilitation, community service, a ban from housing premises or campus, suspension from academic and non-academic privileges as well as a letter of reprimand.
A case officer should also be assigned to each offender to ensure compliance to the sanctions, the committee said.
2) Giving victims a greater voice in the disciplinary process
The committee also recommended the university grant victims more rights and involvement in the disciplinary process. This includes:
- Being kept up-to-date on disciplinary proceedings;
- Filing a statement of facts before the Board of Discipline hearing;
- Filing an impact statement;
- Appearing before the Board of Discipline to provide clarifications on the victim’s statement;
- Being accompanied by a care officer at the Board of Discipline hearing; and
- Having an avenue for victims to request for a review of the Board of Discipline and/or Disciplinary Appeals Board outcomes in exceptional circumstances.
The recommendation included a review of the composition of the Board of Discipline’s gender ratio to ensure a balance among its members.
3) Provide greater empathy and support to victims
In view of a lacking single point-of-contact for victims and continuity in victim care, the committee recommended that NUS should provide “better advice, information, support and resources to victims, from when an incident is reported to when support is no longer required”.
Care officers should also be appointed to accompany victims in dealing with law enforcement, support them through the disciplinary process and to work with the university’s support units.
4) Clear timeline for disciplinary process and streamlining the number of entities involved
A streamlined number of different NUS units involved in the disciplinary process would do better to support victims, the committee said.
It added that a flexible timeline for disciplinary processes should be established, but should also indicate when each stage of the process is to be completed.
- The Straits Times
5) Enhancing the victim support framework and network
NUS should establish a Victim Care Unit which can provide personalised continuity of care to victims of sexual misconduct, serve as the central point of contact and act as the interface between victims and the university’s disciplinary and care units, the committee said.
Other recommendations offered by the committee include:
- Ensuring that care officers have relevant experience in counselling, social work, psychology or a related field;
- The Victim Care Unit working closely with other support networks in NUS to allow multiple layers of support for victims; and
- A dedicated website to provide victims information and advice, house the NUS’ codes of conduct as well as policy statements and documents. The website should also have a support mechanism such as essential contact numbers, helplines and whistleblowing channels.
6) Rehabilitation of offenders
The committee also expressed its support for NUS’ move to have dedicated staff at its Office of Student Affairs to advise offenders in areas such as mental health.
It noted that the office will collaborate with the Office of Student Conduct to ensure offenders’ compliance to sanctions, as well as their rehabilitation and certification to return to campus post-suspension as approved by counsellors and/or medical professionals.
7) Education on respect and consent
NUS should launch a compulsory module on “Respect and Consent Culture” for all NUS students and staff starting in the 2019/2020 academic year, the committee said.
Furthermore, the university will conduct first-responder training from June 2019 that will involve security officers, masters, resident fellows and residential advisors.
8) Adequacy of campus security and infrastructure
Hostels, “where the majority of sexual misconduct incidents in recent years have occurred”, are recommended to house improved security infrastructure, according to the committee.
NUS had also announced an increase in number of security personnel at hostels and patrols across the campus in addition to the installation of secure shower cubicles and restroom locks.
Coupled with better closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera coverage, “these tools should significantly enhance campus safety and security”, the committee said.
- The Straits Times
9) Review of past disciplinary cases
The committee said it had consulted with external legal advisors and concluded that past cases which the Board of Discipline had formally ruled – for which sanctions were meted out – cannot be reopened.
“Our recommended changes will form the basis of the university’s tougher stance on sexual misconduct and discipline going forward,” it added.
10) Commitment to ongoing review
The committee recommended that NUS revisits the proposed frameworks “on a regular basis” to ensure alignment with global best practices, reflection of the sentiments of the university’s community as well as adequate support and protection of the community.
It also said the sanctions and victim support framework should be subject to review every two years and that the university should continue efforts to engage with stakeholders.