Clearing doctor proves special courts needed for sexual violence: AWARE

Singapore’s new and old Supreme Court buildings. Photo: Socksiong / Wikimedia Commons
Singapore’s new and old Supreme Court buildings. Photo: Socksiong / Wikimedia Commons

Women’s rights advocates yesterday demanded that sexual assault cases be heard in special courts and involve expert witnesses.

AWARE Singapore called for the change in how cases are tried one day after an appeals court overturned a physician’s sexual assault conviction in part due to doubts over his accuser’s account. 

After the court upended last year’s conviction of general practitioner Wee Teong Boo for assaulting a 23-year-old female student, the Association of Women for Action and Research said the courts are not equipped to adjudicate such cases.

“This lack of understanding can lead to injustice and greater trauma for the sexual assault survivor,” it said. “It also reinforces the fears of other survivors that they will not be believed, and so ultimately prevents them from coming forward.”

The group noted it was not taking issue with the court’s ruling but rather how it arrived there through assessing the accuser’s behavior.

The high court convicted Wee in 2019 for assaulting the patient during a pelvic examination. 

She had accused him of digitally penetrating her vagina and raping her during separate medical examinations at his Bedok North clinic in 2015. He reportedly told the police he had spat on his fingers before placing them in the patient. He claimed his saliva had “antibacterial” properties. 

The court cited reasonable doubt in its decision to clear Wee of the rape charge after a trial that saw his wife testify that he was impotent. He was instead convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Court of appeals judges – two men and one woman – overturned that conviction and fully acquitted him on Wednesday, saying they were troubled by various aspects of the patient’s account. The court said the High Court erred by convicting Wee based on facts mounted by the prosecution and the woman’s testimony but denied Wee the opportunity to fully defend himself.

Among the things they found hard to understand was also why the patient had accepted the doctor touching her genitals as part of an examination for digestive pain. The court also took issue with the fact she waited 36 days to file an assault complaint. 

In its response, AWARE noted that the sexual assault survivors may not behave in ways that make sense to others.

“We are deeply disappointed by the judgment of the Apex Court in this case. The court discharged the accused on all counts of rape, sexual assault and outrage of modesty, in part because it could not understand the behaviour of the complainant,” the group said.

It said specialized courts should be established to take up such cases.

“Sexual assault should be heard by specialist courts set out for this purpose. Alternatively, there should be a requirement that in every case where the conviction turns on the complainant’s testimony and behaviour, experts should be called to testify.”

Update on 12 June, to clarify AWARE’s position:

A) We are not commenting about the outcome of the case. Our…

Posted by AWARE Singapore on Thursday, 11 June 2020

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