Education minister calls NUS’ response to peeping tom case ‘manifestly inadequate’

University Hall at National University of Singapore. Photo: / Flickr / (CC BY 2.0)
University Hall at National University of Singapore. Photo: / Flickr / (CC BY 2.0)

Criticism of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) response to a “peeping tom” incident — involving one of their male students caught filming a female student in a dorm room shower — has progressed from online outrage to official condemnation, with Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung calling for heavier penalties to send a signal that the safety of students is of the highest priority.

In a post to his official Facebook page published yesterday evening (which was also reposted by the official Ministry of Education page), Ong wrote that he has met with both NUS’ president and board chairman “to convey my concerns that the penalties NUS applied were manifestly inadequate in the recent sexual misconduct case.”

Ministry of Education, Singapore 发布于 2019年4月22日周一

The minister went on to write: “From here on, for offences that affect the safety of students on campus, we have to take a tough stand, and send a strong signal to everyone. Two strikes and you are out cannot be the standard application. NUS has to make its campus safe for all students, especially female students.”

The “two strikes and you are out” that Ong referred to is the policy that NUS said was applied to students found guilty of sexual misconduct.  NUS vice-provost of student life, Florence Ling, told The Straits Times yesterday that students had to be found guilty of sexual misconduct twice before being expelled.

“For first-time offenders, because we are an educational institution, we want to give the students a chance. Student offenders who appear before the Board of Discipline for the first time are given a range of punishments, but not immediate expulsion,” Ling was quoted as saying yesterday.

Obviously, Ong does not agree with that stance and seems optimistic they’ll be altering it imminently. The minister went on to write in his Facebook post, “NUS will review its discipline and sentencing framework swiftly and decisively. I am confident NUS’ review will result in a more robust process and stricter framework. The NUS Board and President are seized with this matter, and are determined to put a stop to such unacceptable behaviour on campus.”

The minister concluded by saying that he has asked other universities to also “review their frameworks for similar offences.”

While some commenters praised Ong for his strong statement and condemnation of NUS’ sexual misconduct policy, others asked why he and the rest of the government weren’t taking more action themselves, considering police allowed the offender off with a “stern warning” after he was reported by the victim and confessed to the crime.

The victim in the case — Monica Baey, a third-year communications major at the university — bravely brought the incident to the public’s attention. writing about it on her Instagram account on Friday in order to publicly shame the offender as well as NUS for their response. She said in an interview with Today yesterday that she was gratified by all of the support she had received after coming forward and hoped that the case could be reopened.

Monica reported the peeping tom incident, which took place in November, to the police immediately after it happened. The authorities responded by giving the offender, identified as Nicholas Lim, a “12-month conditional stern warning” (meaning that he was discharged without being acquitted of the offense but could be prosecuted for committing the same crime within that time period).

The response from the university was to only suspend Lim for one semester and ban him from entering campus dorm halls. But Monica said he was still allowed to visit the campus freely even while suspended, placing other female students in potential danger.

In her Instagram posts, Baey asked that NUS implement clearer campus policies to protect students against sexual misconduct, including stricter punishments, more transparency in how cases are handled, and more education for students on sexual harassment and respectful relationships. She also asked that NUS provide better support for victims of sexual harassment, including setting up a one-stop office providing free services for sexual misconduct victims.

NUS’ dean of students, Associate Professor Peter Pang, released a statement on Saturday evening apologizing for Baey’s “distressing” experience.

“We are sorry for Miss Monica Baey’s distressing experience, which is of extreme concern to the university,” said Pang. “We are in the process of reaching out to her to offer our support and assistance.”

Recognizing the public outcry, Pang said NUS has pledged to review its frameworks for disciplinary action and victim support in such incidents by convening a special committee.

The news did not go down well with concerned students and members of the public, as many chided the university board on their Facebook page for responding by merely setting up a committee.

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