Fri. Dec 8th, 2023

TL;DR – Would telling would-be offenders about the harm and trauma inflicted on victims be effective deterrent?

Have you read about the online exchange between the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and our Singapore Police Force (SPF)? For the uninitiated, AWARE is basically a not-for-profit organisation that advocates for gender equality and provides critical support services for women in Singapore.

It all started with these SPF posters which are meant to prevent crime.

These posters have been plastered all over MRT stations all over our island. Let’s have a look at this series of crime prevention posters, which include warning against outrage of modesty, shop theft and dishonest misappropriation of property. These visuals have been been produced by the SPF in collaboration with the National Crime Prevention Council and Singapore Polytechnic’s Media, Arts & Design School.

Crime prevention visuals produced by SPF (via)
Crime prevention visuals produced by SPF (via)
Crime prevention visuals produced by SPF (via)
Crime prevention visuals produced by SPF (via)

So now that you’ve seen the visuals, what do you think? Like them? Don’t like them?

Who do think these crime prevention posters are trying to target and deter? Do you think they are effective in, say, planting a a seed of “Hmmm… maybe I shouldn’t?” in the head of a potential molester just before he heads into a crowded cabin?

Anyway, let’s check out AWARE’s first post that triggered a rather fierce response from SPF.

AWARE had fired off the first shot, just 106 words. Their main gripe is how the anti-molestation poster appears to ignore the infliction of harm and trauma upon another the victim, and how it puts “a price on sexual violence at all, like it’s a commodity to purchase and consume”.

It asked, “What about the price that she will have to pay in this scenario, which the poster makes no mention of?” and said “We desperately need a shift in the way we talk about and frame sexual violence.”

Here’s the response from SPF, which it calls SPF Statement on AWARE’s Facebook Post Criticising SPF’s Crime Prevention Poster.

SPF made quite a few points in the statement, but let me draw out the key ones.

  • The target audience of these visuals are the potential perpetrators.
  • In order to send a strong deterrent message, the posters specifically highlight the punishments.
  • SPF acknowledges that outrage of modesty victims suffer from trauma and other consequences, but these crime prevention posters are not meant for them.
  • These crime prevention messages are carefully curated, based on SPF’s understanding of the profile of offenders.
  • The posters are designed to warn would-be offenders, who are unable to exercise self discipline or control themselves, regardless of their knowledge of the harm that their act will cause to the victim.
  • AWARE does not seem to have understood the purpose of the posters.
  • AWARE has criticised the posters, on the basis that they focus on the punishment, and do not refer to the harm suffered by the victim.
  • AWARE has chosen to make these public judgements without contacting SPF to understand their perspective.
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So, what do you think?

Do bear in mind that these are crime prevention posters and put up on public transport network. I’ve mostly seen them at MRT platforms and say what you will, I personally love our MRT system and find them reliable, so this means most commuters won’t have that much time to read a very wordy poster whilst waiting for their train.

I can see quite some support for the SPF in their Facebook post, with many voicing their support and agreeing that since these posters are targeted at potential perpetrators, they should be about the punishment and consequences of crime. Had these posters’ target audience be the victims, then obviously the Police would have been off, way way off.

(via FB)
(via FB)

Some people suggested incorporating messages into the posters, deterrent messages for potential perpetrators and also support for victims. I personally think that would be try to do too much with just a poster. And who has time to read and take in everything in a wordy poster that tries to include all messages for all stakeholders whilst waiting for the next train.

Someone also suggested for AWARE to put up their own posters next to these SPF posters, if AWARE wishes to produce materials that speak to the victims or to educate the public about respect, about gender equality, etc.

(via FB)

I think there is a place and time for everything. Offering support to victims at MRT platforms may not be the right platform.

But putting up crime prevention posters might just stop would-be offenders from doing the deed just before they step into the train.

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And of course, it takes all kinds to make the world. So there is also a camp of people out there who are in support on AWARE and think that SPF is being petty, or that SPF is wrong. Like netizen Andrew Loh here,

To complete the story and to be fair to all sides, I should mention that AWARE has put up a clarification post after SPF’s statement.

The second post from AWARE is a long one, some 629 words and that’s about twice as long as SPF’s 300-word statement. What AWARE is basically saying is that their first post is not representation of their full position.

In their second post, they spoke about how they were not targeting SPF and in fact, AWARE has found them to be dynamic and effective in their years of collaborating with the Police, as well as with Ministry of Law and Ministry of Home Affairs. It went on to make more points and the key ones include,

“Putting a price on molest likens the victim to an object on a store shelf that can be purchased if one is willing to pay the price. The poster does not say that this act is wrong, only that it is expensive. This analogy has the effect of erasing the experience of the victim and any viewer’s empathy for the victim.”

“AWARE takes a survivor-centric approach that underscores each individual’s dignity and rights. And we would like to see all ads, public-service or otherwise, informed by that belief. Survivors have, in fact, written to us to share their discomfort with the posters’ messaging.”

And I will wrap this up with a somewhat irreverent and yet, weirdly, relevant post,