Experts: Lack of support can make sexual assault victim’s trauma worse
Those sexually abused by authority figures face barriers in reporting, such as pressure from peers
Victims of sexual assault and harassment are often fearful of reporting their experiences, experts told The New Paper.
In the case of national hurdler Kerstin Ong, the situation was made worse by her former teammates' lack of support after she told them about her alleged ordeal, they added.
Her former coach was issued a stern warning by the police last month. The New Paper understands the warning covered three alleged offences - insulting the modesty of a woman, outrage of modesty and use of criminal force.
The coach, a 40-year-old man, could also face action from national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG), which has convened a disciplinary panel to investigate the matter.
Ms Evonne Lek, a counsellor and child therapist, told TNP that negative responses from friends or family can make the victim's trauma much worse as they feel not only betrayed by the alleged offender, but also by people they trust.
Ms Lek said the heightened trauma could be "devastating" as victims start doubting themselves, which can lead to long-term issues with identity.
Ms Anisha Joseph, who heads the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) of the Association of Women for Action and Research, said: "When the abuse is by a trusted authority figure, survivors often face additional barriers to reporting, including being pressured into keeping silent from other authority figures or their peers."
Agreeing with Ms Lek, she added: "Some may even start doubting their own experiences."
Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet and Ms Lek said there could be various reasons for Ms Ong's teammates turning against her.
Dr Balhetchet said: "They could have been driven by fear of how it could also affect them. For example, some may worry that the coach would be taken away from them."
Ms Lek also raised the possibility that Ms Ong's teammates may have been plagued with feelings of confusion or guilt.
"They could have placed the coach on a higher hierarchy and have respect for him. So they are protective of him despite his alleged actions," she added.
Both experts said it was not uncommon for young people to feel misplaced affection, respect or even fear for an authority figure.
Ms Lek said the ostracism Ms Ong faced could negatively impact her future.
She added that all survivors should be supported by their family and social networks, as well as organisations such as SACC, to mitigate the trauma.
Criminal lawyer Gregory Vijayendran said a police warning "strikes a balance between recognising that not every crime needs to be prosecuted and not letting an unprosecuted suspect get away with impunity".
He added that the warning is "an opinion of the relevant authority that the recipient has committed an offence" but has no legal effect.
Another criminal lawyer, Mr Amolat Singh, concurred that the police warning letter does not carry a criminal record and is unlikely to affect the accused.
He said: "But if (something similar) happens again, he can be charged."
Mr Singh said that if Ms Ong wanted to pursue the case, she could ask the Attorney-General's Chambers to reopen the case or take up a civil suit against the coach to seek compensation for any medical costs incurred.
As for SportSG's investigation, its spokesman told TNP that the appropriate disciplinary actions, if any, may range from issuing a warning, suspension, or debarment.