New help centre for women facing online attacks, harassment
When Emily (not her real name) was persuaded by her then boyfriend to allow him to take photos of them having sex in 2019, she relented because she trusted him.
“He told me he would delete those photos, and I believed him,” said Emily who is in her late 20s.
When she discovered that he was married, she threatened to expose his infidelity to his family. A day later, she received an anonymous e-mail with explicit photos of her that he had taken.
“I was living in fear and was quite paranoid then. If someone took a longer glance at me on the streets, I would start to wonder if my photos had been leaked and they had recognised me,” she said, adding that she lodged a police report.
Distressing online experiences like these are becoming increasingly common among young women. Findings from a 2022 poll by the Sunlight Alliance for Action to tackle online harms found that females aged 25 to 34 were most likely to have experienced actions like sexual harassment, stalking and non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
The poll found that 61 per cent of women in Singapore are not aware of where to seek help.
From Jan 19, girls and women who face such online harassment can tap a new support centre in Waterloo Street. Called SheCares@SCWO, it is run by non-profit organisation SG Her Empowerment (SHE) and the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO).
For a start, the centre will have two full-time trained counsellors manning helplines from Monday to Friday between 9am and 9pm, said veteran lawyer and chairman of SHE Stefanie Yuen Thio at an event held at TSMP Law’s office on Wednesday announcing the launch of the centre.
About 50 volunteer lawyers from Pro Bono SG and TSMP Law will also be available to offer guidance at the centre’s legal clinic. It operates on the first, third and fifth Wednesdays of the month from 7pm to 9pm.
The lawyers will be able to give advice on lodging appropriate first information reports, how to notify relevant Internet platforms and assist on getting urgent court relief for victims.
Ms Yuen Thio added that SHE is hoping to forge closer ties with community partners to help victims. “We’re also working very closely to become trusted flaggers with the various Internet platforms so we can hasten the speed of reporting… and hopefully they will be able to remove any offending information very quickly,” she said.
“We’re also hoping in due course to share other survivors’ journeys on the website. I think the idea is to build a community of people that have gone through this and will understand what it’s like, so victims know they’re not alone,” she added.
The police will pilot an initiative where victims of select serious sexual assault cases can be interviewed at the centre’s premises.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a doorstop interview at the event that the pilot can better support victims by reducing the number of times they have to recount their traumatic experience.
“Let’s say you’re a victim and you just had your very private pictures circulated to a wide number of people, or you have been abused – in many ways, you’re psychologically traumatised,” he said.
“Working with SHE, (the police) can send officers from the Serious Sexual Crime Branch to come here so the victim talks about the experience once to someone safe provided by SHE and the police are there too,” added Mr Shanmugam.
Victims can contact the centre on 8001 01 4616 or via e-mail at email@example.com