Vanessa Ho’s Speech at Slutwalk Singapore 2012
December 16, 2012, 12:01 am
Filed under: Events, Gender, Singapore

slutwalkMy name is Vanessa and I’m part of the SlutWalk Singapore organizing team. Thank you for being here today, and thank you to those who are here for the second time. Thank you for joining us in this symbolic gathering to show solidarity with survivors and their supporters. Thank you for being here to show Singapore—and the world—that people DO care, that people ARE sick and tired of rape culture, and that people DO want to stand up against impunity and ignorance.

I would like to share a little on what has changed over the past year, and what is different with SlutWalk this year. Well, for starters, the media is no longer interested in us because they turned up last year and were sorely disappointed that they didn’t see scantily clad women. Boo them for not reading our manifesto before turning up. There is also a noticeable lack in the number of people standing behind bushes with their telephoto lenses hoping to take photos of scantily clad women without our explicit and voluntary consent.

We take heart that many new conversations were started, and that a small group of people have started to reject—or at least question—the culture that we live in. The concept of consent is no longer as foreign as before, and that we are braver when it comes to calling out practices of victim blaming and slutshaming. This runs in line with SlutWalk’s aim to introduce new vocabulary for us to be able to think and talk about sexual assault and the excuses that come with it. As we all know—we cannot solve a problem if we cannot name it.

However, in the larger scheme of things, we are definitely weary to adopt a celebratory attitude. I think it is safe to say that most people still believe in the rape myths that we are trying to debunk. We still hear arguments that women SHOULD not stay out late at night, that women SHOULD not be promiscuous-and-save-it-for-marriage, that women SHOULD not go drink and dirty dance in clubs. Cause if they do, they deserve to be raped. And this only just touches the surface of rape culture. Rape culture is not simply a “women’s issue”, it permeates through society and affects all of us—some in more ways than one.

This is why we call it rape culture. We call it rape culture because these practices of victim blaming and slut-shaming are so ingrained in us that we never sought to question them. They have gone invisible for decades because people simply thought that “that’s the way things are”, even though some of us get this nauseating feeling in our guts that something’s not quite right. It is so ingrained in us that victims of sexual assault more often than not blame themselves for what happened to them. We are here to say, it is *never* your fault—the responsibility for the crime lies on the criminal and on rape culture.

We call it rape culture because it is embedded in multiple levels in our society. For one, our sex education teaches students to—and I quote—“Recognize that there are different ways of inviting sexual intimacy, namely through dressing, speech, actions, and choice of dating venues.” In other words, our sex education system teaches that a DRESS means YES, FLIRTING means YES, going to their homes means YES. For two, the National Council for Crime Prevention ran this disgusting campaign that read “DON’T GET RUBBED THE WRONG WAY”, instead of saying “DON’T RAPE”. In addition, our media glamourizes and capitalizes on rape; our laws do not consider rape of a man’s wife as rape; our parents, teachers, friends, social workers, counselors, and many more, tell us to “be careful” without questioning why.

We call it rape culture because consent continues to be constantly undermined in this society. Section 377A of our penal code criminalises sex between two CONSENTING male ADULTS. When the 80 over men were convicted for having sex with an underaged social escort, her CONSENT was deemed irrelevant (it was not even brought up in court). When the high court overturned the rape conviction of Ong Ming Wee, the victim’s NON-CONSENT was deemed inconsequential because she could “call for help” and was not able to remember how many times she said “no”. These are but three instances although they are in no way isolated cases. What I was trying to illustrate was that society’s disrespect for someone’s consent or non-consent is a reflection of how there is this sense of ENTITLEMENT to other people’s bodies: the law is entitled to gay men’s bodies; the law is entitled to the social escort’s body; the rapist is entitled to the victim’s body.

When we talk about consent, we simply want to put across one message: NOBODY IS ENTITLED TO YOUR BODY, MIND and SOUL.

Victim blaming and slut-shaming reifies that sense of entitlement by letting the rapists walk free. Victim blaming and slut-shaming are EXCUSES made to the benefit of the rapist.

But not only that—victim blaming is a form of control. As Theodor Adorno said back in 1947, victim blaming is “one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character”. It is a way to say that I think you are doing something against what I think is right, and as a result, you deserve whatever repercussions that comes along with it. As Heather Jarvis—founder of SlutWalk Toronto puts it: “If when calling somebody a slut or any word like this, you had to, in the same breath explain what it can mean—that you aren’t worthy or deserving of equal rights and protections; you deserve to be harassed for years, have your life go off-course, and you should probably be raped and I don’t have to care because I don’t like what you did. If you had to say that, would you still say it? Would you let others say it?”

It is a form of control because it is a way to police people into behaving a certain way. And if you fall out of those arbitrary rules and regulations, you deserve to be punished. For women, our sexuality is constantly under surveillance. Our worth is measured by our “purity”, by the sanctity of that piece of membrane that came to be invested with the meaning of virginity. Our worth is measured by how we do not embrace sex and sexuality. These forms of policing become even more nuanced when we talk about lesbian women. Lesbian women are deviant because they stray from the compulsory heterosexuality in society. Let’s not forget the bisexual and pansexual women: how dare they sleep with people regardless of their gender! And again, these forms of policing get even more visible when we talk about transgender women. The violence against straight women, lesbians, bisexual and transgender women is real. It is hard enough for a straight woman to report rape without having to face victim-blaming mindsets; what more for women with different sexual orientations and gender identities? They are not even protected by the law!

Speaking of the types of rape that are not covered by the law, we are cognizant that the rape of men is not considered rape in Singapore (unless he is a minor). Neither is it something that we as a society talks about. There’s this assumption and expectation that “men are supposed to be strong” that they should be able to fight off women! But rape is never about strength. That said, in the first place, why would men want to decline sex, they think about it every [insert arbitrary number] seconds! In this society, we assume that an erection constitutes consent as much as we assume a short skirt consents for us.

Let’s not forget about gay men—if they are raped, there is absolutely no form of legal recourse and there is that additional threat of being charged under 377A. Besides, nobody cares about that because gay men are deemed indecent and immoral in this society—they were probably asking for it, or in any case, they deserve it for not being straight.

Victim blaming is not just based on your gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. 1 in 10 foreign domestic workers in Singapore have been sexually assaulted. Yet the mentality that they lie about rape runs deep. We have heard of cases where police officers believe that the worker is merely trying to get a free ticket out of their employment contract after they had a good time here. People living with disabilities are thought to not be able to consent for themselves because they are seen as “lower beings” in need of sympathy and compassion instead of empathy and solidarity. Your marital status with the perpetrator will nullify your claim of rape. Two weeks ago was World AIDS Day—yet the myth that promiscuity increases your chances of getting infected ran throughout the campaigns. In other words, your HIV status is probably your own fault.

Victim blaming is discrimination. Let’s be clear about that. It is prejudice against a group of people who behave in a way that one deems wrong. Or in the case of marital rape, it is prejudice against a group of people who are EXPECTED to do something they do not want to. It is prejudice because it justifies the violence against them.

These are forms of control, forms of discrimination, forms of ignorance and its manifestation. Rape is not just about power—as in the case of rape as a weapon of war, it is also about society’s expectations, assumptions, misconceptions, biasness and discrimination. Our tagline has always been “moving against intolerance and toward education.” We would like to propose new (duh) ways of thinking that will put an end to impunity and disrespect.

If there is one thing I would like to emphasize in this speech, it is that Hong Lim Park is not a safe space. One can only guess how many victims are not here today—either because they don’t want to or because they feel the judging eyes of society. We—all of us here—privileged with the ability to stand out here in this crowd, have a role to play. And that role is to educate ourselves on rape myths, on consent, on boundaries, on the cycle of abuse. Only through our understanding that we can make society a safe space for survivors to stand up and say hey look—that person raped me. It is when we are ready, that survivors can be ready. It is to create these various networks of safe spaces; it is to create a new norm.

Thank you to all of you who have decided to come out despite the rain. Thank you to those who do not identify with the word “slut”, who find it offensive and hurtful, but yet believe that we need to rethink these value systems behind the word.

Thank you also to our sponsors who have lessened our monetary burden. Thank you to BackatMonks, Drinkdings, Eros Coaching, Lush Events and Marketing, Home Club, CMX International, Van Lee Fitness and our friend Tania De Rozario. Thank you to AWARE, the Independent Archive and Resource Centre and to HOME for kindly allowing us to use their spaces for free to conduct workshops. Thank you.


Statement delivered by members and friends of Singapore Unity Project in commemoration of Human Rights Day
Civil Society Human Rights Day Statement: Making Our Voices Count
This Human Rights Day, the theme is inclusion and the right to participate in public life. This includes the right to associate freely among equals to pursue collective ideals and goals, to assert influence on public opinion and public policy, and to harness the synergistic potential of different groups and individuals. This right is important as materialism predisposes human beings to selfish pursuits, and some goals can only be achieved collectively. The right of association and public assembly is crucial for marginalized and minority groups to remind complacent and powerful groups that their interests matter too. When people come together voluntarily, the results of their efforts often are greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Indeed, we can take inspiration from United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon who, in his visit to Singapore in March this year said, “these are times of promise…more people are getting involved and changing the world”. We can take heart that in order to build a safer and more secure world, we must stand strong on fundamental principles, particularly of democracy and human rights. But we cannot do this alone, and we cannot expect to achieve these goals by relying on institutions that have caused disappointment and failures of leadership in advocating, protecting, and ensuring the rights of people in Singapore, both citizens and non-citizens. Therefore in addition to national governments, civil society must increasingly be involved to the fullest extent of their abilities. This is crucial as we need to include the participation of groups such as women, young people, ethnic and social minorities, persons with disabilities, and groups and individuals with alternative views.

Therefore, in this spirit, we recall and acknowledge some of the contributions of our fellow human beings in the collective struggle for the realization of our human rights in 2012.

Heritage and development
We cannot deny the audacity of a small but growing and determined network of people from different walks of life galvanising to save Bukit Brown, a precious national heritage and nature area – a fact sadly unrecognised and unappreciated by our government. Groups and individuals, not having known one another before, gathered together and spontaneously organized themselves to gather signatures, ask for dialogue with government officials, and to learn and educate themselves more about the rich history of Bukit Brown. Unfortunately the government has only given a token acknowledgement of civil society’s efforts, responding by making plans to go ahead with construction of a transport corridor with little change.

  • We call on the government to recognise, respect and fulfill the social and cultural rights of all Singaporeans and to review its developmental mindset that over-values economic growth to the detriment of our society’s identity and disappearing heritage.

Amplifying the marginalized voice
The rights of streetwalkers in Singapore need to be addressed. Streetwalkers face stigma and discrimination, as our society deems sex workers the scourge of the world. This mentality somehow justifies the human rights abuses against them. As a result, the voices of sex workers remain unheard. Petitions to the state to engage on this issue have been met with unsatisfactory responses.

Victims of sexual assault are often invisible in this society. There is a fear to report cases of rape due to a society that is trapped in a paradigm of victim blaming instead of convicting the rapist. More work needs to be done in order to educate Singaporeans on the concept of affirmative consent and to dispel the myth surrounding rape. There is also a need to address the structural barriers such as in regard to the process of rape trials.

  • We call for the government to recognise the need to engage in constructive dialogue and in particular, to work with civil society to embark on a rigorous sensitization programme for police officers, as well as to review the current approach on sex education in Singapore;
  • We call for the redefinition of rape in the law so as to include female rapists and same-sex rape.
Persons with disabilities
We welcome the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 30 November. This demonstrates the commitment by the government to better respect the rights of persons with disabilities. However we note that the Convention has yet to be ratified and we urge the government to not approach the ratification based on a welfare providence angle. Furthermore, the government should also acknowledge the civil-political and economic-social-cultural rights dimensions of the Convention. In the lead up to the treaty’s ratification, we encourage the government to engage persons with disabilities directly as part of their obligations to consult civil society.
  • We urge the government of Singapore that no reservations should be placed on any of the CRPD articles;
  • Give due regard to articles 10 and 15 of the CRPD, which recognises that no persons with disabilities – including persons with mental or intellectual disabilities – should be subjected to the death penalty.

Death penalty
We appreciate the Singapore government’s initiative to review the mandatory death penalty. The recent changes should be seen as an ongoing process on the path towards abolishment of the death penalty in its entirety and on the need to find alternative forms of humane punishments. It is our view that the death penalty is a “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” punishment.

  • We urge the government to continue the current stay on executions and establish an official moratorium to allow time and space for society to explore alternative sentencing options and to work ultimately towards the abolishment of the death penalty.

Persons of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities (SOGI)
LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] persons continued to face institutionalize discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We cannot ignore the cascading effects of laws like 377A that criminalize sex between consensual men that continues to be used to justify discrimination and hate crimes. The Media Development Authority continue to classify LGBT persons together with paedophilia and other classifications to demonise LGBT persons. Neutral or positive portrayals are disallowed.

  • We call on the state to remember that we too are Singaporeans and are in dire need of protection against discriminatory state laws and actions by non-state actors.
  • We remind the government that all citizens are equal in front of the Constitution.

All workers – Singapore citizens, Residents and Migrant workers
Singapore citizens, residents and migrant workers contribute to economic progress but do not enjoy the full respect and protections of the internationally recognized International Labour Organization (ILO) Core Labour Standards (CLS) including their right to freedom of expression, associations and assembly, living wages, decent jobs and living conditions.

Migrant workers continue to endure poor work conditions with no bargaining power. Their treatment exposes the dark underbelly of Singapore’s success story. The frustrations of these itinerant workers have been boiling for some time and have recently bubbled over when 171 public transport workers refused to go to work for a day. Issues of sub-standard living conditions and inadequate pay that were the central focus of their work stoppage are merely symptoms of more serious issues within our state-dominated and corporatised public sector enterprises.

  • We call on the government to recognize that all workers must be free to express their friendship, provide support, care and share their solidarity with one another especially for workers whose dignity is being denied, abused, and exploited;
  • We urge the government to respect, promote and realize the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

Detention without trial: Internal Security Act (ISA) and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act
The use of these unjust laws over more than half a century has caused untold misery to thousands of prisoners, their families and their friends. It has deprived Singapore of good leaders who would have contributed greatly to the well-being of the country and the region. Singapore as a first world nation must respect the rule of law and no one should be deprived of his or her freedom without a just and fair trial.

  • We call upon the Singapore government to repeal both the ISA and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act which, like the ISA, permits imprisonment without trial and has been in force since 1955.

ASEAN Human Rights Declaration
Although the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (or AHRD) has been formally adopted by the governments of the region, there are too many flaws in its formulation, wording, and intentions. The lack of transparency and consultation with regional, national, and local human rights groups is a serious challenge to the legitimacy of the AHRD.

  • We are in solidarity with the ASEAN Civil Societies to continue engagement with the ASEAN governments to ensure the harmonization of the national laws in line with internationally recognized human rights standards provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Let’s work together in solidarity to overcome discrimination!


Statement delivered by members and friends of the Singapore Unity Project on 9 December 2012 at Speakers’ Corner, Singapore.

Note: The Post-event addition on Detention without trial: Internal Security Act (ISA) and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.