Singapore’s Pallid Hong Kong Solidarity, by Kirsten Han
For more details of the event, please click here.
See you there!
Dear Mr Plainclothes Police,
I must confess that I was stalking you and I sincerely apologise for perhaps… frightening you with my aggressiveness. Oh wait, let me explain.
You see I have a soft spot for a cute guy like you, especially when you are employed under the police force partially funded by the tax I am obligated to pay. This is what made me stalk you throughout the event. Being so shy the way I am, I did not know how to broach the topic… I really wanted to ask you out for tea. Unfortunately you were intimidated and ran away from me. Well, at first you dodged and tried to move into the crowd but I had my stalker-eyes affixed on you. It was not entirely difficult you see… you aren’t very much taller than I am. Perhaps that was why I became so obsessed with you in the first place.
Really, this is embarrassing but yes, I was stalking you. I wished to tell you many things… I wished to thank you for your presence because it made me feel safer as a participant of the event (Singaporeans in Solidarity with Malaysians). Erm… I also wished to apologise to you that because of this event, you probably missed having dinner with your mother. It was Mother’s Day afterall, honey.
Well anyway all of that was before you put your camera in my face and took a picture of me with the powerful flashlight on. What an anti-climax. I wish you had been more polite. By the way, I hope that you’ve taken a good photo of me because I am really not a very photogenic person.
Hmm… I hope you’ve enjoyed the event and hope to see you soon at the next event. Maybe the time round you will be friendlier and we can talk about catching up over a glass of Milo-Dinosaur?😉
Oh before I forget… do thank the whole team who was there with you too – all 15 to 20 of them – thank you for being there to maintain peace. We really appreciate your presence and hope that perhaps the next time, you can mobilise 50 more officers to keep us company and to make up the numbers. Thank you for coming in solidarity with the Malaysians. I love you, all of you, my dear plainclothes police woman (there was one) and men.
With so much gratitude and love,
Rachel the activist-police stalker
My 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.
Filed under: Bukit Brown, Events, Gender, Internal Security Act, Singapore, Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Ever since I’ve known him, Ravi has always been a person filled with so much passion and love for life and all of us around him. Indeed he is not perfect, the way no human being in the world is, but he is one who puts his heart and soul in all that he does.
I met up with Ravi earlier tonight, and although he was really cheerful in the company of friends, I could see that he was very much affected by what Law Society, or rather, legal representative of Law Society Mr Wong Siew Hong tried to do to him recently (ref: here and here). Despite the jokes, laughter and smiles however, Ravi’s deepest emotions were very apparent to me. He is not one who often cries in public but as a friend and fellow campaigner, I understand how hurt and depressed Ravi feels deep down. I salute him for braving all of these with dignity and appreciate the way he tries to assure us that things are alright so as to ease our worries.
On his behalf, I would like to appeal to lawyers, fellow Singaporeans, friends and fellow members of civil society to come down to Speakers’ Corner this coming Sunday (22 July) for the event Merdeka Day happening from 4 to 8pm, to join him in sending out the following messages:
1. For members of the legal profession: Come together to voice out against the Law Society’s and Mr Wong’s actions;
2. For Singaporeans: To stand in solidarity as one, to appeal to the IMF not to accept the loan by the Singapore government, which was granted without prior consultation with President Tony Tan;
3. For friends from civil society: Let’s join our hands in solidarity with Ravi, giving him the support that he currently needs;
4: For everyone: Come party together and enjoy Ravi’s classical dance performance.
Apart from that, Ravi will also address the crowd to express his opinions on what has happened. Come and hear what he has to say, come together to show him your encouragement, support and solidarity.
See you on Sunday!
Three years ago, I was involved in organising an event commemorating the 22nd anniversary of Operation Spectrum with fellow activists which took place at Speakers’ Corner. Although it was a weekday evening, we had a good crowd of about a hundred. We put out a statement against detention without trial and the Internal Security Act, read a letter from Francis Seow, read a poem from the book That We May Dream Again, sang It’s Blowing in the Wind and we threw our fists into the air shouting “Abolish ISA!”. At that point of time, what happened in 1987 was not well known to many of our peers. Singaporeans in general, did not seem interested at all to find out what the Internal Security Act was all about too. I remember having to explain to some of my friends what the ISA was all about and what the former detainees had gone through but all they could ask were “Are you sure?” I thought that was pretty sad.
Fast forward to this year, more people have shown interest in finding out what happened in 1987 which motivated them to attend the event That We May Dream Again jointly organised by Function 8 and Muruah on Saturday at Speakers’ Corner. It was heartening to see the crowd of about 400 (perhaps a little more than that) filled with both familiar and non-familiar faces. Without a doubt, plainclothes police were among the crowd (they should work on improving their acting skills), but nothing they did (including taking closed up shots of me, which was plain rude) could intimidate us. I should have smiled for that camera though but I glared at the photographer, whose camera was merely a few centimetres away from my face. When that happened, I was inside the mock-up of the tiny one-bed cell, taking care of the exhibits, imagining how it must have been like for the detainees to be locked up in one (the actual size is equated to the size of a queen size bed). I wasn’t the only one to notice their presence, their DSLR, camera phones and ear piece, but I do hope that they went back learning something that our history textbooks have failed to inform us about.
Sadness engulfed me when I first stepped into the mock-up of the one-bed cell, so much so that tears were springing into my eyes. Beside me, Suan Tze, one of the former detainees was telling me that the actual cell had a smaller window and ventilation holes on the ceiling. It was too much for me, I had to step out. One thought came to my mind – “They were treated worse than animals in captive”. That was depressing.
For the rest of the day, I went in and out of the room, just to make sure that the exhibits were in place. Everytime I went in, questions began to fill my mind… I began to have a greater respect for the former detainees who I already have a high amount of respect for. It must have taken a lot of courage and strength for them to be able to survive the ordeal and to come public about what had happened. I am glad that they are not keeping their silence because the public should know about what they had gone through under ISA – the arrest, torture and ill-treatment, and being forced to confess to something they did not plan to commit.
Detention without trial is an act that goes against the very principle of law. Its continued existence and practise insults the existence of a legal system that generally proclaims that one is innocent unless proven guilty (perhaps debateable in local context?). How can any country accuse any individual of committing a crime without giving them a right to trial?
Singapore did… in the 50s, 60s and 80s… til now. The injustice caused by detention without trial disgusts me. Shouldn’t it be abolished already?
In my opinion, no one should be detained without trial and no one should expect the former detainees to “move on” and forget about what had happened to them. Being arrested in the wee hours of the day, put into tiny cells, ill-treated and tortured into confession without being given a fair trial, is not something one can move on from.
It is time for a commission of inquiry (a truly independent one), it is time to abolish the ISA. It is also time to let the exiles come home in safety.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank the former detainees for coming public with their stories. It has been an honour being part of the event!