NUS admits it failed Monica Baey; will set up victim support unit and improve campus security

National University of Singapore students queueing for a campus townhall on April 25, 2019
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) on Thursday (April 25) acknowledged that it had failed undergraduate Monica Baey, who was filmed by a male student while she was showering in a resident hall.

Giving a strong assurance that the university will adopt a tougher stand against sexual misconduct, its management also said that immediate action will be taken to set up a victim support unit and to improve campus security.

At a packed campus townhall on Thursday evening, attended by more than 600 students who had to spill into a second auditorium, questions were asked about the university's "two-strikes and you're out" policy, which has come under criticism since it came to light.

Ms Baey, 23, who had flown back from Taiwan where she'd been on an exchange programme, was the first to speak.

She described the lack of support she got from the university following what happened, and the lack of communication through the disciplinary process.

She said that the university left her to deal with the police. Follow-ups with university staff were done over the phone, instead of face to face, and even then, she was provided with "incomplete information".

"My first statement was taken by a male officer, which I understand is the case in night-time cases. I can't imagine how victims of more serious sexual assault would feel," she added, as the crowd applauded.

Apologising for the inadequacies, NUS vice-provost (student life) Florence Ling said that victims like Ms Baey should not have been "made to walk alone and (be) wondering what is happening".

"When you went through the difficulties you faced, from a lack of victim support right up to the sanctions, I can feel that we have failed you. I really, sincerely, say I am sorry," she said. The university had earlier in the week said it will set up a committee to review its disciplinary and support frameworks.

Last week, Ms Baey, an NUS communications and new media student, took to Instagram to publicise how she been filmed in the shower at Eusoff Hall last November by a male student.

A police report was made and the police gave the man a 12-month conditional warning.

NUS also made him write her an apology letter, undergo mandatory counselling, banned him from entering Eusoff Hall and suspended him for a semester. Ms Baey said the sanctions were a slap on the wrist.

Her posts started a national debate on whether NUS should get tougher over sexual misconduct cases.

At Thursday's townhall, Ms Baey urged NUS to set up a separate office to deal with sexual assault, which should provide emotional and administrative support, along with a 24/7 hotline.

She also said that NUS should consider suspensions for up to two years, and that offences be recorded in a student's record. She also suggested "no-contact conditions" between victims and perpetrators.

The townhall was called to address concerns students and staff had in the wake of the incident, and was led by Prof Ling, Associate Professor Peter Pang, who is dean of students, and Ms Celestine Chua from the University Counselling Services.

They said that a victim support unit would be set up quickly.

During the townhall, students questioned the university's "two-strikes and you're out" policy, which has come under criticism since it came to light, and also raised issues like a lack of security in the halls.

There was also a call for the university to be more transparent and open about sexual misconduct cases, so they can serve as a deterrent.

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Students applauded several times during the dialogue, especially when undergraduates came forward to share their own experience of sexual assault in campus.

The townhall was open only to students and staff.

One student reportedly said he did not think victims should have a say in sentencing as this would suggest a crime was more serious if a victim was more articulate, and added he hoped the review committee would remain unaffected by public sentiment.

Admitting that NUS can do better, Prof Pang said: "We acknowledge that the university has let you down. We have not met your expectations. We need to create a safer environment for all of us. There have got to be changes, this cannot go on. We have to take a tougher stand."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.