Home News Police threatened to jail 18-year-old student who harmed herself

Police threatened to jail 18-year-old student who harmed herself

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The following story was shared by AWARE, a gender-equality advocacy group, in their campaign for the repeal of Section 309.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), Section 309 is seizable (police must arrest suspects) and triggers mandatory reporting (third parties must report attempts or intentions to the police). Even if Section 309 is not immediately repealed, the CPC should be amended so that it is non-seizable and does not trigger mandatory reporting.

AWARE believes that when someone attempts suicide, it shows that they are not getting the help they need, and that society needs to provide help, not the threat of punishment.


Z, an 18-year-old student, has struggled with depression for years. Early in 2015, Z went to the school toilet to cut herself. The cut was severe and she went to a counsellor, who called an ambulance and notified her parents. Z stayed at A&E for a few hours. Two police officers came.

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When she told them that she had depression and had self-harmed “too much this time”, they exchanged looks. She asked if she had said something wrong. The officers said, “You cannot tell us this – what you’re doing is illegal.” They said that attempting and considering suicide are illegal.

When Z heard this, she cried harder, afraid of being imprisoned. The police officers told her to stop crying, or they would have to bring her to jail. They said, “We think you are a nice girl, so we’ll let you off.” They wrote a statement saying Z was there for a severe headache, and that she had never had thoughts of suicide or self-harm. They had her sign the statement and then left.

Z found this traumatising. It led her to distrust the police. She is troubled that law enforcement is based on whether someone “looks nice”, and that there is a signed record of her saying something untrue. “Why did I have to do that?” Asked how her case should have been handled, Z said that A&E should have checked her or hospitalised her. Instead they gave her a “pat on the back”, charged her $100 and “[told her] to go home”. They did not ask about the wound or check if it was infected.

Prior to this, Z had sought mental health support for some time. She found her secondary school teachers “completely uninformed” on mental health, barring her from a school trip due to her condition and treating her opinions as invalid. She could not access a trained counsellor, partly because her teachers assumed, incorrectly, that she could only get help from a woman (the school counsellor was male).

One teacher told Z that, in his view, Z “didn’t want to recover”, because she smiled as she talked about her condition, when in fact she did this to make him comfortable. Uninformed remarks such as these made her feel unsupported, worsening her condition. Z’s parents are unsupportive of her desire for help. Her mother has pressured her to stop taking medication, even though it has helped to stabilise her condition.

In general, Z found it very hard to get help – she made three requests for hospitalisation that were denied. She felt that more resources were offered when she pretended to be unenthusiastic about getting help.

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