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Singapore not immune to “voyeurism”; effects of being the victim of spycams and digital phones go beyond physical damage, says expert

According to Ms. Anisha Joseph, head of the sexual assault care centre at AWARE, psychological effects can be long-term and can go beyond physical damage which can run the full gamut, from developing a fear of others, depression, and anxiety, to suffering flashbacks, numbness and denial

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Despite Singapore’s conservative stance as a society and the existence of strict guidelines on violence and harassment against women, the country is not exempt from technology-assisted voyeurism.

Singapore nationals, both men and women, are all vulnerable to “peeping Toms” who use cellphone and spy cameras to satisfy their urges and fulfill other motivations deeply hidden in their hearts and psyche.

Ms. Anisha Joseph, head of the sexual assault care centre at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), said there is sometimes a misconception that non-physical abuse such as voyeurism is not as harmful or as traumatic as physical abuse.

She further said that while victims of voyeurism aren’t physically assaulted, it does not mean that emotional and psychological damage does not exist, pointing out that AWARE had seen cases where victims could feel intimidated, ashamed, angry or powerless at the unwanted exposure.

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According to Ms. Joseph, psychological effects can be long-term, can go beyond physical damage which can run the full gamut, from developing a fear of others, depression, and anxiety, to suffering flashbacks, numbness and denial.

For some victims, like a 27-year-old civil servant who was subjected to this, the fear can linger on for years after the incident.

Eight years after she became a voyeur’s victim, she is still wondering if the graphic video taken in a toilet cubicle at the now-defunct Butter Factory nightclub has been deleted for good or is there a possibility of it surfacing later on, even though she has tried to settle the matter by confronting the culprit.

“I just have to have blind faith and hope it’s been erased. It has been many years, and I (still) think about it now and again,” she said. If for some reason, it surfaces again when she is already at the prime of her life, she believes it will surely and  “truly destroy” her.

A magnitude with deeper and broader implication

Experts say that the true extent of the problem of voyeurism is far deeper and broader than the ongoing NUS saga.

Disclosed in a written parliamentary reply in October 2018, approximately 230 voyeurism cases involving hidden cameras were reported to the police in 2017, up from some 150 cases in 2013.

Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said this was partly because more people are willing to step forward to report these cases.

The Criminal Law Reform Bill tabled in February to address growing concerns over the surreptitious recording of people in various states of undress or intimacy is apparently an offence that is not sufficiently covered under existing laws. It aims to criminalise the production, possession and distribution of voyeuristic recordings.

Should the Bill be passed in Parliament, voyeurs could face up to two years in jail, caned, and/or fined for each charge, and be slapped with a higher penalty if the victim is below 14 years of age. Current laws provide for only up to one year in jail, and/or a fine.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam from Hilborne Law LLC, who has handled more than 50 voyeurism cases, said he had come across increasingly more cases involving the use of mobile phones and spy cameras in the past five years. And more teenagers are coming to seek his legal help. /TISG

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