Often, time has a way of giving you a better perspective of an issue. If you had rushed in on Day 1 or 2 to join the public debate on the NUS peeping tom affair, you would have missed quite a lot and your view would been knee-jerk, premature and unhelpful.
And there was a load of early trash being flung around online. Monica Baey, 23, the communications and new media undergrad victim filmed by a peeping tom during a shower at Eusoff Hall, was said to be seeking revenge since she felt the university authorities were trying to cover up the incident or, worse, protecting an unremorseful white horse gone astray: “Oh, the peeping tom must be related to someone at the top.”
Let’s start with this second rumour.
Doesn’t seem to be the case at all now. I have been watching and reading the write-up on the Straits Times video on Nicholas Lim, 23, the NUS chemical engineering undergrad who was caught filming Baey. The Straits Times interview is the clear answer to all the trashy rumours: Lim is contrite. He accepts all the approbation and his punishment (one-term university suspension and a 12-month conditional warning by the police). He has also resigned from his job after having been suspended by his employer. And the ST story was almost eager to let him tell readers that his father was a taxi-driver and mother, a housewife, and that his 83-year-old grandmother has just passed away. What is unclear was when his parents actually learnt about the incident which took place last November. Lim implied that that they found out after it broke out online following Baey’s disclosure through her Instagram posting, months later.
Before we come to Monica Baey, there is much we can say about the NUS authorities.
It is in the nature of people in ivory towers to believe they should have their own set of laws. The phrase usually used is: We take care of our own.
On surface the two strikes and you are out rule appears a fairly sensible way of dealing with such offences committed in the fraternity. Let not a rash and impulsive act destroy a glittering career, of future contribution from a bright mind – if the offender is genuinely contrite and can be rehabilitated. But, perhaps not, for two reasons. Such a rule is inherently objectionable because it implies a free pass to misbehave the first time. Double standards – for NUS and another for lesser mortals.
Hence, I’m glad Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has taken a strong stand: “I spoke to the NUS President, and then the Board Chairman, to convey my concerns that the penalties NUS applied were manifestly inadequate in the recent sexual misconduct case.
“From here on, for offences that affect the safety of students on campus, we have to take a tough stand, and send a strong signal to everyone. Two strikes and you are out cannot be the standard application. NUS has to make its campus safe for all students, especially female students.”
Unfortunately the NUS authorities’ action and attitude have not quite matched the minister’s public concern so far.
The Straits Times report on the town hall meeting which took place on Thursday between the varsity administrators and students described a lack of seriousness to engage students on the issues directly.
ST: “The university’s representatives…were Prof Florence Ling, vice-principal for student life, Assoc Prof Peter Pang, dean of students, and Celestine Chua from the University Counselling Services.
“Several times during the town hall meeting, they deferred issues raised to the review committee which is yet to be set up. ..‘The answers were woefully inadequate,’ said a final year English undergrad, ‘As the town hall meeting went on, it became more and more apparent that they weren’t listening to our views and taking them seriously.’ ..”
This brings me to my main point. Singaporeans must realise that nothing is ever going to come to them if they keep quiet and expect manna to just fall from heaven. It will not. NUS administrators are too cosy and fossilised in their castle and will resist any attempt to institute change, if they can help it.
If a ministerial admonition cannot move them to act swiftly, what else can?
People like Monica Baey can – and there should be more like her, willing to take a stand and expose officialdom’s hypocrisy and complacency.
I have watched her video. This is a remarkable lady.
She is fairly level-headed, not at all an angry person seeking attention or revenge. As she says, she did what she did – put her story on Instagram – after she spoke to another, American, student in Taiwan where she went for an exchange programme. She was frustrated by NUS’ feet-dragging.
Her damning statement: “I didn’t feel like NUS had meted out the right punishment to keep me and the rest of the student body safe.”
And there is this encouragement from her for other girls similarly violated: “The funny thing about sexual assault (note: though her case is labelled as sexual misconduct) is that you feel ashamed about it, even though you have done nothing wrong. But now I feel free of that burden. I’m not ashamed anymore.”
Absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. Baey is calm in her interview and she speaks rationally and firmly. She has her own mind. She did the right thing. I wish there are more young Singaporeans like her, not prepared to have the state machinery roll over you like you do not matter.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.