Section 157(d) and the butterfly effect
157. The credit of a witness may be impeached in the following ways by the adverse party or, with the consent of the court, by the party who calls him:
…(d) when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.
The announcement by the Law Minister that they would move to repeal Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act was the result of many small efforts.
It started with Aloysius Chang. He probably doesn’t even know he had anything to do with the repeal. But in February 2010, he wrote an article for the Singapore Law Review’s newsletter Jurris Illuminae which mentioned the problematic section:
It is submitted that this statutory provision seems to adopt a very strange line of reasoning: that a woman’s past sexual history or reputation would deem her to be immoral, and thus there is reason to believe that she somehow consented to the alleged act. This notion of “immorality” seems archaic by modern times, and there is no way of ascertaining any objective standard of what “immoral” means.
In September of that year, Rachel Lim, an AWARE intern, came across Chang’s article while researching rape crisis procedures around the world. Her report became a key reference for AWARE’s initiative to create a sexual assault support service.
After Section 157(d) was brought to our attention, AWARE shared details about the offensive section on our social media platforms. But the matter largely remained dormant until the SlutWalk movement encouraged interest in the prevalence of victim-blaming.
This in turn prompted Lisa Li, a writer for the newly formed Public House website, to write an article highlighting the issues faced by victims of sexual assault in Singapore. She interviewed AWARE executive director Corinna Lim, who encouraged her to look at Section 157(d).
After the article was published, Andrew Loh, the founder and editor of Public House, sent it to relevant ministries, asking them if they would like to publish a reply.
There was no response except for one: The Ministry of Law.
But the Ministry of Law didn’t want to reply. They wanted to meet. Loh declined, saying that Public House was not the expert on this subject. He encouraged the Ministry to talk to AWARE instead, as we were doing the ground work on this issue.
AWARE got the call. Would we be willing to meet with the Law Minister? Yes. AWARE President Nicole Tan and executive director Corinna Lim met Mr K Shanmugam at his office. During the meeting, the Minister was responsive and supportive. He concurred with the view that the law was archaic. He offered to help move toward its repeal.
The outcome of the meeting was officially announced on November 25 at the launch of AWARE’s Sexual Assault Befriender Service.
Each person involved in this chain of events had no idea that their individual efforts would result in the imminent repeal of this law. But they did it anyway. Individual efforts matter. And they can add up to great things.