Statement on proposed rape penalties
This statement is in response to media reports that Law Minister K Shanmugam is in favour of imposing a default death sentence on those who sexually assault women or abuse children, where this results in the victim’s death.
AWARE welcomes the Minister’s interest in addressing sexual violence and promoting women’s safety, but we disagree with and do not support this proposal.
We work very closely with victims of sexual violence, including through our Sexual Assault Befrienders Service (SABS), the only specialised service in Singapore dedicated to supporting women who have experienced sexual violence.
Based on our experience, the most urgent priority for policies tackling sexual violence is to improve the processes for investigating cases and achieving convictions, not to increase penalties. At the moment, making a report to the police is a stressful, lengthy and uncertain experience and many victims are not sufficiently well-supported throughout. This makes it hard to hold perpetrators to account. The difficulty of convicting rapists has a much more profound impact on women’s safety than the sentences received by the small proportion of offenders who are ultimately convicted.
The idea that rape typically involves a violent ambush by strangers is a myth. The overwhelming majority of rapes are not accompanied by anything resembling fatal violence. SPF rape statistics from 2005 and 2006, as well as our own experience, show that victims and perpetrators often know each other prior to the assault.
We should focus on addressing the stigma that keeps victims from reporting in these typical cases, by making the police and legal processes quicker, more supportive and less intimidating, and battling victim-blaming attitudes in society. This will have a much more beneficial effect than implementing headline-grabbing sentences for a very tiny minority of the most dramatic situations.
We also question whether there is any detailed evidence supporting the idea that the death penalty is an effective deterrent. We would like to see the government move toward restorative justice approaches and more rehabilitative criminal justice, which are strongly supported by criminological research, rather than assuming that more brutal punishments are always more effective at cutting crime. The state should not inflict death without clear and compelling evidence of necessity.
Finally, there is no reason to punish fatal sexual assaults against women more severely than such assaults against men. All sexual violence is an infringement on our human rights to live free from violence, regardless of the genders of the parties involved.
More information about our Sexual Assault Befrienders Service can be found here.