On Assignment

Empathy and Trust: How Police Officers Support Victims of Sexual Crime (Part 1)

An Investigation Officer shares how SPF’s victim-centric approach supports victims of sexual crime and allows for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
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PHOTOS: Alvin Loh and Joash Tan

According to Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Joyce Lau, seeing that justice is served for victims motivated her to join the Serious Sexual Crime Branch (SSCB) as an Investigation Officer (IO) in 2020. 

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ASP Joyce Lau and her fellow SSCB officers are trained to support victims and conduct investigations into sexual crime. PHOTO: Joash Tan

SSCB is a unit within the Singapore Police Force's (SPF) Criminal Investigation Department that investigates serious sexual offences like rape and assault by penetration, and SSCB IOs like ASP Joyce are specially trained to engage with victims of such offences.

“Such interactions are often a delicate balancing act that involves ensuring the victim’s emotional and psychological well-being while ascertaining the facts of the case,” she explained. 

Putting Victims First
Once a case of sexual crime has been reported, officers will seek to ensure the victim’s well-being. “That’s one of the first things we note – the victim’s sense of safety and state of mind,” explained ASP Joyce. “It’s important to allow the victim time and space to collect her emotions and thoughts.” 

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A training session for Victim Care Officers. PHOTO: Chloe Low

The victim may also be assigned a Victim Care Officer who can provide emotional and practical support throughout the criminal justice process. Victim Care Officers are community volunteers with the Victim Care Cadre Programme. They possess qualifications in Psychology, Social Work and Counselling and receive training by Police Psychologists on how to support victims of crime. 

A Safe Place
The physical environment also plays an important role in reducing stress on victims. Launched in 2017 at Police Cantonment Complex, SPF’s One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSAFE) Centre allows for interviews and forensic examinations to be conducted within a single location, with special facilities that offer privacy and convenience to victims.
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The OneSAFE Centre at Police Cantonment Complex. PHOTO: Alvin Loh

Once a victim is assessed to be ready for the interview, the IO will explain the types of questions that will be asked of her, some of which may appear to be intrusive, but are necessary for the fact-finding process. The victim can also ask for clarifications from the officer at any time. 

“The questions don’t imply any responsibility to the victim for the sexual crimes committed against them,” explained ASP Joyce. “But the questions are necessary to ensure that our investigations are conducted objectively and can withstand the scrutiny of court proceedings.”

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PHOTOS: Alvin Loh

The OneSAFE Centre also has facilities for forensic medical examinations. These are conducted by medical professionals from the Singapore General Hospital, National University Hospital and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). 

If a case involves a young victim (for example, in intra-familial cases), officers can also activate the One-Stop Centre Multi-Disciplinary Interview process. A collaboration between SPF, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and KKH, Multi-Disciplinary Interviews are conducted at KKH and involve interviews and forensic medical examinations.

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A victim care room at the OneSAFE Centre offers personal necessities and can also serve as a temporary shelter. PHOTOS: Alvin Loh

According to ASP Joyce, SPF will further assist victims by coordinating interviews with medical professionals and MSF’s Child Protective Service officers. This helps to minimise the number of instances when victims need to recount events.

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Besides interview and medical examination rooms, the OneSAFE Centre also has special facilities to help young victims. PHOTOS: Alvin Loh

SPF will also work with the Child Protective Service to ensure that such victims are kept safe from the perpetrator. This may include housing victims in temporary homes or foster care. 

Specialised Training

Due to the specific requirements of investigating cases of sexual crime, IOs at SSCB need to have empathy and a high level of emotional intelligence. They also undergo specialised courses to help them sharpen their professional skills.

As ASP Joyce noted, such rigorous training helps to inculcate a victim-centric approach based on showing empathy and building trust. “We want to ensure that the victim is comfortable physically, mentally and emotionally, so that she can feel safe to share her experience, however traumatic, with us,” she explained. “Such processes go a long way towards supporting the investigation process itself.”

Part 2: Read about the specialised training that Police officers undergo to support victims of sexual crime.

Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar
As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) held a Sexual Assault Awareness Seminar on 12 April 2022 to raise awareness on the dynamics and impact of sexual assault on victims and enhance partnership and collaborations amongst the stakeholders in the ecosystem. The Seminar featured presentations on the subject of supporting victims by SPF, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital

At the Seminar, Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, also announced that SPF will be conducting a Sexual Crime Review that will focus on four areas: Police’s operational and investigative processes including the formation of a new Sexual Crime and Family Violence Command; training for Police officers; community partnerships to strengthen support for victims; and public awareness of sexual crime investigation and court processes. Read the speech by Mr K Shanmugam

Written by

Lynn Ng


12 April 2022

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