Published: 17 February 2020
Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Social and Family Development,
Mr Michael Gray, President of PAVE,
1. Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here today to launch A Day with Bob.
2. I’m sure all of you have a copy of the book with you. Just go ahead and flip through it. I’ve looked at it before, it’s very interesting, it’s got stickers. It’s very meaningful, entertaining, and hopefully helpful, for our students.
3. So A Day with Bob is an educational pictorial book about Bob. Now who is Bob? He is a young boy who sees his father beat up his mother regularly. Bob confronts very difficult and very real questions. Should he report or stay silent? Is this a private matter? Will his actions cause his family to break up? What should he do? These are very difficult matters for a young boy. So we have a pictorial book. We hope it’ll be helpful to him.
4. The book carries a very important and powerful message to children who may be victims: that they need not be ashamed; that they should seek help; and that they should never suffer in silence. Just as important – it also tells children that they should help look out for friends who may be suffering from family violence, and how they can seek help. Family violence is a very sensitive topic, and this book seeks to help introduce the concept to children in an accessible way.
5. PAVE and Police, led by Ang Mo Kio Police Division, have worked together over several months to produce this. They will be working with MOE to distribute 25,000 copies of the book to primary schools in the North Zone, and they will explore expanding the book distribution to all primary schools in Singapore.
6. This book may be a small initiative, but it demonstrates what the Government and social service agencies can achieve when they work closely together. At this point, I would like to acknowledge the good work PAVE has done over the years to combat family violence. It has worked closely and effectively with Government agencies, not only on individual cases but in providing feedback on policy or legislative gaps.
7. I will now like to talk about our current efforts to address family violence.
8. Family violence destroys lives. Every year, there are about 2,000 reports made to the Police for offences such as hurt, criminal force and assault that involved family members, and over 2,400 applications for Personal Protection Orders to the Family Justice Courts. And these are just the reported cases from those who have had the courage to step forward.
9. Research shows that there is a vicious inter-generational cycle of family violence: children who witness their fathers beating up their mothers are ten times more likely to abuse their future spouses. It is therefore crucial that we take steps to break this cycle. Each case is one too many. No one should fear going home.
10. The Government has been working hand-in-hand with the community to combat this scourge. We have taken a three-pronged approach:
a) First, giving victims legal recourse and social support services. We regularly review our laws to ensure sufficient deterrence against perpetrators and protection for victims. The Women’s Charter and the Protection from Harassment Act, for instance, provide for Personal Protection Orders and Expedited Orders to stop perpetrators from abusing their victims. We recently revised the Penal Code and the Children and Young Persons Act to increase penalties for offences committed against vulnerable victims for better deterrence. There is also an entire ecosystem of social support services – from Family Service Centres and Family Violence Specialist Centres, to crisis shelters. Police, hospitals and clinics work closely with MSF and social service agencies to render help to victims.
b) Second, raising public awareness. Everyone has a role to play in helping to detect, intervene, and report possible family violence incidents. Over the last three years, MSF has been carrying out a campaign, Break the Silence against Family Violence. This is to encourage bystanders to step up to stop family violence. The campaign included TV commercials as well as social media and community engagements and training. MSF is also collaborating with MOE to equip older teens with the ability to intervene when they encounter violence. The pictorial book that we see in front of us today will contribute to our broader efforts to raise public awareness.
c) Lastly, fostering greater collaboration and coordination among Government agencies and community partners to help victims. We recognise that family violence is not simply a criminal justice issue, but a problem that requires everyone to step forward. Hence, we set up the National Family Violence Networking System to bring together many Government agencies and community partners for better coordination of family violence cases. Victims can go to any party – and they will be referred to the appropriate agencies to get the help they need.
11. These initiatives have borne some fruit, and we have seen a slight drop in the number of PPO applications over the last few years.
12. But from the cases we have seen and the ground feedback received, we absolutely can do more. For instance, family violence cases appear to be increasingly more violent in nature. From 2016 to 2019, victims have reported more acts of violence committed against them in their PPO applications. We also see egregious cases from time to time – including acts of violence committed in public. There was a case in August 2018 where a man severely assaulted his wife at Pending LRT station, in front of their crying children. He pushed her to the wall and punched her repeatedly in the face. When she fell to the ground and fainted, he continued to kick her face and stomp on her head, until her face started to swell and bleed. How terrible. I was absolutely horrified when I read about it. The two young children, who were six and seven years old, were crying and shouting for their father to stop. The assault only ended when passers-by intervened and helped the woman. The man has since pleaded guilty to causing grievous hurt, and of breaching a PPO.
New Inter-Agency Task Force
13. It is clear that we will need to do more together – be it lowering barriers to seeking help, or further strengthening coordination, both within Government and with our community partners, to ensure that our collective efforts are more effective.
14. To do this, MHA and MSF will set up a new inter-agency task force to tackle family violence. This task force will be co-chaired by myself and MSF’s Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal. There is already strong coordination at the operational level between the Government, the courts, and social service agencies under the National Family Violence Networking System. The new task force will identify areas where we can do better, strengthen existing initiatives that work, and come up with fresh ideas.
15. I would now like to share some new ideas that this new task force will be exploring in the coming months.
Expansion of Home Team CARES
16. First, the task force will look into providing better support for victims when they report family violence cases. One touchpoint where support can be better rendered is when victims go to the Police. Today, when victims go to a Police station, Police officers attend to them and refer them to a social service agency where necessary. Although Police officers are trained to handle victims sensitively and do their best to help, they are not social workers and cannot provide immediate social service support.
17. We will thus explore the feasibility of extending the Home Team Community Assistance and Referral Scheme (or Home Team CARES) to family violence victims. Home Team CARES was piloted in January 2019 whereby social workers are situated at Bedok Police Division, to provide first-response triaging and referral of offenders in need of social support to social service agencies. The intent was to address underlying social issues that led to crime. The pilot has been successful, and Police are looking to extend this to all Divisions. We think that there is potential for family violence victims to benefit from having similar access to social assistance. This means that in future, when Police investigate a family violence case, Home Team CARES officers will also support the victims in such cases, and triage and refer them to appropriate agencies for help. We hope to be able to do this, and roll it out to all Divisions, by the end of this year.
Dedicated national anti-violence hotline
18. Next, MSF is working with partner agencies to explore setting up a one-stop, dedicated national hotline against abuse and violence. Victims, members of the public, and professionals will be able to call this line for all kinds of abuse and violence, making it easier and simpler for victims to seek and receive help. The task force will provide guidance on the design of this helpline.
Collaboration with the people and private sector
19. Third, the task force will look into ways in which the Government can strengthen our partnership and work with NGOs and the private sector. Preliminarily, we think there are two potential areas worth exploring.
20. The first area is in public education. There are still parts of society that we can do more to reach out to, such as private sector companies. NGOs, such as United Women Singapore, can potentially be our partners in encouraging employers to better identify and support employees who may be experiencing family violence.
21. The second area is in family violence research. The task force will look into potential studies that we can conduct together with United Women Singapore and other NGO partners to, for example, better understand the different archetypes of family violence victims.With better research and understanding of the issue, our interventions can be more targeted, and more effective.
Closer coordination within the Government to raise awareness of family violence
22. The task force will also aim to tighten coordination within Government so that each agency can better complement and support one another’s work. Our aim is to create a multiplier effect – that will better harness capabilities across Government. For instance, MHA and MSF can work together to extend the reach of public awareness efforts - for example, small steps like sharing MSF’s content on MHA’s social media platforms are a useful start.
23. In conclusion, combating family violence is a long term effort, with no quick and easy fixes. This is why the task force will look far and wide for new ideas and new partnerships that can improve how we respond as a society. Family violence cannot be condoned, even if it happens in private and some may feel is a family matter. Our goal is to work towards a Singapore where everyone has a safe and loving home to go home to. Together, we can break the silence, and stop the violence.