The NUS Victim Care Unit (VCU) officially opened its doors on 29 August with the aim to provide a central point of contact, as well as confidential and professional care to victims of sexual misconduct in NUS.
Victims are often distressed and at a loss as to what to do when such incidents happen, explained Director of VCU Associate Professor Sandy Lim who is also a faculty member at NUS Business. “We are here to give them a helping hand, so that they have someone to talk to in a safe environment, and to help them along in the recovery process,” she said.
Currently, the team is made up of five staff — care officers who will interact with any students who approach the VCU, as well as administrative and research staff. These care officers were specially chosen for their experience in helping victims from multiple backgrounds, varying ethnicities, identities and orientations. They also have experience as counsellors, and working with the police.
Victims can contact the VCU via a 24-hour hotline, a confidential online contact form or email. They will then be connected to a specially assigned care officer, who will work with them to identify pressing needs and resources. If necessary, the care officer will also liaise with other units or agencies on their behalf, including referring them to counsellors.
Should the student want to report to NUS Campus Security or the police, the care officer will accompany her or him and stay with the student through the interview process. However, reporting of cases will be the decision of the student in question. “We want to encourage students to feel empowered to report the cases. We want to work with the student to make sure he or she is prepared and feel comfortable enough to do so,” said Assoc Prof Lim.
The unit’s core role is to provide support, she emphasised. Hence, cases of students who approach the VCU are not bound by location or time. “As long as they are students of NUS, they can come to us for support, regardless of who the perpetrators are or where the incidents happened,” she elaborated. This would include situations that occurred off-campus, in a different country or in the past.
Case officers will continue to follow up with their charges for as long as needed. Should they need support after they graduate, the VCU will help to identify resources outside the University.
The VCU is a first of its kind in Singapore universities and to set it up, Assoc Prof Lim consulted various organisations to learn about their processes and infrastructure. These entities included AWARE Singapore, as well as several overseas universities with similar units. “We are just starting out so we hope to grow and learn to meet the needs of NUS,” she said.
Assoc Prof Lim’s first priority is to build awareness in the student community of the unit. Her team will also be working on a survey of the entire student population to better understand the prevalence of sexual misconduct in NUS, both reported and unreported. “Relying on just statistics from the campus security or the police is usually not very accurate, as these are just the reported cases,” she said. Understanding this baseline will also assist the team in further fine-tuning their processes.
Looking forward, Assoc Prof Lim hopes that in time the VCU team will be able to conduct outreach activities for the NUS community. This could include organising workshops to educate and create awareness, providing some basic skills for first responders, or giving tips to the NUS community on how to offer help to victims.
About Assoc Prof Sandy Lim
One of Assoc Prof Sandy Lim’s core research interests is disrespectful or uncivil behaviours, which includes sexual misconduct. She has an in-depth understanding of the victim experience and journey.
Assoc Prof Lim also conducts research on medical trauma teams and leadership, occupational health, work-family, and gender issues. Her research has been widely cited and her work on sexual harassment was recently highlighted at the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Prior to her academic career, Assoc Prof Lim worked as a field psychologist at the Ministry of Defence, and has experience in providing psychological support to agencies in crises and national emergencies.
She has more than twenty years of experience working with different organisations in the public and corporate sectors, including the Singapore Committee for UN Women (UNIFEM), the International Labor Organization, and regional banks and government agencies.
Assoc Prof Lim shared that she hoped that her knowledge and experience will enable the unit to provide holistic, professional and evidence-based support to any NUS student who approaches the VCU.