The NUS Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct, chaired by NUS Board of Trustees member Mdm Kay Kuok, shared their recommendations for the University’s disciplinary framework on sexual misconduct, the victim support system, and the approach to safety on campus with students, staff and alumni on 10 June. Convened on 30 April by NUS Chairman Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, the other members of Committee include NUS Board members Ambassador-at-large Professor Chan Heng Chee and Mr Ng Wai King, Singapore Management University President Professor Lily Kong, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, as well as representatives from the student body: Ms Murni Marisa Bte Mahat, Tembusu College Graduate Fellow; Mr Richard Wang, Deputy Student Life Secretary of the NUS Students’ Union; and Ms Tay Pei Ling, President of King Edward VII Hall’s Junior Common Room Committee.
“Over the past weeks, the Committee studied global best practices at leading universities and consulted with subject matter experts,” shared Mdm Kuok. They also consulted extensively with the NUS community through 15 in-person engagement sessions with students, staff and alumni, and findings from more than 5,200 completed responses from an online survey of all 39,000 NUS students conducted by an independent research consultancy.
The new framework will see tougher penalties for sexual misconduct, with a minimum sanction of a one-year suspension for serious offences and immediate expulsion for severe cases. All offenders will also have a notation of disciplinary suspension on his or her academic transcript — both interim and final. Furthermore, a no-contact protocol will be put in place to ensure that the victim and offender do not come into contact with each other, for instance, are not in the same classes or non-academic programmes.
Additionally, upon completion of suspension, all offenders will be required to be certified fit-to-return by a counsellor and/or medical professional before he or she can return to campus, with the possibility of extension if the student does not receive this certification. The Committee also recommended that each offender have a case officer assigned to him or her to ensure all sanctions are adhered to, and to provide support during the rehabilitation process.
Other existing sanctions that can be imposed by the Board of Discipline (BOD) include mandatory counselling and rehabilitation, community service, a ban from campus housing or other premises, suspension from academic and non-academic privileges, and a letter of reprimand.
The Committee believes that victims should be given more voice and increased involvement in the disciplinary process, including being kept up-to-date on the disciplinary proceedings, filing a statement of facts before the BOD hearing process, filing an impact statement, as well as be provided with an avenue to request for a review of BOD or Disciplinary Appeals Board outcomes in exceptional circumstances.
“The Committee believes that these recommendations set a new benchmark for disciplinary sanctions for sexual misconduct. The higher benchmark will send a strong message that the University does not tolerate sexual misconduct and serve as a strong deterrent,” said Mdm Kuok.
The Committee noted that the lack of a single point-of-contact for victims meant that victims had to seek out the University’s various support units on their own, which led to a risk of a lack of continuous care. It urged NUS to provide better advice, information support and resources. They recommended that a care officer be appointed to each victim from the point of report to when support is no longer required.
NUS’ move to establish a Victim Care Unit was supported by the Committee and they further recommended that the care officers in the Unit have relevant experience in counselling, social work, psychology or a related field to ensure immediate, personalised support. To provide holistic and continuous care, the Committee recommended that the Unit be integrated with the University’s current support network, forming layers of support together with care providers in hostels, residential colleges, faculties and schools, as well as peer support groups. They also recommended that a dedicated website be set up, providing relevant information, advice, and clear support mechanisms such as contact numbers, helplines and whistleblowing channels.
Recognising that the majority of sexual misconduct incidents in recent years have occurred at hostels, the Committee recommended an enhancement of security infrastructure and supported NUS’ move to install secure shower cubicles and restroom locks, increase CCTV coverage and security guards at hostels, as well as introduce roving patrols across campus. They also emphasised that NUS students, staff and alumni must uphold and observe safety measures, and create a culture of safety and mutual care within the community.
The University’s plan to launch a compulsory module on respect and consent in the new academic year was also supported by the Committee, and it concurred with NUS’ view that education remains an important and sustainable way to build an enduring culture of respect on campus and complement the enhanced safety measures.
Acknowledging that these recommendations form a starting point and that this is an ongoing effort, Mdm Kuok said, “We recommend that the University revisit these frameworks on a regular basis to ensure they remain aligned with global best practices, reflect the sentiments of the NUS community, and adequately support and protect the community. In this regard, the Committee recommends that the sanctions and victim support framework be reviewed every two years, and that the University continues to engage its stakeholders on this very important matter.”
The Board of Trustees accepted the recommendations in full, said NUS Chairman Mr Hsieh Fu Hua. “We feel that the recommendations are informed, balanced and robust. It reflects our community’s common desire for tougher penalties for offenders and greater support for victims, and for fostering an enduring culture of respect and support on campus,” he added.