This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
We probably know of friends who were sexually harassed in public but could do nothing but stand there in trepidation or shock. Perhaps we have once found ourselves in the same situation. We rehearse in our heads the tirade we will unleash on these sexual offenders, or how we can discreetly get away from them. And yet, when it actually happens, we find ourselves helpless, too scared or too stunned to react. I know I’ve been there.
Four students from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have found a way to better prepare people for handling sexual assault — through realistic practice with Virtual Reality (VR).
Their final-year project involves a campaign called “Girl, Talk” that provides VR simulation of sexual harassment scenarios. Users experience various scenarios, as the person being harassed or as a bystander, and choose how they would react.
Participants of the event appreciated the use of VR in helping them learn how to manage incidents of sexual harassment.
“It made the scenario more realistic, allowing me to think about what I could do to prioritise my safety and comfort in such a situation,” one participant told AsiaOne.
The innovative use of VR isn’t the only highlight of the “Girl, Talk” campaign. The team also created bite-sized educational videos and podcasts that touch on issues such as consent and how to respond to sexual harassment.
The campaign got a stamp of approval from Monica Baey, a National University of Singapore (NUS) student who went viral in 2019 when she publicly called out a fellow student who had filmed her in the shower.
Her very public confrontation with her harasser and the authorities had a domino effect across Singapore. Since then, an increasing number of sexual offenders in universities have been exposed. Her courage to stand up to her harasser has encouraged other survivors of sexual harassment to stand up to theirs and seek help.
Singapore’s Association of Women for Action and Research, which offers counselling services to survivors of voyeurism, is now helping four times the number of women they saw in 2016.
Local universities were also prompted to review their disciplinary procedures for cases of sexual misconduct. But the punishment meted out to these offenders, on both legal and collegiate fronts, are but a slap on the wrist.
Case in point: In September 2019, another student from NUS was let off with a 21-month probation for molesting a woman on public transport because apparently, his school grades showed that he had the “potential to excel in life.”
According to Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, the six autonomous universities in Singapore had to deal with a total of 56 sexual misconduct cases over a three-year period from 2015 to 2017. This doesn’t include the cases that have gone unreported for various reasons.
Out of the 56 reported cases, 10 were serious enough to warrant police investigation and jail sentences. And out of these 10 cases, only one faced expulsion from university. The expulsion was later revoked and changed to an 18-month suspension after appeal.
These unsettling statistics is what pushed Ong in 2019 to call universities to review their their disciplinary frameworks and impose harsher penalties for sexual harassment offences.
Evidently, state and academic institutions in Singapore are still falling short of public expectations when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment. But with projects like the “Girl, Talk” campaign it seems like this important conversation won’t be buried anytime soon.
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