KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From online stalking to revenge porn, cases of digital sexual violence have spiked sharply in Singapore, women’s rights campaigners warned on Monday as they called for reforms to clamp down on the emerging form of crime.
The tech-savvy nation has seen several high-profile cases this year, including a university student who was filmed in the shower and several arrests made over the distribution of nude photos on an online chat group.
Such abuse cases – aided by technology – nearly tripled to 124 last year, up from 46 in 2016, according to figures compiled by Singapore’s gender equality advocacy group AWARE, based on cases that it has assisted.
More than half of the 2018 cases involved images, including illicit filming, distribution of nude photos and upskirting – the surreptitious filming or taking of photographs under girls’ and women’s clothes – it added.
“New factors – such as the widespread availability of recording technology, and our 24/7 channels of communication – make these actions all the more pervasive and damaging today,” said Anisha Joseph, head of the Sexual Assault Care Centre at AWARE.
Singapore’s home affairs ministry said it did not track sexual violence cases that used technology.
Parliament in May has passed new laws targeting online sexual abuse, including voyeurism, upskirting and unsolicited intimate images, or “cyber flashing” – with maximum jail sentences ranging from two to five years.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam has previously said these reforms would help ensure Singapore be a “safe home” for women.
From Britain to Germany and South Korea, there has been a flurry of cases in recent years using the advancement and easy access to technology to sexually assault women.
France outlawed upskirting in 2018 while Britain followed suit this year. Germany also said it would enact a similar law.
In South Korea, tens of thousands of women took to the streets last year to protest against so-called “spycam porn”, the illicit filming in toilets or changing rooms and selling the footages online later.
Monica Baey, who was filmed by a man during her shower inside a university hostel earlier this year, said the law needed to change to treat the crime more seriously in Singapore, where eight out of 10 residents are internet users.
The man who filmed her was given a police warning and suspended from the university for a semester.
“It’s a case of sexual assault even though there is no physical contact,” the 23-year-old student told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Singapore, adding she was “traumatised” over the incident.
“It’s not something that can be seen as less serious just because it was committed through a mobile phone,” she said. “The victims still face a lifelong trauma.”
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Zoe Tabary. Credit also to Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change.)