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Singapore Police Force and gender equality advocacy group Aware spar over anti-molestation poster

A poster from the Singapore Police Force’s ongoing campaign to draw attention to the adverse consequences of crime has found itself at the centre of a war of words playing out on Facebook between the police department and Aware Singapore, an advocacy group focused on gender equality.

The poster was created by the Singapore Police Force in collaboration with the National Crime Prevention Council and Singapore Polytechnic’s Media, Arts & Design School. Commenting on the poster in a Facebook post dated November 14, Aware Singapore said: “Why are we putting a price on sexual violence at all, like it’s a commodity to purchase and consume? Would one year’s imprisonment be ‘worth it’? Or six months? What is inflicting harm and trauma upon another human being worth?

“We desperately need a shift in the way we talk about and frame sexual violence.”

The Singapore Police defended its creative execution in a post on November 15 and said: “These visuals target potential perpetrators, and specifically highlight the punishments for committing the criminal acts, in order to send a strong deterrent message.

“Aware has criticised the posters, on the basis that they focus on the punishment, and do not refer to the harm suffered by the victim. Aware does not seem to have understood the purpose of the posters.

“The posters are designed to warn would-be offenders, who are unable to exercise self discipline or control themselves, regardless of their knowledge of the harm that their act will cause to the victim.

“The visuals were designed to influence their behaviour, by telling them what punishment they will face. Aware’s suggestion, on the other hand, is unlikely to have the intended deterrent effect on such offenders.”

The SPF also took issue with the public way in which a debate around the campaign had been launched and said: “It is unfortunate that Aware has chosen to make these public judgements against the Police without any attempt to contact us to understand our perspective, despite having worked with us in the past to enhance support to victims of sexual offences.”

Aware published a statement on November 17 clarifying its position and said: “The post was not targeted at the Singapore Police Force (SPF), with whom we have worked and continue to collaborate.”

It also acknowledged that the posters were an step-up on previous messaging around the issue and said: “We also want to recognise that these new posters are a significant improvement from some of the older “outrage of modesty” posters, with taglines like “Don’t get rubbed the wrong way”, which seemed to place responsibility of preventing sexual harassment on the potential victim, instead of on the perpetrator.”

However, Aware didn’t let the posters off the hook and entirely and said: “We are, however, concerned with how the message was conveyed in these new posters. Namely:

a) the visual motif of the price tag on the molester’s hand

b) the tagline “2 years’ imprisonment: It is not worth it”.

“Putting a price on molest likens the victim to an object on a store shelf that can be purchased if one is willing to pay the price. The poster does not say that this act is wrong, only that it is expensive. This analogy has the effect of erasing the experience of the victim and any viewer’s empathy for the victim.”

Defending its stand on having taken the issue public Aware said: “As the posters had been posted in public, at MRT stations where they had already seen by many commuters, we thought it was appropriate to post our comments in public. These ideas affect all of society, so there is value in opening this discourse to the public.”

The posts around the issue can be seen below:

Spotted on the MRT: these anti-molestation posters, which feature what looks like a price tag on the perpetrators'…

Posted by AWARE Singapore on Wednesday, 13 November 2019

SPF STATEMENT ON AWARE’S FACEBOOK POST CRITICISING SPF’S CRIME PREVENTION POSTERWe refer to comments made by AWARE on…

Posted by Singapore Police Force on Saturday, November 16, 2019

AWARE’S STATEMENT ON THE "OUTRAGE OF MODESTY" POSTERSAWARE posted a brief comment on social media on 14 November about…

Posted by AWARE Singapore on Sunday, 17 November 2019

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