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New 24-hour emergency response team among measures to strengthen protection for abuse victims

The new response team is one of the measures under the Family Violence Amendment Bill. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new 24-hour emergency response team will attend to high-risk cases of family violence to protect victims, as part of a slew of proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter to strengthen protection for survivors of abuse.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team will be activated by the police, when they receive a report of domestic violence that has immediate safety concerns for the victim.

Officers from the response team can issue an Emergency Order at the scene, which may include prohibiting the perpetrator from being in the home and frequently-visited places of the victim, as well as from contacting the victim.

The order is valid for 14 days, to give the victim enough time to apply for a personal protection order (PPO) - a court order restraining a person from committing violence against a family member. Any breach of the Emergency Order by the perpetrator will be an arrestable offence.

Currently, there is a time gap between an incident of family violence and the granting of a PPO, which means there is a possibility of the abuser hurting the victim during this period.

The new response team is one of the measures under the Family Violence Amendment Bill, which was tabled for a first reading in Parliament on Tuesday.

The bill also seeks to address the issue of victims who refuse to apply for a PPO despite being in danger, by empowering certain third parties like the director-general of social welfare and those authorised by her to apply for a PPO on the victim’s behalf.

MSF said victims may refuse to apply for a protection order due to the influence the perpetrator has over the survivor, and the survivor’s wish to preserve the relationship with them to their own detriment.

The court will take into consideration the views of all affected parties, including the survivor’s account, before deciding if it is reasonable to make a PPO on the survivor’s behalf.

Those authorised by the director-general, called protectors, will also be allowed to enter homes to assess and obtain information or evidence of a victim experiencing family violence. Currently the consent of the victims is needed, but they may be unwilling to cooperate or share information.

For victims who may be unwilling to make a report when their perpetrator breaches a protection order, the bill will allow protectors to step in and apply for electronic monitoring of the abuser, if there is a reasonable suspicion that the PPO has been breached and the victim has been harmed.

The electronic monitoring, done through tagging, will ensure the abuser does not come physically close to the victim.

MSF said studies have shown that imposing electronic monitoring in domestic violence cases could improve survivors’ safety, ensure compliance with PPO and other orders, record evidence of order breaches, and enhance supervision of perpetrators.

As a last resort, if all other measures are not enough to protect the victim, protectors can also apply to the court to remove the victim from their home. This can be done if their safety is seriously threatened but they do not take steps to protect themselves - for example, by refusing to report a breach of a PPO.

The victim may choose to stay with relatives or friends. If this option is not available, MSF will facilitate the victim’s move into a crisis shelter for women and children, or a transitional shelter for men.

Under the bill, the court will also have the power to better assess a revocation application of a PPO. Currently, if an application to revoke the protection order is made and the other party consents to it, the order will be revoked.

The new bill will allow the court to disregard the consent given by the survivor for a PPO revocation if there is reasonable grounds to believe that their consent to the application was not voluntarily given.

The court will also need to consider reports by the perpetrator’s counselling agency or psychiatrists, if they were issued counselling or mandatory treatment.