鶹ý

Skip to main content
Best News Website or Mobile Service
WAN-IFRA Digital Media Awards Worldwide 2022
Best News Website or Mobile Service
Digital Media Awards Worldwide 2022
Hamburger Menu

Advertisement

Advertisement

Commentary

Commentary: You’ve been warned about Peeping Toms in trains and toilets

Public warnings about sexual predators can act as deterrents but also risk creating undue fear. Finding the right balance is crucial, says criminologist and SUSS Associate Professor Razwana Begum.

Commentary: You’ve been warned about Peeping Toms in trains and toilets

File photo of commuters at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station in Singapore. (File Photo: iStock)

New: You can now listen to articles.

This audio is generated by an AI tool.

SINGAPORE: “Molestation and taking upskirt photos are serious offences. Offenders will be handed over to the police.” 

Since April, announcement warnings against molestation and taking upskirt photos have been broadcast at MRT stations to raise commuter awareness and deter would-be perpetrators.

The announcements, played at peak hour, have sparked a discussion about their necessity, with some people saying that constant warnings might make women more fearful and distrusting of Singapore men. Others have raised concerns about the message the announcements send to tourists about Singapore - how serious must the situation be that such frequent reminders are needed?

As a criminologist, I am aware of the dual challenge of ensuring public safety while avoiding unnecessary panic. Public warnings about sexual predators can act as deterrents but also risk creating undue fear. Finding the right balance is crucial, as is addressing the root causes of such behaviour.

BE WARNED

Even though Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world, we must not be complacent. Molestation and upskirt crimes are a legitimate concern - police statistics show that reported voyeurism cases jumped by 12 per cent to 476 cases last year. The public transport network was one of the top three locations for voyeurism, with 56 cases reported in 2023.

In criminology, Routine Activity Theory suggests that three elements are needed for a crime to occur: A motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian.

By raising awareness, we are creating greater understanding among the public, and this increases guardianship. Messages that include penalties and legal consequences can serve as a form of deterrence to potential offenders, as they may fear detection, apprehension and outcome of their action. 

Public announcements also serve to help individuals stay vigilant, making them less susceptible to becoming targets. Commuters can take steps to protect children by keeping them in sight in crowded areas and discussing safety plans. As such, public warnings can transform fear into action, empowering individuals to take precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones.

But it takes a collective effort to ensure safety for all - a concept we know as "gotong royong" that emphasises communal cooperation.

The MRT announcements serve as a form of guardianship, creating a community of train commuters who support and look out for one another. Similar to our SGSecure campaign that empowers residents to help keep Singapore safe or Break the Silence campaign against domestic violence, collective guardianship is crucial in preventing crime.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE DOOR

In addition to public announcements, visual advisories are also commonly employed to prevent crime. Singapore is no stranger to this - think of the numerous posters reminding residents not to litter, shoplift or feed birds.

However, while visually striking ads can quickly catch people's attention, the true effectiveness lies in the clarity and strength of its message. Advertisements should aim to inform and educate the public without causing unnecessary fear. We need to ensure that the medium used is captivating but does not inadvertently reflect the behaviour it aims to prevent.

For instance, anti-Peeping Tom mirrors have been installed in some public washrooms in Singapore, allowing toilet users to view the top of their cubicle while using the facilities.

However, it’s worth considering if such mirrors might instead make women feel like they are being watched. It can be unsettling having to stare at a mirror on the door in front of you while using the toilet.

Composite of an anti-Peeping Tom mirror installed on the back of a cubicle and a warning sticker, in a washroom at Hougang 1 shopping mall. (Photo: 鶹ý)

Consider too if an image of a Peeping Tom behind a washroom cubicle or changing room, or an image of a man with a mobile phone drawn on the floor of a train station, might be counterproductive?

While intended to raise awareness and deter such behaviours, it’s possible these depictions might instil fear, normalise the behaviour, or even trigger trauma for some individuals – particularly in a climate where some women are saying they’d prefer to be trapped in the woods with a .

BE CLEAR ON THE MESSAGING

If the intent behind the public announcement or visual advisories is not clear, there can be significant drawbacks.

Hearing messages over the public announcement system might lead people to wonder if the person next to them could be a predator, causing hyper-vigilance and an exaggerated perception of danger. Such pervasive fear can erode community spirit, replacing it with suspicion and withdrawal.

Frequent warnings might also lead to desensitisation, where the public becomes accustomed to the alerts and start to ignore them. This is akin to the Cry Wolf Effect, where repeated false alarms reduce responsiveness to future warnings.

Another concern is labelling or discrimination. Hyper-vigilance may lead individuals to fear others, and even well-intentioned actions may be misunderstood.

WHAT DRIVES VOYEURISTIC BEHAVIOUR?

Research shows that voyeurs, likely to be males, often have less sexual experience than others their age, are shy around women, and feel inferior. Their behaviours often stem from a need for intimacy, escapism, or habit.

Typically, voyeurs secretly watch strangers, taking care not to be seen. With advances in technology, voyeuristic behaviours have expanded to include recording over toilet cubicles, installing hidden cameras, hacking webcams, or upskirting.

People who are sexually aroused by and engage in these behaviours may be diagnosed with voyeuristic disorder. It’s essential to understand that their behaviour often stem from deeper psychological and social issues.

Education and early intervention are key. Schools and communities should provide comprehensive education on consent, respect, and healthy relationships. Mental health services must be accessible and destigmatised, encouraging those at risk to seek help before their behaviours escalate.

Rehabilitation programmes for offenders should focus on therapy and behaviour modification. Addressing the psychological underpinnings of such behaviours through counselling and support can significantly reduce recidivism.

BUILDING A SAFER SINGAPORE

Public spaces in Singapore should remain places of joy and safety, where vigilance and calm coexist, ensuring a secure environment for everyone.

While campaigns and public warnings are indispensable tools for ensuring public safety, it is the clarity and substance of the message that truly matters.

Let us craft messages that not only grab attention but also inspire action, transforming fear into empowerment. By doing so, we can foster a safer and more trusting society, where vigilance and community spirit go hand in hand.

Associate Professor Razwana Begum is Head of the Public Safety and Security Programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Source: 鶹ý/aj

Advertisement

Also worth reading

Advertisement