“The case, described by the prosecution as the worst of its kind, has put the spotlight on sexual grooming and how children, fearing shame, stigma, or being reprimanded, can keep silent about abuse” (Call to Educate Children, Parents on Online Risks, Kok Xing Hui).
As well-intentioned their calls for more to be done to educate young people and their parents on online risks and sexual grooming may be (ST, Jan. 18), the parliamentarians and social workers quoted in the commentary stopped short of more substantive recommendations to educate children and their parents. They were quick to highlight the insufficiency of the current landscape against violations, the inability of Singaporean children to discern and protect themselves, as well as their ease in falling into online traps, but did not say more about the phenomenon, the present shortcomings, and the way ahead.
In the first place, the issue has to be discussed in context. The transgression – of 31-year-old Yap Weng Wah admitting to “preying on 31 victims aged between 11 and 15 … and either sodomised or had oral sex with 30 of them” – is no doubt horrid, yet questions should be asked beyond the anecdote. Have cases of sexual grooming increased over the years, and how many individuals have been sentenced? Since the Penal Code was amended in 2008 to include the offence of “sexual grooming of minor under 16”, have more individuals been found guilty? Besides legislation, are there other means of deterrence?
Understanding the modus operandi of these offenders will also be useful. Equally important is the rehabilitation process for the victims as well as the perpetrators.
It would therefore appear that a frank assessment of preventative strategies is due. In other words, how effective have programmes on Internet safety training been, such as those provided by Touch Cyber Wellness, and how are these indicators tracked? It is one thing to evaluate the pedagogies based on post-event questionnaires – to conveniently ascertain what participants have learnt – and another to determine if the sessions have influenced the way these participants negotiate the online platforms in the future. These means of performance measurement and management may be tedious or hard to quantify, but intelligent use of such data can improve quality of the trainers and the content they dispense.
There may be anxiety to find a quick-fix – to involve more stakeholders, to craft an action plan, or to do something – though these knee-jerk responses will come to naught without determining where we have been, where we are now, before where we are headed.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.