Shaking off the stigma of sexual assault

#AimforZeroSG is a campaign, launched by Aware, to build a society with no sexual violence. Aiming for zero means owning the problem, giving real support, prevention and commitment. 

Aware also released a powerful video where survivors of sexual violence bravely spoke out about what they’ve had to endure. We speak to some of these brave women in Singapore who are sharing their stories in the hopes of changing people’s perceptions about sexual assault.

This is Pamela’s story. 

I’ve survived multiple incidents of peeping toms, stalkers, flashers, sexual harassment, molestation and assault by different men.

I have been molested on the train and bus in Singapore and sought help from bystanders, but many turned away or chose not to do anything even though they clearly saw it in front of their eyes. I was attacked in a stairwell at Raffles Place during lunchtime and was screaming for help and two male executives who were smoking nearby ran away.

For most of the attacks, when I did have the courage to report or share them, the majority of people I told did not know how to react. More often than not, the blame was on me.

This is what happens when people choose to look at sexual violence with superficial eyes and through the lens of a woman as a sexualised object of possession rather than a multi-faceted being with intelligence, unique personality and traits and wonderful complexity.

There are so many negative ways of looking at women that are absorbed on a societal level via social media, cultural and social conditioning, locker room talk and so on.

Survivors often feel less than as their power was taken away from them against their will. Coupled with all these negative connotations attached to women who speak their truth or seen as too much, survivors often cannot share their truth to people around them as they worry what people will think of them.


Transforming pain into art 

Shaking off the stigma of sexual assault

‘Bruised, (not) battered’ by Jamie Marie Lewis, one of the art pieces exhibited at ‘Celebrating Women’

In 2013, I curated an art exhibition called “Celebrating Women”. It featured 12 Singapore-based visual artists and four performance artists.

There were some conversations in the two years leading up to the exhibition where survivors were asked to appear on the opening night and identified, where some people wanted to see the graphic violence portrayed or shared in some tangible visible way.

Negotiating these conversations was at times triggering for me, however it was important that this exhibition was igniting these very discussions. It also helped me clarify the voice for the exhibition and also coming to an understanding of how we could, individually and collectively, heal this societal wound.

I eventually decided that the theme would be “Celebrating Women” because women need to be celebrated for all they are, both by others and more importantly they needed to celebrate themselves.

Women and men alike are so much more than what fear-based beliefs tell us we should be like. We are all beautiful in our own unique ways. We need to celebrate that we are enough just as we are.


#MeToo is a signal for collective healing

The #MeToo movement is something inevitable, after centuries of oppression and abuse, women are just fed up of being treated like lesser beings and having to stay silent and riddled with all this shame and guilt.

The source of this wounding really comes from wounded masculine/patriarchy trying to instill fear in women and keeping them small to serve the unhealthy needs of a capitalist, fear-based economy.

The #MeToo campaign is a long time coming.

Finally survivors do not feel alone. It can be a very painful time suffering in silence and some women numb it with alcohol, drugs and some take their lives. So the #MeToo movement to me is a relief, a comfort, a sign of solidarity amongst sisters around the world. It is also a positive sign for all of society around the world to start to heal on a collective level.

On another note, I have been told that it is a male-bashing campaign. Which I find an interesting reaction. If you have a clear conscience and it does not raise doubt in your own actions, that perhaps you might have assaulted a woman or violated her without acknowledging it, then why are you so bothered?

The #MeToo campaign is definitely not about male-bashing. It is anything but.

It is simply the power of women speaking up together. There might be discomfort as people are not used to it. The hardest thing to do is to look at yourself. So there will be discomfort, but that is ok.


Shaking off the stigma of sexual assault

Vanitas by Debra Raymond, another art piece exhibited at ‘Celebrating Women’

Don’t be a silent bystander

We need to realise that sexual violence in any form is a community issue and it is about power, not sex. We need to shift our perspective away from being a women’s issue; it is everybody’s issue as it affects all aspects of society. It is how we see ourselves and how we see others. We are not separate. We are all a part, not apart. One ripple; each wounded man and disempowered woman has a significant effect on every single person they come across as sexual violence impacts our lives, ourself and world beliefs and perpetuates feelings of being not good enough and fear.

The media needs to start sharing more truth instead of fear mongering. Truths such as an overwhelming 99 per cent of attacks are by someone the woman knows, be it a father, uncle, family friend or a friend or acquaintance. In fact, the attacker uses that relationship to their advantage to emotionally manipulate or threaten the survivor. That is why so many attacks go unreported.

Men and women alike, if you see a woman being assaulted in any way, step in, speak up, stop it. Don’t wait for the survivor. She might be paralysed with fear or shock or not know what to do. Take the attacker away from the survivor.

If someone comes up to you and says they have survived sexual violence, first of all, put aside any judgment that might rise up and believe them, trust them and honour them by truly listening. Let them cry, let them express their anger in a safe way. Thank the survivors for their bravery, care for them, be gentle with them, remind them to be gentle with themselves. Refer them to a counselor at AWARE. If they would like to report it, AWARE has a befrienders’ service, which is a trained volunteer will accompany you to the police station, to guide and comfort you through the process.

I am sharing all this in this article as it is my wish that no woman needs to go through the violence that I went through or the disbelief, shame, ridicule from those they speak to.

Our community can be better. You can be better. I can be better. We can be better. Let’s choose differently, starting from now.


– AWARE Women’s Helpline: 1800 777 5555

– Sexual Assault Care Centre: 6779 0282, Mon-Fri 10am-10pm / WhatsApp 97814101

-Samaritans of Singapore (24 hours): 1800-221-4444

-Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

-Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

For more information on #AimforZeroSG , visit .