Happy New Year! After two glorious months of winter in Germany and Scotland, I’m heading home next week to melt once more. I’m a little sad about having to bench my growing scarf collection. But I'm sure I'll be even sadder when I get home and have to pay 8% GST.
Thank you to the 180 people who filled in the reader survey! Everyone was incredibly kind. Some of you said that you were considering becoming Milo Peng Funders but found it a little too pricey — I do have a student discount link that takes 50% off the first year of an annual subscription, if that helps. (I’m going to trust all of you and leave that link there!) But of course, there’s no obligation to become a paying subscriber if all you’re looking for are the free weekly wraps. I’m just glad you find this newsletter useful!
Judicial caning in the spotlight
Parliament will be sitting on Monday, and there are questions about judicial caning on the Order Paper. No surprise, since we’ve seen a resurgence of the issue after President Halimah Yacob said that men over 50 should not be exempt from caning if they’ve been convicted of rape.
This is not a new issue by any means. AWARE, one of the organisations with the most experience of supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence, had already pointed out in 2017 that judicial caning is not helpful in addressing the problem.
I can understand why this idea has reared its ugly head again, and why it might appeal to some people. Sexual violence, especially when committed against children, is horrific and inflicts long-term trauma and harm. It’s an act that repulses and angers us, as it should. And Singapore is a very punitive society, where the habit is to seek answers in penalty and punishment. If something is bad, we automatically think that the solution is to inflict pain — whether through fines, imprisonment, caning, or execution — on offenders. We’re used to clinging to the idea of deterrence, that people can be kept in line out of fear. If they’re still offending, we assume that it means there’s not enough fear, and so clamour for ever harsher punishments.
But judicial caning is not going to help us address the terrible problem of sexual violence. In fact, judicial caning reinforces the logic that power can be derived and wielded in the form of violence and domination. And on more immediate practical levels, harsh penalties like judicial caning could also have the effect of deterring survivors from reporting their assault, because so many perpetrators are known to survivors and there might be messy emotions, relationships and family ties involved.
This doesn’t mean that perpetrators of sexual violence should face no consequences — we shouldn’t fall into the trap of simplistic binaries. What we need is to find paths towards dismantling mindsets and skewed power imbalances that create environments in which sexual violence can more easily occur. We also need to improve support structures so that survivors can exercise their agency to decide what they want to do, in caring environments that don’t inflict more pain and trauma on them. Judicial caning is a brutal act of state violence that won’t help us dismantle the systems that need to be changed, nor will it help survivors with healing.
RIP Sim Wong Hoo
Sim Wong Hoo, the founder and CEO of Creative Technology, died at the relatively young age of 67 this past week. I don’t know if he’s as well known among younger Singaporeans these days — I haven’t heard his name floating around in recent years — but I remember a period of my teenage years when his name would pop up over and over again. My very first MP3 player was a Creative product. It was bulky and a little awkward but the sound was good and I could listen to S Club 7 on it and it made me very happy.
Apart from Creative’s products, Sim is best known for his comments on No U-Turn Syndrome (or NUTS), where he observed that in Singapore, cars can only make U-turns if there are signs explicitly stating they’re allowed to do so. In the absence of permission from the authorities, the default answer to whether something can be done is assumed to be “no”. It’s a practice and habit that permeates most aspects of life in Singapore — I mean, what is the Public Order Act if not NUTS applied to freedom of assembly? — and it’s hard to disagree with Sim’s argument that such a mindset hinders innovation and creativity. Unfortunately, I feel like this is getting more, not less, prevalent — just see what’s happened with ships setting off flares to mark the new year (tl;dr they can’t do it anymore).
Got some more…
👷🏾 This is an important project. After a lot of hard work done by volunteers, the Migrant Worker Death Map is now live online. The map tracks migrant worker deaths reported over the past two decades. There are far, far too many of them. The data presented on this website should make you angry. It should also prompt you to channel that anger towards action to demand better rights, protections and dignity for migrant workers in Singapore.
🏳️🌈 Section 377A is officially gone — President Halimah Yacob has assented to the legislative amendments. That means the Constitution amendments are also in force — I’ve already talked about why that’s a problem.
🧑🏻⚖️ On 17 January, the Malaysian government will have another go at seeking leave to appeal to strike out NGO Lawyers For Liberty (LFL)’s lawsuit against Singapore law and home affairs minister K Shanmugam. This matter has gone for a pretty long time, with some twist and turns, but the heart of it is LFL arguing that Shanmugam had no right to issue a POFMA order against them, because they were exercising their freedom of expression in their own country and it’s not for him to tell them what they can or can’t say.
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