The Girl Who Changed The World

She brought an academic institution to its knees. (Photo by Monica Baey)

She’s the NUS student who started a national conversation about sexual misconduct in our universities. But more importantly, she is the girl that has brought about change. By THERESA TAN

Monica Baey will go down in the annals of Singapore’s feminist history as the girl who brought the National University of Singapore to its knees. After years—maybe decades—of sexual misconduct being swept under the proverbial carpet and accusations and perpetrators being quietly spirited away, Monica became the first NUS undergraduate who would not accept the status quo, who would not accept the apology, who would not accept her role as silent victim.

I am sure I am not the only one who has stood up and given this girl a 30-minute ovation.

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Just a regular teen, Monica did not expect her university education to be marred by an outrage of her modesty.

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Monica had the benefit of social media in her pursuit of “justice”. Despite all the naysayers who supposedly called her out for supposedly “doxxing”, her heartfelt, pissed off Instagram story did the job that official police reports and reports to the university did not—it brought change to a broken system that had been grossly detrimental to all females in NUS.

As an NUS alumna, I was horrified by the whole matter. I admit, it was not helped by stories I had been hearing these past few years about an increasingly sexualized culture in NUS: “rape”-style games during orientation (my niece wisely refused to show up for orientation games—good for her!), rampant use of alcohol and—allegedly—nightly porn-fests in the halls. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude—there was already plenty of shenanigans during my time 30 years ago in the hallowed halls of residence. But the key difference was that, three decades ago, boys and girls were consensually up to no good—now, the boy is violating the girl without her even knowing it. That is just criminal.

Peeping Toms are also not a new thing—but filming your victim, with the potential of spreading the video, is. It is this very key difference that points to the magnitude of the problem. One peeping Tom is enough to scar you for life: Imagine if the video of you showering is passed on to tens, hundreds, thousands of peeping Toms, watching you from the comfort of their mobile phones.

The magnitute of the problem: One video can get spread to thousands of Peeping Toms.

(Aside: I was a victim of molestation in my 20s. I faced a policeman who told me I was so well-educated, and my perpetrator was so “poor thing”, why not I just drop the charges? I remember asking him if he would say the same thing to me, if it was his daughter this person molested. So, I know the helplessness and the fury Monica must have felt.)

I wrote to the President of NUS, whom I interviewed a number of years ago. I respect him, and I was certain he would do the right thing. After all, we had had a good conversation about his daughters, and he’s a loving father. For a while, I heard nothing back.

What happened next caught me by surprise, and I’m glad. The Straits Times (ST) managed to get an interview with Nicholas Lim himself. The very system of “justice” Monica had invoked was all worked up, ready to identify him, his home address, his family—they even accused NUS of whitewashing this matter because Nicholas Lim had influential parents.

But when he told his side of the story to ST, I was chastised. He had been stupid – that’s not a matter of argument. He had been cruel and perverse, and he admitted to it. He had reportedly confessed to his girlfriend after he did it, and they had sought out Monica to apologise to her. His father is a taxi driver. He lost his part time job as a insurance agent and NUS has suspended him for one semester.

Finally, it seemed justice had been done – he had been punished in many ways and the bloodlust of the masses was appeased, for now. As I read his account, I felt bad for him too. 

I am also the mother of a boy who is nearly Nicholas Lim’s age. I know boys have a weird genetic flaw that makes them do occasional, inexplicably dumb things that they later cannot find an explanation for. I’m sure mothers of boys reading this will agree with me. So reading Nicholas Lim’s words, I could picture him in tears and I could hear his deep regret at his utter foolishness.

Raising children in this millennium is harder than rocket science. I cannot guarantee that my offspring will obediently go in the direction I want them to go, unlike Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket landing. To my son, I constantly issue reminders that every female is someone’s sister, mother, daughter to be loved and cherished. To my daughters, I constantly bray, “Not every man is raised like your father and your brother. So watch yourself.” 

But there is little I can do if someone seizes the opportunity to do what was done to Monica. That is why I pray for protection over my kids every day – for the girls, protection from perverts; for the boy, protection from idiocy.

NUS has installed more closed circuit TV cameras as part of its measures to beef up security on campus.

Finally, I am happy to say that I got an email back from the President’s office, addressed to ME (not “Dear Alumnus”), addressing the issues I had raised. I’m glad NUS has done the right thing at last. Though I know change won’t be overnight. 

Sadly, just four days ago, yet another filming incident happened at Raffles Hall, my former hall of residence. According to an ST report, the perpertrator was captured by a new CCTV camera which is understood to have been installed last Friday. It’s one of the new measures in which the university has adopted to beef up securitiy. Besides the CCTV cameras,   , the shower cubicles have been upgraded with toilet locks to make them more secure, and increased patrolling by security offices.

There is hope yet, and as Monica says, “Change has finally come.”

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