Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Between the Devil and the Deep-Blue Sea: Conceptualising Victims' Experiences of Policing in Domestic Violence in the Singaporean Context

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Between the Devil and the Deep-Blue Sea: Conceptualising Victims' Experiences of Policing in Domestic Violence in the Singaporean Context

Article excerpt

In contextualising victims experiences of policing un domestic violence situations in Singapore, two extreme but interrelated sets of responses have been observed. At one end of the continuum, criminal justice sanctions are strictly contingent upon victim willingness to initiate criminal proceedings against the perpetrator, and at the other, victims' rights, needs and preferences seem to be usurped by the justice system regardless of victims' choice. Neither of these positions takes victims' interests into account. Nor do they stem from an understanding of the sociocultural, economic and structural circumstances in which victims experienced violence, and continued to experience it, long after a police intervention. Data from the research revealed that criminalisation as an ideological and legally practical tool was not only rendered ineffective but irrelevant to the experiences of women in the Singaporean context. Two factors account for this phenomenon. First, the absence of support structures to achieve criminalisation and address victims' needs in the aftermath of criminalisation; second, the authoritative, paternalistic and patriarchal state impedes processes aimed at the empowerment of women victims.


The global need for reform of the policing of domestic violence--primarily a result of the confluence of political, legal and feminist pressures over the perceived inadequacies of the criminal justice system--was particularly intensified by the evidence gathered by Berk and Loseke (1980). This demonstrated that the police in Santa Barbara County appeared to arrest everyone except domestic violence assailants. Parallel to these developments was the advent of legal and criminological research linking the criminal justice system to the problems of policing domestic violence, and legitimising or withdrawing support for specific police procedures and legislative policies (see for example, Sherman & Berk, 1984). The cumulative impact of these findings was to assist development of a research consensus that police response to domestic violence did not conform to the reasonable expectation of proactive policing, defined in terms of its pro-arrest policies.

Attempts to 'improve' the policing of domestic violence in Singapore could be traced to the experimentation of the Domestic Violence Project at the Ang Mo Kio Police Land Division in 1995. This project which was organised around an elaborate network comprising the police and social service agencies, was essentially an administrative set-up designed to assist victims of domestic violence in making a formal complaint, rather than being a source for, or consequence of, legislative change to substantive law governing police conduct. Nonetheless, the project administered by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS) marked the first formal response by the Singapore State in recognising and addressing the problem of marital violence in Singapore.

An important development related to the implementation of the Domestic Violence Project was the initiation of a series of legislative developments in the area of police response to domestic violence. Two notable legislative initiatives which had implications for the policing of domestic violence in Singapore were, namely, the Domestic Violence Bill of 1995 and the Amendments to the Women's Charter which took effect in May 1997. These legislative developments were accompanied by substantial changes to the police organisation, especially in the areas of training, philosophy and style of policing. These changes were to have marked the transition of the Singapore police into a 'premier public service organisation' embodying the principles of 'community-focused policing' (Singapore Police Force Annual Report, 1998, p. 4).

Framing the Problem

Despite this apparent 'progress' in the legislative and organisational arena, data from my research indicated that many victims of domestic violence--a majority of whom were women--did not seek formal intervention from the police as criminal sanctions were unlikely to help to end the violence. …

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