For those who have been following the General Election 2020 closely, you’ll know about the 10 Million population debacle that was a point of contention between Dr Chee Soon Juan and Dr Vivan Balakrishan during our first-ever televised political debate.
Shots were fired and internet memes were born, but that’s not the end of the story yet. On 3 July 2020, PAP decided to issue a press statement regarding the ‘10 million population falsehood’ allegedly perpetuated by SDP. In its statement, PAP reiterates that Dr Chee Soon Juan has ‘no integrity’ and that SDP had ‘dug their heels in, repeated their falsehoods, and refused to apologise to Singaporeans for misleading them’.
Here is some context: SDP has been using a catchy hashtag #4Y1N in their manifesto, referring to their four ‘yes’ and one ‘no’. That one no refers to SDP advocating against the 10 million population increase. Now, with PAP coming forward saying that they do not intend to increase the population to 10 million, PAP has inadvertently confirmed SDP’s statement.
Going back to the press release, to illustrate the fact that SDP has conveniently used PAP’s clarification of fact vis-a-vis population number and declaring one of their manifestoes fulfilled, PAP used this ‘simple analogy’:
“Imagine this. Dr Chee claims you said you want to beat up your spouse. You deny it, and show proof that you neither said this nor have beaten your spouse. Instead of apologising, Dr Chee says: “Victory! I extracted a promise from you that you will never beat your spouse”.”
I know. Read it again and let it sink in. Pettiness and saltiness aside, this analogy is concerning and in a way, inappropriate for a ruling party that prides themselves on a clean and fair election. You’d think that given the calibre of PAP’s team, they would have chosen a more appropriate example to bolster their point.
If anyone from the PAP PR team is reading this, allow me, a humble writer, to educate you on why your laissez-faire mention of spousal abuse is troubling, to say the least.
This analogy is not only poorly chosen, but the cavalier attitude in which it was written also reveals a nonchalance towards the issue of domestic violence. And that is just the tip of the iceberg
The Association of Women for Action & Research (AWARE) was the first to call this out. In their Facebook post, AWARE states: ‘It is insensitive to apply imagery of spousal violence to situations that have nothing to do with it. Domestic violence is a serious and devastating issue for many in Singapore, and millions more around the world. It is not something to be invoked lightly – especially not during the COVID-19 pandemic, when domestic violence has seen a sharp increase.’
In AWARE’s latest submission, dated 30 June 2020, to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women. AWARE reports that their Women’s Helpline has received a 65%, 119%, and a 137% increase in the number of family violence calls in March, April and May 2020 respectively.
Additionally, there were a total of 476 police reports filed for offences commonly associated with domestic violence which was a 22 per cent increase from the monthly average from 7 April 2020 to 6 May 2020. A staggering and harrowing figure indeed.
In a climate where domestic violence cases are more rampant than ever, their statement comes off as inexplicably tone-deaf, whether that be by design or an inadvertent faux pas.
This is echoed in the comments section, where a Facebook user, Kit Ow Namiki, writes:
The issue of domestic violence is one that is often shrouded in shame and stigma. What PAP uses as an off-hand analogy is all but the horrifying reality for many especially with people being forced to stay home and face their abusers every day.
We cannot even begin to understand the physical and psychological trauma that domestic abuse survivors go through. For PAP to come up with this press release and thinking that it is by no way problematic, reflects the privilege of safety and comfort that many spousal abuse victims can only dream of.
Besides PAP’s insensitivity towards the issue of domestic violence, another unintended effect of their statement is how it normalises said act.
Let’s look at the tone of the statement. The notion of wanting to ‘beat up’ your spouse is thrown around rather carelessly and lightly. A particularly grating line has to be ‘Victory! I extracted a promise from you that you will never beat your spouse’.
The mirthful quality of that last line belies the severity and gravity of domestic violence. Let me say this, especially for those in the cheap seats in the back: domestic abuse is NOT normal. What’s worse is that the statement even desensitises the public to the brutality of domestic violence. Beating up your spouse or significant other is not a joke or something to be taken lightly.
We are already imbued with multiple messages from the media about condoning and perpetuating violence against women. We don’t need another one from a government, whose sole purpose is to protect the disenfranchised and disadvantaged, saying that domestic violence is somehow acceptable and a perfectly acceptable example to throw around, virtues and principles be damned.
Another insidious outcome of PAP’s statement is also highlighted in AWARE’s Facebook post. AWARE states that by having an authoritative public body “equating allegations of domestic violence with erroneous or misinterpreted statements may have an unintended consequence: reinforcing the myth that false allegations of abuse are common”.
As cited by AWARE and numerous other women’s groups, a popular myth surrounding domestic violence is that women often lie about abuse. This is not true and, in fact, false allegations are often rare and complex within themselves.
For many domestic violence survivors, the fear of being branded a liar is one of the biggest barriers that hinder them from coming forward. Furthermore, drawing these erroneous parallels between the political sphere and abuse also contributes to a poorer understanding of domestic violence.
It is precisely this lack of understanding that allows domestic violence to persist and keep its victims in the shadows.
In the realm of what not to say to a domestic violence survivor, I think using their experience as political fodder should be at the top of the list. And for that needing to be said is just perplexing to me as a woman and as a purveyor of human rights.
As Melissa Li comments, ‘They have trivialised domestic violence. The lack of empathy and the callous attitude to bring down the opposition at the expense of the nation is appalling’.
Not to mention, I can’t imagine how it feels to have your experience reduced to a political anecdote. be potentially triggering for domestic abuse survivors.
With a press statement like this from the dominant political party, it begs the question, ‘Is that what they really think?’. Sure, at first, I did feel angry and even disappointed at the poor choice of analogies. But later, I felt scared and wracked with insecurity.
After all, was this a slipshod job on the part of an unfortunate PR representative or is this simply part of a Freudian slip? Was this written by a man within the ranks of PAP who believes denigrating the experiences of domestic abuse victims is acceptable?
Domestic violence is a pervasive yet invisible problem in Singapore and gets swept under the rug more often than not. If this is the prevailing attitude of how we see domestic violence issues, we have got bigger problems than a careless PR team. That, in fact, would be the least of our concerns.
Ultimately, the press statement from PAP has missed the mark. I understand in politics there is a rush to assert and correct oneself amongst opposing political parties but this is not it. Using a vulnerable group as a way to illustrate your point is damaging and does not further the cause. It is largely an irresponsible move on PAP’s part.
These thoughtless statements have far-reaching and detrimental effects on the community at large. What is to be said about the strength of our social fabric if we are so quick to use one vulnerable group to advance the cause of another?
Domestic violence is a highly complicated, intersectional and silent issue. Coupled with the pressures of COVID-19, the situation has intensified for many. With the polling day looming, this certainly changes things.
To date, PAP has not addressed their inappropriate use of this analogy.
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