Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Understanding Victim Experiences of Policing in Domestic Violence in the Singaporean Context

Narayanan Ganapathy, National University of Singapore

In understanding victim experiences of policing in domestic violence situations in Singapore, two extreme sets of responses have been witnessed. On one end of the continuum, criminal justice sanctions are strictly contingent upon victim preferences to initiate criminal proceedings against the perpetrator, and on the other, victims' rights, needs and preferences seem to be 'usurped' by the criminal justice system irrespective of 'victim choice'. Neither of these positions takes victims' interest into account. No do they stem from an understanding of the socio-cultural, economic and structural circumstances in which victims experience violence, and continue to experience it, long after a police intervention. This is because, fundamentally, assumptions made by police reformers and feminist advocates about victims relationship with the police have been derived from an essentially problematic premise -- that domestic assault should be treated the same as non-domestic assault. What has been obscured is the recognition that while the two types of assault are legally identical, they are sociologically distinct. Not only is the etiology of domestic assault different to that of other violent crimes but the response of, and consequences to, the victims are often very different too. This paper documents the views of victims of domestic violence in terms of their relationship with the criminal justice system in Singapore. It seeks to explore the neglected questions of why victims of domestic violence call the police, and how do victims perceive the utility of police intervention. What is the context within which victims make choices to involve the police? What are the consequences for both victims and offenders? What are the options available to such victims of violence?

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Updated 05/20/2006