The debate for a sex offender registry in Singapore is not new; however, the recent case involving former Ministry of Education (MOE) scholar Jonathan Wong has sparked off a new round of discussions in Singapore on the plausibility of such a recommendation. The respective sides are quite clearly defined: proponents posit the need to protect the interests and welfare of the vulnerable (especially if the sex offenders are recalcitrant); opponents postulate that such registry overseas have negligible impacts on recidivism rates, and might compromise present reintegration efforts.
Andy Ho from The Straits Times has proposed the following (emphasis mine):
“One middle ground worth considering for Singapore is to have limited-access registries. There can be registries with different levels of access. One might be for the most egregious sex offenders, like those whose crimes involve children, or serial rapists. Apart from the police, these can be made more publicly available, say, to community groups, schools and even neighbourhood groups where offenders reside.”
Channel NewsAsia’s also featured a Talking Point episode discussing the significance and implications of a sex offender registry in Singapore. Daniel Martin, who was an outstanding host during the session, summarised the thoughts articulated by his panellists:
“A registry could serve a purpose for relevant agencies as long as it is in a private context with limited accessibility.”
These are views that are grounded in pragmatism. Some could contend that a registry would render offenders more susceptible to sustained discrimination, and hence be tantamount to a form of “human rights abuse” (intrusion of privacy, generally), but on-the-ground concerns of Singaporeans cannot be conveniently dismissed. In fact, during the show, when viewers were asked whether they reckoned they “[had] the right to know if a sex offender lives near you”, about 65 to 70% of respondents voted in affirmation.
A Private Sex Offender Registry In Singapore
My contention is that the institution of such a limited, private sex offender registry and the ongoing efforts to rehabilitate offenders are not mutually exclusive notions. I am in agreement with the aforementioned perspectives by Andy Ho and the panellists (though I think access to this registry should be limited to an even smaller group of individuals), because the current proposal appears to be a good compromise between stakeholders. Nonetheless, the challenge would then be determining which agencies should get access to this information, and – based on what criteria – how the decision should be made.
Currently, I believe government and public agencies – such as applications to public education institutions – have the ability to suss out interviewees with a criminal record through the Criminal Records Office. The proposition for a private sex offender registry could then benefit private organisations and associations who do not have access to the criminal registry, and might be exposed to individuals who make false declarations to cover up their past misdemeanours (despite strict screening processes).
Take paedophilia for instance: I think entities such as preschools, tuition centres, enrichment associations, and charitable organisations (Gary Chia from Children-At-Risk Empowerment astutely pointed out that the quality of their volunteers matters for their beneficiaries) et cetera would benefit from access to such a registry. Representatives remain deeply cognisant of associated sensitivities. The registry may not entirely prevent offenders from coming into contact with potential victims, but at the very least reduces the potential of such meetings and interactions. Protection of the vulnerable, which was highlighted during the Talking Point discussion, should be of the utmost importance.
The next step now would be to decide which entities should be granted access to the registry. There are two methodologies that can be considered: first, establishing a set of criteria for fulfilment; second, requesting organisations to submit a formal application to the Singapore Police Force (SPF), detailing the rationales for the information. Either way, adherence to the status quo should not be the way forward.