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Noor Ashikin Abdul Rahman
The New Paper
12 November 2016
Netizens are slamming a local magazine, Teenage, and its regular agony aunt column Dear Kelly for its "victim-blaming" response to a sexual assault victim.
In this month's issue, the magazine published a letter from a teenage girl who had turned to Kelly for advice after she was raped by her "best boy buddy" during a sleepover.
The teen said she had lied to her parents to stay over at his place, unsupervised, and that she did not recall anything when she woke up in the morning naked in bed with him.
In the evening leading up to it, she had drunk some wine for the first time, and they cuddled and kissed before he started to undress her.
She wrote that she was ashamed after he told her that he had not expected her to stay over with no one else at home and that he was "surprised" she was a virgin.
Responding to the traumatised victim, Kelly called her "naive and inexperienced".
She also said she did not blame the male teen for thinking the letter writer wasn't a virgin as she had "acted like a girl who has been around".
Her advice sparked anger among netizens who felt that her reply was out of line.
Facebook user Sara Janelle, who posted shots of the article, wrote: "By publishing this kind of advice, you're just condoning rape. This is victim-blaming at its finest."
Another Facebook user Nyria Nox Ren said that it contributes to the victims' fear of reporting rape.
Responding to Sara Janelle's Facebook post, Teenage commented in the thread that it was "never the intention of Teenage to condone rape and victim-blaming" and that it was investigating the matter.
In a post on its official Facebook page later in the evening, the magazine apologised.
Ms Chopard has helmed Dear Kelly in Teenage magazine since 1996.
Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet said that a different approach should have been taken by Ms Chopard when addressing the victim.
"Counsellors must think about their objectives," said Dr Balhetchet, senior director for youth services for Singapore Children's Society.
"This approach has pushed the victim into further self-guilt, remorse and blame, and these can be detrimental to a teenager. Demonising the girl is not the way.
"Young lives are at stake here and you always need to think two steps ahead about the impact that your words would have on them."
In a Facebook post, Aware's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan took issue with the "condescending and unsupportive" tone of the column, its victim-blaming messages and the "wrong and harmful message" that acts like agreeing to stay over, kissing and cuddling equal consent for further sexual activity.
Ms Tan pointed out that the column will discourage others from reporting sexual assaults and "reinforce their expectation of judgmental and unsupportive responses".
Teenage girls whom TNP spoke to said lying to their parents occasionally to stay over at male friends' homes or to go clubbing is not uncommon.
But they said that did not mean they deserved to be sexually assaulted or to be shamed by a response like the one given by Ms Chopard.
A 19-year-old Ngee Ann Polytechnic student said she would probably be scarred for life if she had received such advice.
"It's bad enough that the girl turned to Dear Kelly as her last resort, she was scared and traumatised. But a reply like that would only mean long-term self-blame and she might not trust any man ever again," she said.
ATemasek Polytechnic student, 19, said a negative response like that only shames the victim without helping her.
"If it were me, I think I would have turned to my parents even if I had lied to them in the first place," she said.
"This response would have made me feel even worse. Kelly should have advised her on how to move past this."
Kiss92FM DJ Maddy Barber, whose older daughter is 20, said Ms Chopard has "no right to chastise" the victim.
The 43-year-old said: "She has no vested interest in the child. Apart from consoling her, she has no right to do anything else.
"I hope children will always turn to their parents. Every parent's nightmare is their children lying to them and every bad story increases the fear even more.
"No matter the situation they are in, sexual assault can happen to anyone and the victims did not ask for it. It is never the victim's fault.
"Rape is just wrong. "