The battle over consent is never ending although it often seems like the answer is clear. The problem is often exacerbated by technology which can be used for both good and bad purposes.
Recently, chat groups similar to the now-defunct SG Nasi Lemak have resurfaced on the messaging app Telegram. Group like these are made to share photos and videos of Singaporean women and girls without their consent and knowledge.
The issue was discovered by 21-year-old Nisha Rai when she stumbled across a tweet about such groups on Twitter. What she saw sickened her. Screengrabs of women’s social media accounts and TikTok clips of girls in school uniform were being circulated. Some of these screengrabs contained their personal information, like their social media username and sometimes, their phone numbers. Some of the images also showed nude women and were pornographic in nature. There were also photos of random women and girls on the subway.
Ms. Rai was quick to lodge a police report and on 30th March, the police confirmed that investigations were ongoing. Ms. Rai however felt the need to do more. Acting on her own, she and 20 others uncovered almost 60 similar groups. They also took the initiative to reach out to about 30 victims so far to offer their emotional support. “It’s so disgusting,” Ms. Rai commented. “The pictures sent are of adults and minors. It was very hurtful to see such content circulating, and the worst part was the victims were not aware or were afraid to reach out.”
The National University of Singapore (NUS) student started a petition to shut the groups down. As of today (31st March) over 1800 signatures were collected. According to The Straits Times, most groups had about 2000 members while some had over 7000. One administrator had addressed the issue earlier, asking not to be reported. They claimed that reporting the group would disrupt the pleasure of others, stating that the group was “a place for (users) to release (their) desires“. If they found it offensive, the admin suggested they leave. “Report this channel and it will (disrupt) world peace.”
The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) stated they suspect that the emergence of these new groups stemmed from the original SG Nasi Lemak group. “After all, SG Nasi Lemak at its peak had around 44,000 members, only a handful of whom were arrested,” they wrote in a Facebook post. “It seemed safe to assume that those who had not suffered any repercussions would simply continue elsewhere.”
In October 2019, four men who were involved in the Telegram chat group SG Nasi Lemak were arrested. The group shared videos and photographs of mostly Singaporean women and girls with its 44,000 members. Earlier in March, one of its administrators, Liong Tianwei (39) was jailed for nine weeks and fined S$26,000. Two others, Justin Lee Han Shi (20) and an unnamed 18-year-old were given a year’s probation with 40 hours of community service. Their parents were bonded for S$5,000. The case against Leonard Teo Min Xuan (27) is before the courts.
Aware shared the effect sexual voyeurism and non-consensual sharing of images had on its victims. “We have witnessed the harassment, intimidation, stalking and threats that often accompany the obtaining and sharing of intimate images. We have also witnessed shame, confusion and depression (including suicidal ideation) on the part of victims,” they wrote. “Victims worry that the images will ruin their professional and family lives; they incur significant costs in order to get the images taken down, or avoid taking public transportation.”
Adult offenders convicted of transmitting or possessing obscene material can be either fined, jailed up to three months or given both penalties. Those convicted of possessing obscene films can be jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$20,000, or both.
Ms. Naazneen Ashfur (21) who helped Ms. Rai identify the groups had this to say: “I felt fear when I looked at these groups because in one of these chats, my pictures could be there, my friends and family members’ pictures could be there.”
“I naively believed SG Nasi Lemak going down would scare people into not doing such an activity again but I was so wrong.”