Black and white image of Harvey. She is wearing spectacles, and is resting her chin on her hand. Red text: "Justice4Harvey".


Vickreman Harvey Chettiar (“Harvey”) is an autistic, transgender woman in Singapore. This is her story.

content warnings: rape, prison, gendered violence, PTSD, experiences in a psychiatric ward

Background on Harvey's Case

Vickreman Harvey Chettiar (“Harvey”) is an autistic, transgender woman in Singapore.On 24 February 2014, Harvey was raped in a bathroom shower stall, at the Institute of Mental Health (“IMH”). For the rest of the week, she was subsequently repeatedly molested by the same perpetrator. These events all transpired during Harvey’s stay in IMH’s Ward 75A. Harvey and her rapist did not know each other prior to IMH.On 26 November 2014, Harvey filed a police report about her case.On 2 March 2016, the police finally responded. They said that they would not be taking “further action” against Harvey’s rapist, and that they would now be closing the case. This was both confusing and frustrating for Harvey, due to the following reasons:

  1. It had taken fifteen months – and a lawyer’s letter that urged for the case to be reviewed as quickly as possible – for the police to respond.

  2. The usage of the term “further action” in the police’s response suggested that action had previously been taken. However, no action had actually been taken against Harvey’s rapist at all.

  3. Harvey’s police report about her rape was handled internally by the Violence Against Person Squad at Jurong Police Divisional Headquarters. The police had not considered her rape serious or severe enough to send it to the Criminal Investigation Department’s Serious Sexual Crimes Branch.

Some reasons why Harvey's rape may not have been taken more seriously:

  1. Harvey does not fit the idealised image of a victim.

Class, race and gender intersect in who is believed to be more innocent (or given more benefit of doubt) than others.This idealised image of what a victim should, must, or surely, “looks like” is narrow and limited to the point of being fictitious and arbitrary. This does not mean that Chinese and cisgender girls in Singapore, for instance, are always affirmed or have justice when they face rape. Instead, what this means is that the very existence of this (constructed) image means that anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into it is further undermined, excluded, doubted and dehumanised.

  1. Prior to (and at the time of) her rape, Harvey was facing criminal charges. This may have again separated and excluded her from the idealised image of a victim.

Harvey was under investigation for bomb hoax offenses in 2013 and 2014. She was ultimately acquitted and/or discharged of all charges related to this investigation in 2015.During this investigation period, Harvey had been remanded by the State Courts to go to IMH for a forensic psychiatric assessment. This was because the Courts needed to check whether she was fit to plead. Her soundness of mind was automatically in question due to her having Asperger Syndrome. During her stay at IMH, she was raped.When Harvey’s lawyer spoke to the police regarding her rape report, they highlighted that there were still charges pending against Harvey. This has made Harvey concerned that she might be under doubt: She worries that the police might think that she made a false rape allegation in order to get off with a lighter sentence for her case. To reiterate: After over a year of investigation and trial, Harvey was ultimately acquitted and/or discharged of all her criminal charges for this case in 2015. Her case for this has already been closed.The insinuation that Harvey might have had ‘ulterior motives’ in filing a report about her rape may have led to her rape allegation being dismissed and not taken seriously.These judgments and suspicions of rape victims as ‘not telling the entire truth’ and/or ‘having an agenda’ are not uncommon. Victims are put under undue scrutiny and doubt. This makes it hard for them to admit instances of rape to themselves or to others – let alone file a report and/or obtain justice.In Harvey’s case, this undue scrutiny and doubt was even more intense. Being categorised as a ‘criminal’ reduced her entire identity to just that – a criminal. This reduction of her identity may have made it difficult for the police to accept the possibility that she, too, was/is a victim of harm and violence.

Harvey’s case is still ongoing – but not in the way you would expect:

Since her rape, Harvey has filed a suit against IMH. However, in the midst of all this, she has also been brought to court by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (“AGC”) for a criminal suit (“prosecution”) against her.These two legal proceedings are outlined below:

  1. Harvey’s civil suit against IMH in 2016 (struck out)

A few months after receiving the police’s disappointing response that they would be closing the case, Harvey filed a civil lawsuit against IMH. This was on 12 December 2016.Harvey’s civil lawsuit was struck out on 1 March 2021 due to a lack of pro-bono legal representation. Therefore, Harvey was not able to get civil justice for her rape and her PTSD from it.

  1. Prosecution by AGC against Harvey in 2020 (ongoing)

On 3 February 2020, Harvey was at a Pre-Trial Conference (“PTC”) in the Supreme Courthouse for this civil suit. She experienced a PTSD-induced flashback while in the waiting area, resulting in her destroying a marble-topped coffee table.While Harvey acknowledges that she had committed the physical act of destroying the table, she maintains that she did so without any criminal intent to break it. However, the prosecution insists that Harvey had the criminal intent to break it. This distinction is a crucial one, and is recognised in the law – but was deemed irrelevant to the Court in Harvey’s case.However, Harvey is now facing criminal charges for destroying the table. Specifically, Harvey has been charged for committing “an act of Mischief, to wit, by flipping over a marble table valued at S$308/- causing it to break”, according to an official document issued to her.She is currently on agency bail, pending criminal proceedings, for this charge. The State Court is inclined to issue her a sentence that would require her to attend outpatient sessions for two years at IMH – the same place where she (a transwoman) had been detained among men and raped by one of them, resulting in the PTSD-induced flashback that drove her to physically flip the table and, therefore, inadvertently commit the very offense that she is now being legally charged for.The only alternative to being sentenced to sessions at IMH is default imprisonment in a male prison, wherein Harvey will be forced to de-transition (by having her hair chopped off) and be subjected to various gendered forms of violence.Being incarcerated in a male prison resembles and reminds Harvey of her time being institutionalised (and raped) in a male ward at IMH. In both instances, she is, or would be, subject to multiple forms of violence against her, including but not limited to:

  • being physically confined within a compound – her autonomy and dignity taken away from her;

  • being misgendered and/or made to de-transition by having her hair cut short; and

  • being put in a ward, cell or block that has been designated for ‘men’, despite not being one herself – further jeopardising her safety.

To clarify, Harvey has already made full compensation to the Supreme Court for the cost of the damaged table.The painful irony of this entire ordeal is apparent.

What support does Harvey most urgently require?

Harvey has decided not to plead guilty. Instead, Harvey wishes to claim trial.In turn, as of 26 July 2021, Harvey’s CLAS-assigned lawyer has discharged herself from Harvey’s case. (Once again, Harvey is nonetheless grateful for the help and support her lawyer has provided her so far; Harvey fully knows and appreciates that her lawyer’s advice to plead guilty came from good intentions.)Harvey is currently in search of a pro-bono criminal defence lawyer who would be willing to represent her case at trial. Without a lawyer, Harvey – who has no legal training – would have to represent herself at trial (and at pre-trial proceedings).Harvey knows that this would be a task that requires a lot of labour: For a neurodivergent transwoman, existing in – let alone being prosecuted by – a system that either denies or underplays her identity is not easy.Harvey continues to be misgendered in official documents and procedures, and continues to be treated as suspicious and disreputable. Her complexity as an individual – and, crucially, her validity as a victim – has not been, and is not being, fully recognised and affirmed.Harvey is therefore searching for:

  1. pro-bono lawyers who are able to represent her; and/or

  2. people who would be able to reach out to law firms, legal advisers, etc., to appeal for help and assistance for her case.

You can also sign Harvey's petition, "Drop Criminal Charges against Traumatized Transgender Survivor of Multiple Sexual Assaults", here.

If you are able to assist in either of the ways listed above, or can think of any other forms of support you would like to provide, please contact us.In the meantime, please read on.

How do structural factors worsen the trauma of rape victims?

Harvey’s truth that she is a victim of rape has therefore been obscured and rejected. Her complexity as a person does not match with the idealised image of a victim. This does not make her any less of a victim. It simply, painfully, and violently, refuses to properly and sufficiently recognise her as a victim.The consequence of this is the obstruction of her access to justice and support – which deepens, complicates and prolongs her trauma. Rigid criteria, intense bureaucracy and conditioned judgment that are present in institutions directly create this obstruction.Accordingly, on the level of community, people have often learnt to mimic and parrot these institutions.

  • We see this in the way we are socialised to view and talk about rape allegations with uncertainty or scepticism.

  • We see this in the way we reduce individuals into quick, convenient and oversimplified labels or categories – for example, that a ‘criminal’ is nothing more than a criminal, and cannot ever possibly have been (or cannot ever possibly be) a victim – of rape, of harm, of violence, of injustice.

  • We see this in the way we police one another, expecting perfect ‘rationality’ and ‘levelheadedness’ from one another, or an immediate reporting of harm right after it occurs, even though trauma is complicated and confusing, and takes time to process.

  • We see this in the way we assume that ‘justice’ always means going through the police or through a legal trial, when (1) these processes are imperfect and sometimes (re)traumatising, for the reasons mentioned previously, and (2) not every victim wants their version of ‘justice’ to look like that.

  • We see this in the way we sometimes deny victims the agency to make their own decisions at their own pace, which further disempowers them, instead of helping them heal on their own terms.

  • We see this in the way we are hesitant to hold space for one another, because we prioritise a flawless and pristine breakdown of ‘the facts’ or ‘evidence in black and white’, instead of listening and tending to emotional truths and personal testimonies.

However, it is precisely because these habits are learnt that we can unlearn them. It is precisely because these habits are internalised that we can start to unpack them and move towards a victim-centric mode of justice that is both transformative and restorative, that reimagines the current institutional frameworks and narratives that are in place, and that recognises each and every individual for their complexity as human beings.

What are some barriers to justice faced by individuals from marginalised communities?

Harvey, unable to afford to pay money for legal representation for the criminal charges against her, was thankfully assigned a lawyer under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (“CLAS”). CLAS provides pro-bono legal assistance for certain cases under specific statutes.Harvey’s CLAS-assigned lawyer advised her to plead guilty. This would entail pleading guilty to:

  • intentionally destroying the table; and

  • verbally admitting that she had intentionally destroyed the table.

This recommendation for Harvey to plead guilty came from the lawyer’s procedural viewpoint and efforts to prevent Harvey from being sent to a male prison (which would be especially traumatising for a transwoman). Harvey has expressed immense gratitude for her lawyer’s help and support.However, Harvey did not – and does not – want to plead guilty.Pleading guilty would directly contradict the assertion that Harvey has consistently maintained and repeated: She had not intentionally destroyed the table. She had, instead, destroyed the table as a result of experiencing a PTSD flashback.Pleading guilty would, or could, therefore compromise Harvey’s credibility, undermining her claims to her own truth, by casting further doubt on:

  • Harvey’s PTSD, which she has suffered for the past 7 years (and counting), since her rape; and

  • Harvey’s rape allegation itself.

Harvey would not be at peace with herself – in life or in the next world – if she were to plead guilty, as this would mean discrediting herself and denying her own suffering. Even though losing AGC’s prosecution against her would have dire consequences for her, and the chances of winning are limited, Harvey has decided to maintain her personal integrity. Harvey wants to uphold her own lived truth.

Beyond Harvey’s case, how can all of us speak truth to power?

Hear it from Harvey herself:Visibility is the first step to inclusive change. Right now, I can think of no better visibility than parliamentary visibility. If a transgender person could be elected into parliament, this person could represent the trans community’s plights, concerns and needs to the Legislature, in a parliamentary setting.Such a parliamentarian can probably champion Singapore’s adoption of the Yogyakarta Principles – an international human rights document that sets out the principles in the areas of Queer-affirming matters and standards. I’d also want Singapore to enact something similar to the UK’s Gender Recognition Act, particularly the sections which recognise gender identity without requiring a surgery.I’d like to see more Queer folks in key civil service positions, especially in the Ministry of Education (“MOE”). Both in my time and currently, transgender children continue to be harmed, as we can see through #FixSchoolsNotStudents – and MOE needs to properly address and rectify that.However, we cannot stop at just visibility and representation. This merely allocates and fills positions of power with more affirming individuals. We also need to alter the very system itself. This includes questioning and dismantling power hierarchies. This also includes challenging assumptions about what our priorities should be, and who we throw under the bus in pursuit of current national priorities.For example, the criminal justice system should stop requiring neurodivergent people to be assessed in IMH for their fitness to plead, simply due to neurodivergence. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“UN CRPD”), Article 14(1)(b), ‘States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others … are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, and that any deprivation of liberty is in conformity with the law, and that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty.’Fundamentally, the government of Singapore needs to reprioritise human dignity above all else. This is especially for those of us in society who have been, and continue to be, marginalised: Queer folks, criminalised individuals, psychiatrised individuals, disabled folks, minority races, the working class, and people with identities and experiences that put them at the intersections of different types of discrimination.The peoples of Singapore should likewise stand in solidarity with marginalised communities. This looks like recognising material and symbolic inequalities, demanding justice, and being both emotionally and materially invested in the fight for liberation.”

“If you have come to help us, then you are wasting your time but if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine then we can work together.” —Lilla Watson


If you are able to assist in either of the ways listed above, or can think of any other forms of support you would like to provide, please reach out to us.