Vickreman Harvey Chettiar was a psychiatrised, autistic, non-operative transwoman, who filed a civil suit against the National Healthcare Group (NHG), alleging she was raped in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2016. Her case was first brought to the public's attention by We Who Witness, a non-governmental organisation, in a Facebook post on 14 March 2021. Harvey had her suit dismissed because the NHG's lawyers argued that Harvey did not have the 'mental fitness' to sustain the case in her own name and invoked Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalised sex between men, against her.
Harvey filed the suit against the NHG because it owned the Institute of Mental Health. To argue her case entailed an Order of Costs, which required her to pay up to $597,000 in legal costs that the National Healthcare Group accumulated, bankrupting her and meant she would no longer have access to hormones. She was also not be able to have some of her access needs met.
Detained even before she was found guilty and for charges that she was later acquitted of or discharged from, she had still received no justice seven years on for the rape and assault that happened to her while she was discriminatorily detained in a male forensic psychiatric ward.
Section 377A was invoked to strike out her civil suit, and she was once again denied her right to equal recognition under the law due to her being psychiatrised, with a diagnosis of 'gender identity disorder'. Justice was repeatedly denied to Harvey due to the intersectional oppression she faced.
In an Instagram post she shared with queer.sg in 2020, Harvey wrote: “In 2014, I was arrested for alleged terrorism-related offences. Normally people are released on bail but as I have Asperger's Syndrome, I was remanded in IMH for 11 days awaiting a psychiatric report. I was detained together with male prisoners because I was assigned male at birth, despite being anatomically intersex and female presenting. That was when I was sexually assaulted by an inmate named Syafik.
‘”He has escaped justice for more than 6 years now. 6 whole years. Things had gotten so bad that I spent $5000 on a private investigation to get some closure.”
She then sought a pro bono lawyer to take on her case and argue against the Order of Costs, which would require her to pay up to $597,000 in legal costs that the NHG accumulated. This sum would leave her bankrupt and lacking access to hormones and other needs.
Timeline of events
Discriminatory disability-based detention to assess 'soundness of mind' to make her own defence
Harvey is remanded to the institute of Mental Health for psychiatric evaluation on the basis of her having 'autism spectrum disorder'.
State does not recognise Harvey as a trans woman; IMH places her In male forensic ward
She is placed there alongside people accused of sexual and other violent offences
Harvey is raped and then repeatedly molested during the detention in the psychiatric ward
Harvey is severely traumatised and is later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Harvey is acquitted of original charge, discharged from throe additional charges
Harvey lodges police report about sexual assault
Harvey's police report closed without investigation
As other avenues closed, Harvey files civil suit against the National Healthcare Croup, which owns IMH, for negligence and vicarious liability
This was her only route to any kind of justice, as the assailant himself could not legally be identified and she could neither pursue a criminal case nor file a magistrate's complaint against the assailant. Harvey is not the only paychiatrised person to have been advised to go the negligence route as the solo route to justice.
Civil suit struck out: denial of right to legal capacity, invocation of Section 377A
Amongst other things, the decision was informed by NHC's lawyers arguing that she was unfit to represent herself due to an 'abnormality of mind' (naming 'Gender Identity Disorder'). Her right to legal capacity was denied because she is a psychiatrised person.
NHC's lawyers also invoked that the existence of S377A, meaning that Harvey cannot get any claims for damages from a civil suit since she was 'engaging' in a criminal act, even if it was really sexual assault. The court ordered that her case cannot be reinstated while S377A exists.
Harvey, who was acquitted of her original charge in 2016, decided to lodge a police report about the sexual assault. However, the police report closed without investigation, and Harvey could only file a civil suit against the National Healthcare Group (NHG) for negligence and vicarious liability.
NHG’s lawyers argued that Harvey was unfit to represent herself because of “an abnormality of mind,” citing, in particular, her gender identity “disorder”. Subsequently, NHG’s lawyers also invoked Section 377A, which means that although she alleged she was raped, she was accused of “engaging” in a criminal act.
This article was written by Roy Tan.