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Outrage of Modesty in Singapore

The Case of Terence Siow & How Outrage of Modesty Cases Went Viral in 2019

 

According to the Annual Crime Brief 2019 published by the Singapore Police Force, whilst there has been an overall decrease in the number of outrage of modesty cases in 2019 from the year of 2018, the problem, however, remains a worrying concern owing to the high number of reported cases.

 

The reduction in the number of cases can be attributed to the increased advisories and public education videos of anti-outrage of modesty publications on public transports in Singapore. Other initiatives such as the Riders-on-Watch scheme which is a scheme that aims to tap on the collective effort of public transport commuters to keep the public transport network safe for everyone, have also helped to reduce the number of outrage of modesty cases in Singapore onboard Singapore’s public transport system

 

However, the same Police statistics show that there was a nearly 15% increase in outrage of modesty cases across shopping malls in Singapore, which is why outrage of modesty is still a concern for the Police force and efforts are being made to reduce these numbers.

 

In 2019, outrage of modesty and sexual voyeurism cases received were in the media’s spotlight throughout the year due to several reasons. One of the reasons was the number of cases that were reported in the media involving local university students which garnered public interest in our city state.

 

Case of Terence Siow

One such case was that of 23 year old Terence Siow (“Terence”), an undergraduate from National University of Singapore. Terence had boarded the MRT on the North East Line and noticed the victim wearing shorts. He sat down beside her and felt the urge to touch the victim. He then proceeded to touch the victim’s right thigh twice with his left hand. When he and the victim alighted at Serangoon station, he stood behind her on the ascending escalator and used one finger to touch the buttocks of the victim.  

 

For the above actions, he faced 3 charges of outraging the victim’s modesty under section 354(1) of the Penal Code. He pleaded guilty to a single count of outrage of modesty under section 354(1) of the Penal Code. He had two other charges under the same section which was taken into consideration for the purposes of sentencing.

 

The Honourable District Judge presiding over the matter sentenced him to 21 months of supervised probation. In coming to the decision, the District Judge considered amongst other things, his good academic performance which was highlighted in Terence’s probation suitability report. The report stated that he had the potential to excel in life owing to his good grades and indicated that he was willing to undergo offender specific intervention which showed his strong propensity for reform.

 

The sentence meted out caused furore and public debate amongst netizens. One netizen even started a petition online at Change.org titled “Say NO to Favorable Sentences for ‘Educated’ Sex Offenders”, which successfully drew more than 75,000 signatures in the matter of days. With the media and online scrutiny over the matter, even the Minister of Law publicly commented on his Facebook page regarding the matter.

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How did it all start in 2019?

Attention on Outrage of modesty cases in 2019 started when Monica Baey, a student at NUS took to Instagram to express her frustration at how a perpetrator who had filmed her showering at the student hall residence was only administered with a 12 months conditional warning by the Police. When she wrote to the university seeking them to mete out a harsh punishment for the perpetrator. They replied that her letter came too and late that they had already made their decision. The perpetrator was later handed a one semester suspension by the NUS. He was also asked to write an apology letter, undergo mandatory counselling and was banned from entering the student hall residence where the offence took place.

 

Angered and frustrated at the perceived lack of justice, she took to Instragram and posted a series of Instagram stories regarding the matter. Her post on Instagram went viral with many netizens supporting her and calling NUS to take a harsher stance on the perpetrator and other perpetrators in future cases. This generated a national debate with comments from the Education Minister and Law Minister commenting that NUS’ punishment was manifestly inadequate and that there were “no free passes” for perpetrators of sexual misconduct even for university students.

 

Changes to the Penal Code; The Criminal Law Reform Act 2019

The debate was very timely as it came two months after changes to the Penal Code were tabled in the Parliament. One of the proposed changes was to treat voyeurism as a specific offence with its own range of punishments. Under the proposed changes, the punishment for offences of sexual voyeurism would be doubled.

 

The media scrutiny surrounding Monica Baey’s story also triggered NUS to set up a review committee to look into disciplinary sanctions for sexual misconduct at the university. It was later revealed that a total of 12 students from NUS who had committed sexual offences in the last 3 years would have been expelled with the tougher sanctions proposed by this review committee.

 

What followed over the next few months was a string of reported cases involving students across Singapore and also a Singaporean student studying overseas who were caught committing similar acts. Amongst them was a Yale NUS student, an NTU student and also other polytechnic students caught recording voyeuristic videos.

 

Amidst the storm of extensive media coverage on outrage/insult of modesty cases, it was no coincidence that the sentence in Terence Siow’s case drew public attention even when it was not a case of sexual voyeurism. What drew the public to this case was the fact that there was a sexual misconduct by a university student. Furthermore, the perceived lack of justice felt by members of the public at the sentence meted out triggered the extensive public debate that followed.

 

Normal sentences for Similar Outrage of Modesty Cases

Whilst there is no specified minimum or mandatory sentence for outrage of modesty under section 354(1) of the Penal Code. It provides for sentences of fine, imprisonment or caning.

 

The High Court of Singapore in the case Kunasekaran s/o Kalimuthu Somasundara v Public Prosecutor, [2018] 4 SLR 580 had created a framework based on the degree of sexual exploitation, circumstances of the case and harm caused to the victim for outrage of modesty cases. The framework is categorised into 3 bands, band 1 being the lowest band, is reserved for less egregious cases and would attract sentences ranging from a fine to imprisonment of up to 5 months. Band 1 cases are cases that normally do not involve a degree of sexual exploitation and where there is no or little harm caused to the victim.

 

The High Court also highlighted that where the alleged offence takes place on the public transport system, it would attract general deterrence as a predominant sentencing consideration. This would mean offences taking place on public transports is an aggravating factor and will cross the custodial threshold in most cases.

 

Terence’s case facts fell into band 1 of the framework and he could have been sentenced with a fine or an imprisonment term of up to 5 months. The prosecution in his case submitted for an imprisonment term of 6 weeks based on similar cases which occurred on the public transport network.

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Probation as a Form of Punishment

It is also worth noting that whilst age is a critical factor in the imposition of probation, it is not the only relevant factor. Whilst most of the probation orders have been issued to offenders 21 years old and below, there have been cases where probation is ordered for adult offenders. This is especially so in cases where the offender exhibits an extremely strong propensity for reform. However, probation will not be considered where the harm caused to the victim is very severe and/or where the offence is a serious one.

 

In Terence’s case, the District Judge determined that his propensity for reform was high and that he possessed the necessary characteristic and support that justified probation to be ordered. Furthermore, as his case fell at the low end of band 1 of the framework, the offence was not so serious such that the principle of rehabilitation should not be given prominence over deterrence.

 

Appeal by the Prosecution and Overturning of the Sentence Below

On appeal however, the sentence for probation was overturned yesterday (27 April 2020), and Terence was sentenced to an imprisonment term of 2 weeks.

 

In coming to the decision to overturn the lower courts’ sentence, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon held that Terence had “failed to demonstrate a strong propensity for reform”.  The Chief Justice highlighted the fact that Terence had offended as he was performing well in university showed that he was capable of compartmentalising his wrongdoings from other parts of his life. The Chief Justice also noted that Terence had sought psychiatric help and counselling over the anxiety of his court proceedings and not for any root cause of his offending behaviour such as his porn addiction. The Chief Justice also noted that Terence had not stopped his consumption of pornography and this was considered as a risk factor in his probation report.

 

The Chief Justice also reiterated that as Terence had committed the offences on a public transport network, this was an aggravating factor because it interfered with with the “routine and safe enjoyment of public services” that every person in Singapore is entitled to.

 

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