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‘Crushing’ jail term for man who abetted rape of girlfriend reduced by 4 years on appeal

SINGAPORE — The Court of Appeal on Thursday (Aug 15) reduced by four years the jail sentence imposed on a man who twice invited another man to have sex with his girlfriend while she was bound, blindfolded and unaware of the stranger’s presence.

The Court of Appeal said the original sentence of 23 years and 11 months was 'crushing' given the man's relatively young age and otherwise clean record.

The Court of Appeal said the original sentence of 23 years and 11 months was 'crushing' given the man's relatively young age and otherwise clean record.

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SINGAPORE — The Court of Appeal on Thursday (Aug 15) reduced by four years the jail sentence imposed on a man who twice invited another man to have sex with his girlfriend while she was bound, blindfolded and unaware of the stranger’s presence.

Instead of the "crushing" term of 23 years and 11 months, the 28-year-old former auxiliary police officer will now serve 19 years and 11 months in jail, as the apex court found that the trial judge had committed “some amount of double counting” in calculating the overall sentence.

He will still receive 24 strokes of the cane — the maximum number of strokes allowed by the law — as his lawyers did not appeal against that.

The man — who cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim, who is now 28 — had pleaded guilty to two counts of abetting a man named Srihari Mahendran to allegedly rape his girlfriend, and one count of abetment of sexual assault by penetration.

The offences were committed on April 29 and Aug 6 in 2016 to fulfil the man’s sexual fantasy of watching a third party have sex with his girlfriend. The court earlier heard that the man had persuaded the victim to take part in the sexual practice of “soft bondage”, inspired by the book “50 Shades of Grey”.

On both occasions, Srihari, at the man’s invitation, sneaked into their hotel room silently to avoid suspicion, but on the second occasion, the girlfriend discovered to her horror what was occurring when she realised there was more than one pair of hands on her. The man filmed the assaults on his phone.

Srihari has claimed trial over his alleged offences.

In delivering the three-judge Court of Appeal’s decision on Thursday, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash accepted that there were two aggravating factors in the man’s case: His flagrant abuse of the victim’s trust, and his premeditation and detailed planning.

The appeal court, also comprising Justice Chao Hick Tin and Justice Woo Bih Li, ruled that it was not legally appropriate to consider the victim’s vulnerability or the deliberate infliction of special trauma on her as separate aggravating factors in sentencing. The man was originally sentenced in November last year by then-Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim, who has since been promoted to the position of a High Court judge.

It was the prosecution’s case that the victim was vulnerable as she was rendered “utterly defenceless” against Srihari’s alleged sexual assaults.

But the man’s lawyers, Mr Ramesh Tiwary and Ms Diana Ngiam, on Thursday argued that the vulnerability was the result of soft bondage acts to which she had agreed — though believing it was with her boyfriend, not the stranger.

“There was an eye mask over her eyes, which could be easily removed… An eye mask — we have all used it before. Sometimes, you could see beneath the eye mask,” said Mr Tiwary.

He added that the victim was so loosely tied with the rope that she struggled free in the August incident when she felt something was amiss. Justice Lim had “conflated vulnerability with the abuse of trust”, he added.

“(The victim) had placed herself in that position because they were girlfriend and boyfriend. Being in a relationship with him, she didn’t expect this,” Mr Tiwary told the court.

“But to say you abused the position of trust by making her vulnerable is to double count vulnerability and abuse of trust, when in this case, it is intrinsically connected.”

During the initial sentencing, Justice Lim had also accepted the prosecution’s point that there was “deliberate infliction of special trauma” on the victim, partly owing to the allegation that the man had smeared Srihari’s semen over the victim’s lips.

“(The act) showed how he reduced (the victim) to a mere sex object to be humiliated at his pleasure,” she then said.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Winston Man repeated this point to the judges on Thursday, but Judge of Appeal Prakash remarked that the use of the words “special trauma” does not quite fit the description of the facts in this case.

“(In that situation), the victim would have been aware of what was being done to her,” she said, but in this case, the victim did not know the offence was taking place at the time.

Justice Woo added: “She was not supposed to know, so how does it gel with ‘deliberate infliction’?”

The judges also disagreed with Justice Lim that the man took deliberate steps to conceal his crimes. Judge of Appeal Prakash noted that at the victim’s request, the man had asked Srihari to return to the hotel after the victim discovered what had happened, knowing that it would result in the latter’s arrest.

She said that while the appellant had hastily deleted videos relating to the August incident after the victim found out, he did not delete his recordings in April to avoid detection.

Taking these matters into account, Judge of Appeal Prakash said the original sentence was “crushing” for someone who is relatively young and had an otherwise clean record.

She also noted that the man had offered to testify against the alleged co-offender, Srihari, who has claimed trial. This is a strong indication of his remorse, she added.

For each abetment of rape charge, the man could have been jailed for up to 20 years, fined and caned, or any combination of the three.

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