Ex-history teacher from top girls' school jailed for sexually exploiting teenage student, who later committed suicide
SINGAPORE — While working as a history teacher in a top secondary school here, a 36-year-old man started a “relationship” with a 15-year-old student and committed indecent acts with her on campus.
- In 2010, a secondary school teacher grew close to a student who is more than 20 years younger than him
- They became romantically involved and he committed indecent acts with her
- He ended their relationship mid-2011 and she reported the crimes in 2018
- The man, who is no longer teaching, was found unsuitable for a mandatory treatment order
- The victim attempted suicide several times before ending her own life last year
SINGAPORE — While working as a history teacher in a top girls' school here, a 36-year-old man started a “relationship” with a 15-year-old student and committed indecent acts with her in the secondary school.
After a few months, he ended the affair and she completed her secondary school education.
Three years later, she returned to the school to work as a relief teacher, but the sexual acts came to light another four years later, prompting the principal to make a police report.
The victim ended up taking her own life in May last year at the age of 25, several months after the teacher pleaded guilty to two criminal charges of committing an indecent act with a young person under the Children and Young Persons Act.
She had been diagnosed with anorexia and major depressive disorder several years earlier.
On Tuesday (May 24), the Singaporean teacher, now aged 47, was jailed for 15 months. Two other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.
He will begin serving his sentence next week and remains out on a S$20,000 bail. He, as well as the school where he taught, cannot be named due to a court order to protect the victim’s identity.
The teacher left the Ministry of Education in 2018 around the time when his offences were reported.
The court previously heard that he has a history of bipolar disorder, but a psychiatrist found that a mandatory treatment order was not suitable for him. This is a community sentencing option offered to offenders suffering from mental conditions that contributed to the offence.
WHAT LAWYERS SAY ABOUT GAG ORDERS FOR DECEASED VICTIMS
Even though the victim in this latest court case has since died, a gag order covering her and the teacher's identities serves to protect her reputation and family members, criminal lawyers told TODAY.
Gag orders are imposed by the courts to protect victims, and they usually extend to accused persons' identities if naming them leads to the identification of their victims. These typically involve crimes where sexual violence or children are involved and the gag orders last indefinitely.
In this case, a gag order was imposed when the teacher was charged with the offences. His victim committed suicide after he admitted to the offences.
Mr Sunil Sudheesan, who heads the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said that the victim's family likely wanted privacy for her.
He noted that the prosecution sometimes consults victims' families on whether they want a gag order to remain, but "decides on its own" on other occasions.
Mr Cory Wong, associate director at Invictus Law Corporation, said that what a victim's family thinks cannot supplement what the victim herself would have thought, and that the reasons why she did not ask to lift the gag order will likely remain the same today.
"Or rather, we are not privy to any change in the victim's express wishes. So we have to respect her decisions then, and they continue to extend into her dignity and privacy even in death now," Mr Wong added.
In this case, publicly holding the accused accountable may be a "double-edged sword" and the law should "always err on the side of caution to protect the victim whether in life or in death, independently of whatever entails for good or for worse for the offender", the defence counsel noted.
Mr Clarence Lun from Fervent Chambers said that even though the victim has already died, it was unlikely that she would want further embarrassment.
It will also prevent family members from more public scrutiny and allow them to move on with their lives in due course, Mr Lun added.
'I CAN DO ANYTHING NOW'
The accused met the victim in 2009, the same year he was posted to the school as a history teacher.
In August 2010, they spent more time together because she was the student head of a co-curricular activity that he was in charge of as well. He also taught an advanced history class that she attended.
During this time, they began talking about personal matters with each other over coffee and through text messages on the phone.
In December that year, the man went to London in England for a holiday but they stayed in contact, saying that they missed each other.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Asoka Markandu told the court that the girl understood from their conversations that he wanted her to treat him like a partner.
When they returned for the new academic year in January 2011, they began to meet more frequently in school, depending on each other for their emotional needs.
By end-February 2011, they were in a "relationship" and held hands when alone in school.
As part of their co-curricular duties, they and other committee members were given access cards to a room. The victim and the accused would work and study there when student activities were over.
Between March and May 2011, the pair were alone in the room when he grabbed her wrists, lifted them above her head and pressed her against the wall. He told her “I can do anything now” before letting go of her wrists after several seconds.
The victim recalled feeling confused and embarrassed by his actions but did not react or say anything, DPP Markandu told the court.
Around the same period, they were alone in the room again when he groped her private parts under her underwear. Taken by surprise and not knowing how to react, she did not say anything and stepped away when he removed his hand.
The pair continued to communicate and met during the June holidays in 2011.
When the new term started, he told her that their relationship was over and did not make more advances towards her. They stayed in touch when she left the school.
In January 2014, she returned to the school as a relief teacher to teach history for six months — and he was involved in this arrangement.
During this period, she began showing signs of an eating disorder. The man accompanied her to Singapore General Hospital where she was referred for treatment.
She stopped contacting him in November 2016 on her psychiatrist's advice.
About two years later, she told a friend about what had happened between her and the accused. The matter escalated to the principal who filed a police report on the victim’s behalf.
DPP Ng Jean Ting, who sought at least 12 months’ jail, revealed in court what the victim went through in more details.
DPP Ng said that after the man broke up with the victim, she developed suicidal thoughts, feeling like he had "broken her" and she should "disappear and not exist". Her weight fluctuated significantly due to her eating disorder and she could not concentrate in school.
In 2014, she was formally diagnosed with anorexia and major depressive disorder. She attempted suicide thrice that year and was warded in hospital for 10 days before being referred to a psychiatrist.
In 2016, she told her psychiatrist that she was distressed about her relationship with the man. She followed her psychiatrist's advice to stop communicating with him.
However, this triggered her suicidal thoughts once more. She was warded again for four weeks in October 2017 for electroconvulsive therapy.
She then tragically took her own life in May last year, DPP Ng said.
As for the man's bipolar disorder, another psychiatrist found that the mental illness did not have a contributory link to his offences, and he clearly knew what he was doing given that he made his advances only when they were alone in the room.
Bipolar disorder is characterised by severe mood changes and individuals experience repeated episodes of depression and mania.
For each charge of committing an indecent act, he could have been jailed for up to five years or fined up to S$10,000, or punished with both.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, we reported that the victim took her own life before the teacher pleaded guilty. This is incorrect. She committed suicide after the teacher pleaded guilty. We are sorry for the error.
WHERE TO GET HELP
- National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
- Fei Yue's Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
- Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
- Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) / 1-767 (24 hours)
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
- Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928 / 6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
- Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)
- Touchline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)