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Harsher penalties proposed for sexual and hurt crimes such as outrage of modesty, showing sexual image to a minor: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — Offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt crimes will face harsher penalties, if a set of proposed changes to Singapore’s laws is passed later this year.

Harsher penalties proposed for sexual and hurt crimes such as outrage of modesty, showing sexual image to a minor: Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that under the proposed changes, the Attorney-General's Chambers will generally object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt crimes unless there are exceptional circumstances.

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs is proposing higher maximum penalties for three specific sexual and hurt crimes 
  • The Attorney-General’s Chambers will also object to rehabilitative sentences for adult sexual offenders 
  • The proposals follow a government review of the penalties for such offences that began in July 2020 
  • This came after some high-profile crimes had stirred public debate over whether the perpetrators had gotten off too lightly

 

SINGAPORE — Offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt crimes will face harsher penalties, if a set of proposed changes to Singapore’s laws is passed later this year. 

The three particular sexual offences that may soon draw stiffer punishments are:

  • Outrage of modesty – The proposal is to raise maximum imprisonment from the current two years to three

  • Sexual activity in the presence of a minor or showing a sexual image to a minor between 14 and 16 years old – If the proposed changes are passed, the maximum imprisonment will be raised from the current one year to two

  • Exploitative sexual activity in the presence of a minor or showing a sexual image to a minor between 16 and 18 years old – The maximum imprisonment for this crime is also being raised from the current one year to two under the proposals

Under the proposed changes, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) will also generally object to rehabilitative sentences for adult offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt crimes unless there are exceptional circumstances, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Friday (March 5).

In a speech outlining the reasons for the proposals, he referred to a series of recent high-profile crimes that stirred public debate over whether the perpetrators had gotten off too lightly. 

In these cases, online users took issue with how judges had looked at the offenders’ academic performance as a reason to sentence them with probation instead of a jail sentence. 

Mr Shanmugam said that the proposed changes to the laws come after a government review of the penalties for sexual and hurt offences in the Penal Code that began in July last year, in the wake of the public disquiet over these cases. 

There can be no excuses, in general, for sexual and hurt crimes, he said.  

"Outrage of modesty is not merely an offence that a man commits because he is tempted by the way a woman dresses. Voyeurism not merely a thoughtless act that a young student commits in a moment of folly," he said.

"These and other similar offences, whether committed against a female or male victim, should be dealt with seriously. These actions must be seen as an affront to our fundamental values," he added.

“Mitigation pleas based on the offender’s educational qualifications or academic potential should not carry much weight. For such offences, principles of proportionate punishment and deterrence should generally take precedence over rehabilitation.” 

Significant amendments were made over the years to increase protection for victims of these crimes, he noted. 

For example, the Penal Code and the Protection from Harassment Act were amended in 2019 to make voyeurism and the dissemination of intimate images illegal. Penalties were also enhanced for crimes committed against vulnerable victims. 

These new laws took effect from Jan 1 last year. 

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam mentioned three recent offences and illustrated how the sentencing might have been different if the amended laws had been applied instead. 

Case involving molest on the train 

  • A 22-year-old university student molested a woman on the train 

  • He was given 21 months of probation 

  • His probation report stated his “good academic performance in school highlighted his potential to excel in life”

  • The AGC appealed against his probation 

  • The High Court overturned the original sentencing and imposed a jail term of two weeks

  • Mr Shanmugan said this was appropriate from the Government’s point of view

Case involving a man strangling his ex-girlfriend 

  • A 22-year-old university student hurt his ex-girlfriend by putting his hands around her neck and choked her

  • He also pressed her eye 

  • He was given a 12-day short detention order, 80-hour community service order and five-month day reporting order

  • As this incident took place in May 2019, the sentencing was decided in accordance with the law at that time

  • If it had happened after Jan 1, 2020, he would have been charged with voluntarily causing hurt to a victim with whom he was in an intimate or close relationship

  • This would mean he could have served up to six years’ imprisonment and be fined S$10,000

  • He would not be eligible for community-based sentences as it is only available for offences that have a maximum imprisonment term of three years 

Case involving voyeurism 

  • A 23-year-old university recorded a video of a woman in the bathroom using his mobile phone

  • He was sentenced to a 14-day short detention order and a 130-hour community service order

  • AGC appealed against the sentence but it was upheld by the High Court 

  • With voyeurism now a crime, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment with the possibility of caning 

Mr Shanmugam said that sentences meted out in sexual offences must reflect that such acts are “deeply offensive” to Singapore’s fundamental values. 

“This means if you touch a woman inappropriately without her consent, if you upload intimate images of an ex-girlfriend or any other woman, if you video-record a woman showering, you must face serious consequences in law,” he said.

“And you shouldn’t be able to (go) to court and say, you have a bright future, you will go far and so on. You can go far. But first, serve the sentence.” 

Mr Shanmugam said that he will ask the Ministry of Education to send this message out to all its students so that everyone will understand the Government’s position on sexual crimes. 

Still, he added that mitigating factors specific to each offender should continue to be taken into account. For example, the offender might have a low intelligence quotient that affects his judgement of right and wrong, or have a serious mental illness that has a causal link to his conduct. 

“These factors should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with due consideration given to the harm caused to the victim and the need for deterrence,” he said. 

Mr Shanmugam also explained the four principles the Government adheres to when sentencing.

These are: 

  • Prevention – Where an offender poses a threat to public safety, the sentence should prevent him or her from causing further harm

  • Deterrence – The sentence should deter the offender and others from similar behaviours in the future

  • Rehabilitation – The sentence should seek to encourage the reformation of the offender

  • Proportionate punishment, or retribution – The sentence should punish the offender, according to his or her blameworthiness and seriousness of crime

He added that the Government decides on the sentencing framework before putting it to Parliament for debate and passing into law. The courts then apply these laws.

It is therefore for the Government and Parliament to decide whether the punishments are adequate, he said. The courts look at the laws and range of sentences and then decide the sentence of each case based on its facts. 

Related topics

K Shanmugam sexual offence penalty Public safety crime

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