Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Sexual assault law is gender-neutral, applicable to female offenders: Chief Justice

SINGAPORE — Both men and women can be found guilty of the offence of sexual penetration of minors, the highest court of the land ruled on Wednesday (Sept 28), overturning a High Court’s landmark decision earlier this year that found that the statute could not apply to women.

SINGAPORE — Both men and women can be found guilty of the offence of sexual penetration of minors, the highest court of the land ruled on Wednesday (Sept 28), overturning a High Court’s landmark decision earlier this year that found that the statute could not apply to women.

Read in entirety and in context, Section 376A of the Penal Code is “gender-neutral and capable of applying to a female offender”, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Wednesday, on behalf of the three-judge Court of Appeal.

The court was hearing an appeal by the Attorney-General’s Chambers against Senior Judge Kan Ting Chiu’s decision to acquit Zunika Ahmad, a 40-year-old transgender man, on six charges under Section 376A(1)(b) of sexually penetrating a 13-year-old with a dildo on several occasions over a period of more than 20 months.

The statute states that if person A sexually penetrates “with a part of A’s body (other than A’s penis) or anything else, the vagina or anus, as the case may be”, of a person under age 16 without consent, is guilty of an offence.

Zunika, who was born a woman but has identified herself as a man since her teens, had pleaded guilty to these charges. But Justice Kan rejected her guilty pleas to these charges as he found that the choice of words in the statute applied only to male offenders.

The apex court, however, found Justice Kan’s interpretation erroneous and reinstated Zunika’s conviction. The case was adjourned till Oct 10 for sentencing.

Zunika was convicted of a separate charge of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act, and sentenced to eight months’ jail.

Previously, the prosecution had asked for a total sentence of eight years’ jail, while Zunika’s lawyer argued for not more than three years’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty for sexual penetration of a minor is 10 years’ jail and/or a fine.

On Wednesday, the prosecution, led by Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck, said that the statute in question was introduced by Parliament to protect minors from being sexually penetrated, regardless of the type of object used or the sex of the offender.

Mr Kwek noted that the use of “any person” instead of “any man” meant the inclusion of both males and females.

In his grounds of decision, Justice Kan had said the phrase “a part of A’s body (other than A’s penis)” would reasonably indicate that the offence is intended to apply to men only, as “the reference to a person who has a penis cannot be construed to include a woman without doing violence to common sense and anatomy”.

But Mr Kwek said this particular phrase “other than A’s penis” could be read to mean that it applies to all cases of sexual penetration, except penile penetration.

This was so, as another limb of the statute covered penile penetration, and the phrase was to avoid any overlaps.

Mr Kwek added that Justice Kan’s interpretation of this phrase also has wide ramifications for the interpretation of other similarly-worded provisions in the Penal Code. For instance, it would mean a woman who uses a dildo to sexually penetrate the vagina of a female victim could not be charged, he said.

But Zunika’s lawyer, Mr Lum Guo Rong, argued that if the use of “any person” in the section was to be interpreted as gender-neutral, there would have been no need to include the phrase “other than A’s penis”.

The Court of Appeal said it will release its detailed written grounds of its ruling at a later date.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa