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SMU student who molested woman in overnight study session loses appeal

SINGAPORE — The High Court has dismissed an appeal by a Singapore Management University (SMU) undergraduate who molested a woman during an overnight study session on campus, after his lawyer argued that the man had thought she had given him consent for the act. 

SMU student who molested woman in overnight study session loses appeal

Lee Yan Ru leaving the State Courts in April 2021.

  • Lee Yan Ru, 25, was convicted in Aug 2021 of molesting a woman during an overnight study session
  • Lee, an SMU student at the time, was sentenced to 10 months' jail and three strokes of the cane
  • He appealed against both the conviction and sentence
  • The High Court has now dismissed both appeals

SINGAPORE — The High Court has dismissed an appeal by a Singapore Management University (SMU) undergraduate who molested a woman during an overnight study session on campus, after his lawyer argued that the man had thought she had given him consent for the act. 

Justice Chua Lee Ming rejected the argument on Friday (May 20), saying that the truth was that Lee Yan Ru had admitted in his statement to the police that he was “purely thinking with (his) private part”.

Lee, 25, was sentenced to 10 months’ jail and three strokes of the cane in October last year after he was convicted two months earlier. He claimed trial to a single charge of using criminal force with the intent to outrage the victim’s modesty. The offence was committed on Jan 8 in 2019 at 6.30am.

Lee then appealed against the conviction and the sentence, and both were dismissed on Friday.

He did not deny the physical act of masturbating on top of his victim and ejaculating on her, but alleged that he believed she had consented to the act based on her earlier behaviour.

The victim, now aged about 24, cannot be named due to a court order to protect her identity. She was a university student at the time of the incident but did not study at SMU.

THE APPEAL

During Friday’s appeal, Lee's case, led by Mr Thong Chee Kun from law firm Rajah and Tann, was that Lee believed that he had the consent of the victim to perform the sexual act. 

Lee, Mr Thong said, formed the impression based on incidents that happened before and during the act. 

One such incident was during a break when Lee touched her chest and believed that she did not react. The judge, though, noted that she walked away after this and that could be seen as a reaction.

Another was when Lee placed his exposed private parts on her thigh for five minutes and the victim did not say anything or move away. 

Mr Thong said that although Lee understood from her lack of reaction that she was not going to participate in the sexual act, he also took it to mean that she was “okay” with him exposing himself to her.

As for the incident that was the subject of the charge — when he masturbated on top of her after she fell asleep — Lee had admitted during the earlier trial that she told him to stop and he responded by saying “a while more”.  

Again, the victim did not react after that and Lee took this to mean consent, Mr Thong said.

“She lay still, she didn’t do anything to push him off or further protest,” the lawyer added. “At that point in time, Lee reasonably believed that he had communicated his view and she consented."

EARLIER REJECTIONS

Justice Chua said that he was troubled by Lee's argument and listed four events where the victim had rejected his advances.

First, when the two of them were under the table, Lee groped her breast from under her tank top. She said that she pried his fingers away. 

Second, when she tried to move out from under the table, he pulled her back but she resisted by grabbing onto the leg of the table.

Third, Lee agreed during the trial that he had tried to kiss her multiple times but she avoided his attempts by moving her head.

Fourth, after Lee placed his exposed private parts to touch her thigh and she did not say anything or reciprocate, he kept his privates back in his pants.

“So it seems to me… he knew that some of these advances were being rejected by her,” the judge said.

In response, Mr Thong said that her lack of action when Lee placed his exposed private parts on her thigh meant to Lee that she consented to him to expose himself, even though she was not going to be an active participant in the act or reciprocate.

Furthermore, Mr Thong noted that Lee had earlier testified that he wanted to take things “step-by-step” that night.

So, even though the act of masturbating on her was more sexually intimate than placing his private parts on her thigh — which Lee supposedly believed she had consented to — masturbating on her was but a progression of the intimate acts they had been having that night, he argued.

In his decision, Justice Chua ultimately found that the victim’s reactions to the earlier acts showed that she did not consent to them.

Even so, even if she had consented to them, there should be no reason to believe that she would allow Lee to masturbate on her, which was at a higher level of sexual intimacy than the earlier acts, the judge said.

The truth is, as the appellant (Lee) admitted in his statement to the police, he 'just want(ed) to release', '(i)t was a moment of lust' and he was 'purely thinking with (his) private part'.
Justice Chua Lee Ming

"The truth is, as the appellant (Lee) admitted in his statement to the police, he 'just want(ed) to release', '(i)t was a moment of lust' and he was 'purely thinking with (his) private part'," Justice Chua said.

As for the sentence, the judge upheld the sentence previously meted out by a district court, noting that no mitigating factor was offered that would lower Lee’s sentence.

Justice Chua granted Lee’s request to defer his sentence by a week to allow him to settle school and other matters. 

ABOUT THE CASE

Lee met the victim through social media channel Instagram before inviting her a few days later to an overnight study session in a classroom at SMU in 2019.

The court previously heard that they were both dating someone else at the time.

Lee made several advances throughout the night, including putting his foot on her thigh, squeezing her breasts under her bra after watching a movie on Netflix under a table, and trying to hold her down on a table to kiss her thrice.

During trial, the victim testified that she had unequivocally rejected Lee’s advances through her body and verbal language.

She also told the court that she could not sleep for a few days and felt that she had been “used”, “disrespected and degraded” after the incident.

Lee, however, argued that he thought the pair were becoming more comfortable and intimate throughout the night and that the acts the entire night were consensual.

“I took it that she was fine with my advances, so when she said ‘stop’, I didn’t see it as ‘stop’ and carried on with what I was doing,” he told the court.

For molestation, he could have been jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or received any combination of the three penalties.

In response to TODAY's queries, SMU said that Lee remains suspended from the university. 

"The university will decide and determine the appropriate additional disciplinary sanctions that he should receive."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article quoted Justice Chua as saying that Lee Yan Ru was "clearly thinking with his private parts". This is incorrect. The judge was actually quoting from Lee’s own admission in his statement to the police. We had also wrongly referred to Justice Chua as Justice Chan. We are sorry for the errors.

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courts crime SMU appeal molest consent

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