Oral Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Oral Reply to Parliamentary Questions on Sexual Harassment Incidents at Autonomous Universities, by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 06 May 2019


Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) for each year from 2008, how many cases of campus sexual harassment and sexual assault at autonomous universities were reported to the police; (b) of these, how many resulted in warnings and how many resulted in criminal prosecution; and (c) what were the considerations behind determining the nature of the action taken in such cases.


Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in light of the police report made by an NUS student against a person who took a video recording of her in the bathroom (a) how does the police assess whether a person should be given a conditional warning; (b) what percentage of suspects given a conditional warning in similar cases have been rehabilitated; (c) what percentage of suspects went on to reoffend; and (d) whether there is any review of this practice after this case has been discussed widely.


Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether the Ministry will consider a public education campaign where people are educated not to watch or circulate voyeur videos or photos even if they do not contain nudity but which sexualise young people without their consent.



1. At the outset, let me say this: no woman or man should have to suffer the indignity of her or his modesty being insulted or outraged. That is not acceptable and as a society, we have to make sure that these values are maintained. People must feel safe, as they go about their lives. Our laws and enforcement must underpin these values.


2. The questions by the Members relate to the statistics relating to sexual offences in our Universities; the way in which Police/AGC exercise their discretion, in deciding to prosecute, or not prosecute an offender; and the general approach taken by Police and AGC in cases relating to sexual misconduct.


3. Let me deal with these two points.


4. Mr Perera and Dr Lee Bee Wah have asked about the cases of sexual misconduct in the Autonomous Universities (“AUs”) that were reported to the Police. Earlier, MOE Minister had informed Parliament that from Academic Year (“AY”) 2015/2016 to AY 2017/2018, 56 cases of sexual misconduct were reported to the AUs. 37 of these were reported to the Police.


5. There was insufficient evidence to make out offences in two cases, and investigations in four other cases are ongoing.


6. Of the remaining 31 cases, 16 were prosecuted in court. There were jail sentences in 10. Supervised probation was imposed by the Courts in four cases. In one case the Court gave a discharge not amounting to an acquittal and the sentencing for one case where the offender has been convicted is still pending. That leaves a remainder of 15, out of the total of 31 cases. In 13 of these cases a conditional warning was given. Two others were given a stern warning.


7. 14 of the 15 students who were given warnings, or 93%, did not re-offend. The one NUS student who re-offended originally had been issued with a conditional warning for a voyeurism offence he committed in 2015. He re-offended in 2017, and Police prosecuted him in court for both his 2015 and 2017 offences. He was sent to jail for eight months’ imprisonment and fined S$2000/-.


8. Beyond these 56 cases, there were additional eight cases reported directly to the Police. Of these eight there was insufficient evidence in six cases, and investigations in another two are ongoing.


9. Police had also earlier clarified some factual inaccuracies in media reporting of cases from Academic Years 2015/2016 to 2017/2018. There were 25 cases of sexual offences brought before the NUS Board. Of these 25, 17 were reported to Police. Nine of the 17 were prosecuted in court. The courts handed down imprisonment terms to five of the cases, and they gave supervised probation for three cases, and gave a discharge not amounting to an acquittal in one case. In another seven of the 17 reported cases, Police administered conditional warnings. The last case is pending investigation.


10. One of the media articles had also erroneously published that there were 13 repeat offenders. Based on Police records, there was only one repeat offender, and I had referred to that case earlier.


11. So these numbers show that some have been prosecuted depending on the facts, others have been given a second chance, and there are no “free passes” to university students, or anyone else.


12. Let me give some background to our approach. I had some time ago asked my Ministry (Home Affairs) to review sexual offences, in particular offences against: (i) Children - people will remember the Joshua Robinson case; and (ii) Women - Outraging Modesty, Insulting Modesty, and other offences. I had also given directions to toughen up our laws in these areas.


13. Following the review by the PCRC as well as my Ministry, we decided that some new offences should be specified in law, and that sentences for some existing offences should be enhanced.


14. We have proposed new offences to deal with sexual exploitation of minors. We have also proposed new standalone offences for voyeurism, the distribution of intimate images, commonly known as “revenge pornography”, and sexual exposure over the Internet, commonly known as “cyber-flashing”. Voyeurism is now dealt with under Insulting the Modesty of a Woman in the Penal Code. The proposal is to make it a standalone offence and increase the penalties. We have also proposed the updating of some existing offences, to deal with technological developments which enable predatory behaviour.


15. This is all set out in the Penal Code Amendments Bill, tabled in Parliament in February. It will be debated later today.


16. If Parliament passes the Bill into law, then voyeurism, usually known as “peeping tom” behavior; as well as the making, possessing, accessing and distributing of voyeuristic materials will all be criminalised as specific offences. It will be presumed that the victims in such recordings did not consent to being recorded. That deals with the evidential challenges sometimes of identifying victims in such recordings. And the penalties will be enhanced.


17. Because of Parliamentary Rules, I should not go into further detail on the proposed changes. We will be debating it. Of course these changes were conceptualised, thought through, drafted and tabled in Parliament before the latest discussions on these issues.


18. The proposals show the Government’s underlying approach and philosophy towards sexual offences where the victims are predominantly women. We take it very seriously, we want to send a very strong signal that will deter would-be offenders, and protect victims – who as I said, are predominantly women. The Penal Code changes have been thought through for over a year now.


19. All of this – being tough, taking a no nonsense approach – does not mean that every offender must be or will be automatically charged in Court. Police and AGC must look at the facts of each case, and exercise discretion.


20. Let me give an example. There was an NUS student who had taken videos of children in a toilet in a shopping mall - this happened over two days in 2015.


21. He was caught and arrested by the Police. He was charged.


22. After he was charged, Police and AGC received a medical report from his doctor at IMH. The assessment was that his risk of re-offending was low, and he would benefit from mental health treatment, and if he was put in jail, that could get affected. The fact that he did not have any prior offending history was also relevant. In the end, AGC directed Police to withdraw the charges and he was given a 24-month conditional warning. He has since completed the 24-month warning period, there was no further offending, and he has remained crime-free.


23. The data I have shown indicates that in several other cases, prosecutions were carried out for the offenders.


24. We must have tough laws. In fact, we are going to make them even tougher, if Parliament agrees. We are creating new offences as well but we must also enforce them appropriately.


25. When a woman’s privacy has been violated, the follow-up actions must ensure that she is treated with dignity and respect, her concerns must be addressed, and she must be supported. The criminal legal framework must deal with the offender in a way that ensures the specific victim’s safety, deal with the specific offender, and deter other would-be offenders.


26. In this respect, when such violation takes place in, say, NUS, there are actions that NUS has to take and there are actions that the Police have to take. Police will investigate, decide on the best course of actions after investigations – whether to prosecute, or not to prosecute, what is the right thing to do on all the factors, and ensure that their decision will protect the victim, and uphold deterrence and safety.


27. Sir, Singapore is one of the safest places in the world, for women, and for children. Our laws, and the way we enforce our laws, have ensured that.


28. Let me give some brief statistics. Based on Police’s 2018 Public Perception Survey, the perception of overall safety and security in Singapore among locals was 93%. 87% (nearly 9 in 10) of women feel safe in their neighbourhood, while 74% of women feel safe walking alone in the neighbourhood at night. These figures have been consistently high over the years.


29. We want to make sure this continues. Women ought to feel safe. Members can be assured that the Government is committed to continue keeping the environment safe and being tough on such offences.


30. That is why, as I said earlier, we have reviewed the Penal Code provisions, and are proposing new offences, and seeking to enhance penalties.


31. Let me now answer the questions on how Police and AGC exercise discretion in such cases.


The way Police/AGC approach such cases


32. Broadly, the approach is to consider the specific facts and circumstances of the case, the severity of the offence, including the evidence; and aggravating, or mitigating factors.


33. Police will also consider how other similar cases had been treated to ensure consistency. In the interest of fairness, like cases should be treated like other like cases.


34. The Attorney-General, as the Public Prosecutor, makes the final decision based on his prosecutorial position.


35. Specific facts, and I say this by way of illustration, could include previous criminal record, if any; level of remorse, whether the offender comes clean, whether he cooperates; and whether any videos of the victim have been posted online or otherwise shared.


36. Police also assess the likelihood of rehabilitation. Police make such assessments regularly, when making decisions. This is part of their professional craft.


37. They will then recommend the course of action: to prosecute, or give a conditional warning, or a stern warning, or to take no further action. AGC will make the final decision.


38. I should add that in these cases, the assessment of future conduct, and possible rehabilitation, is quite important. This is so even when the offender had done similar acts previously, which will of course weigh against him. The Police will look at all the factors, including the level of remorse, whether he owned up voluntarily, the likelihood of reform, and the likelihood of re-offending. They will also of course consider the circumstances of the victim, the impact of the offence on the victim, and the need for deterrence.


39. Generally, there would be no reason for Police to show any leniency, if the following aggravating factors are present: (i) a person has previous convictions or was warned for similar offences, (ii) premeditation and deception in committing the offence, for example by using hidden pinhole cameras, masking his face, covering CCTV cameras, or other means to evade detection, (iii) the video had been shared or circulated, (iv) the perpetrator was not remorseful, or had been uncooperative in the investigations.


40. Let me illustrate by reference to a case in 2015.


41. A 23-year-old man filmed a woman showering at Republic Polytechnic. The accused had committed the offences over a period of four months. He tried to evade detection by covering his face with a towel, covering up CCTVs in the vicinity, did not own up voluntarily. The man was charged and sentenced to 10 weeks’ imprisonment.


42. Another illustration: five men were jailed between six months and three years for engaging in serial acts of voyeurism, and sharing videos of their victims in an online forum.


43. There have been questions on conditional warning. A conditional warning means (i) offender has been put on notice, (ii) he would know that the authorities have enough evidence and are prepared to press charges against him if he does not reform, (iii) If he commits a fresh offence during this period, he would be liable to be prosecuted for both the current offence and the subsequent fresh or new offence, and (iv) in other words, he is not let off the hook for the earlier offence, and he will pay for both.


44. Members have not specifically asked about Mr Lim’s case, involving Ms Monica Baey. Let me nevertheless point some of the facts out by reference to the broader position I put out. Mr Lim is on thin ice with his conditional warning. The factors that were taken into account, in his case, were set out in the Police Statement. If Mr Lim offends within the period of 12 months, he will be charged for the offence relating to Ms Baey, and the new offence. The case has been dealt with, so it is therefore best that I do not go into detail on the factors. But briefly, there were factors which could have justified charging him, the primary one being that he had done something very wrong. These factors were weighed against other factors, which would justify giving him another chance. Police weighed both sets of factors, and decided that a conditional warning was appropriate. It was one of the cases, quite usual for Police, where the decision was based on judgement. Police assessed him to be remorseful, and likely to reform. He confessed voluntarily, within minutes of the offence being committed, and well before any Police report was made. He was cooperative with the Police. He had not circulated the video. It had been deleted. Other factors have also been mentioned in the Police Statement.


45. A conditional warning has been an effective deterrent for offenders who have had good propensity to reform. Even after the stipulated crime-free period, the warning remains an internal record for calibrating future prosecutorial decisions. Perpetrators who receive warnings are told in clear terms that if they re-offend, they will face serious consequences. And as the cases at the AUs show, most who were given conditional warnings did not re-offend. Out of the 15 who received warnings, one student re-offended, and he was dealt with severely. He went to jail.


46. We take a very stern view of sexual misconduct. Several perpetrators have been prosecuted and put behind bars. But the rigid meting out of uniform penalties will not serve the wider public interest.


Victim Care and Public Education


47. Dr Lee also asked about victim care and public education. One area which we continually review is how to further improve on the support given to victims of sexual crimes, who experience emotional and psychological damage and stress. Over the years, we have made changes to Police processes and the way Police officers interact with victims. We have trained a group of specialist investigation officers to handle sexual crime cases, we have rolled out the One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSafe) Centre, where victims of rape can undergo interviews and forensic medical examinations at a single private location, without having to go between the Police station and the hospital, and we have a response framework to ensure that victims of sexual crimes are attended to quickly, and a victim care programme that provides emotional support.


48. Dr Lee Bee Wah asked if we would consider a public education campaign about the harms of taking and distributing voyeuristic videos. We certainly will but a very good public education campaign would be if Parliament passes the amendments later today. That will be given concerted publicity to raise awareness about the new sexual offences, including voyeurism, which is classified as a standalone offence, and the enhanced penalties.


49. Thank you Sir.