Probation for teen, thanks to good NS conduct

A teenager who admitted having sex with a "drunk and vulnerable" schoolgirl has been placed on probation by a district judge.
A teenager who admitted having sex with a "drunk and vulnerable" schoolgirl has been placed on probation by a district judge.PHOTO: ST FILE

A teenager who admitted having sex with a "drunk and vulnerable" schoolgirl has been placed on probation by a district judge, who took the unusual step after taking into account his commendable conduct since starting national service (NS) in January.

Ong Jack Hong was 17 when he met the Secondary 2 student, then aged 14, at a pub belonging to her boyfriend's mother. The girl was drinking by herself.

Ong and his friends chatted her up and later, he approached her as she left the toilet of the bar at Golden Mile Complex. He carried her to a stairwell and they had consensual sex behind a closed door in December 2014.

Two months later, the girl told a nurse what had happened when she went for an unrelated medical check-up at KK Women and Children's Hospital.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eunice Lau argued that Ong should have been sentenced to reformative training, pointing out he had taken advantage of a vulnerable and drunk victim.

WongPartnership lawyer Ng Shi Yang, defending Ong under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, said he was only 17 at the time of the offence which occurred in the "heat of passion" and he was not a "sexual predator".

He called for Ong, now 18, to be placed on probation. Ong had previously undergone probation in 2012 for causing mischief by fire.

However, District Judge Mathew Joseph considered the testimonial of Ong's army commander, who said Ong had "so much potential" that the army could help him fulfil. The judge noted the "strong and positive words" and the testimonials vindicated a probation officer's report that NS "could provide the much needed structure to instil discipline and readjust his lifestyle".

The probation officer had assessed that Ong was motivated to improve his circumstances and excel in life.

The support from the army showed it was "prepared to guide him in his efforts to turn around his life", the judge wrote in judgment grounds on Monday.

Ong had learnt his lesson from these proceedings. Strong support from Ong's father, who is suffering from cancer, also had a "positive effect on him and raised his hopes for the future". The judge said: "The court does not wish to see such positive hopes dashed or a more deterrent sentence imposed than is necessary."

Making clear rehabilitation took precedence, he sentenced Ong to 24 months' probation with conditions and 200 hours of community service.

To ensure judicial oversight and that Ong's progress is monitored, the judge ordered his case to be reviewed at the Progress Accountability Court in June, and at further periodic intervals as decided by the court. Prosecutors are appealing against the sentence. Ong could have been jailed for up to 10 years or fined, or sentenced to both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline 'Probation for teen, thanks to good NS conduct'. Print Edition | Subscribe