Voyeurism takes on new meaning in digital age

A man holding a phone discreetly to take photos.
A man holding a phone discreetly to take photos.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The recent case of voyeurism in the National University of Singapore (NUS) has sparked a public debate on what constitutes fair and appropriate punishment that is commensurate with the severity of the crime (NUS to relook disciplinary processes after student's complaint, April 21).

While I concur with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung about NUS' inadequate penalties against sexual misconduct, I am glad that the ministry and school have been quick to acknowledge the gap and undertake swift actions to review the disciplinary process and support frameworks.

I agree that schools need to safeguard the safety of students by ensuring robust controls are in place to deter sexual misconduct. But it is equally, if not more, important that the police send a strong message that crimes like voyeurism should not be tolerated to protect the public.

While the police may be right about the offender's likelihood of rehabilitation, handing out conditional warnings might not be a strong deterrence for would-be offenders, who now think that they might be given a second chance.

The rehabilitative needs of the offender should not come at the expense of public safety.

In this digital age, voyeurism has taken a very different form. The damage to the victim can be magnified multiple times due to the Internet and advancements in technology. It is an emerging occurrence not just in Singapore, but also worldwide.

In the past, victims of voyeurism had to deal with the trauma of having flashbacks of the incident. Now, victims also have to live with the constant fear that the video might be distributed online, which will result in their privacy being invaded time and again.

While the Government has recognised the gravity of such crimes by reviewing the Penal Code to include new and stiffer penalties for voyeurism, relegating a voyeuristic crime to that of an offence that deserves only a conditional warning might send the wrong message.

Celeste Phua Chih Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2019, with the headline 'Voyeurism takes on new meaning in digital age'. Print Edition | Subscribe