Parliament: No 'free passes' for sexual misconduct offenders, says Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament on Monday (May 6) that for the past three academic years, starting 2015/16, the six autonomous universities received 56 sexual misconduct cases from their students. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Whether the perpetrators in sexual misconduct cases are university students or anyone else, there are no "free passes" for them, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday (May 6), he said the police take a balanced approach to such cases.

"Some have been prosecuted. Depending on facts, others have been give a second chance. There are no 'free passes' for university students, or for anyone else," he added.

Mr Shanmugam also explained how the police and Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) approach such cases, pointing out situations where there is no leniency and where there is.

He was responding to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, who had asked, among other things, about the outcomes of the reports made to the police on campus sexual misconduct and the factors taken into consideration in the decisions.

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The issue came under the spotlight following criticisms of the way the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the police handled sexual misconduct cases, after undergraduate Monica Baey, 23, took to social media to express her frustration over the punishment given to fellow student Nicholas Lim, also 23, for filming her showering in Eusoff Hall on his mobile phone.

Mr Shanmugam said for the past three academic years, starting in 2015/16, the six autonomous universities received 56 sexual misconduct cases from their students.

Of the 56 cases, the victims in 37 cases made police reports.

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There was insufficient evidence in two of the cases, and investigations are ongoing in another four cases.

Of the remaining 31 police cases, 16 were prosecuted in court, and jail sentences were given in 10 cases. Supervised probation was imposed by the courts in four cases and a discharge not amounting to an acquittal was given for one case. The sentencing in one case is still pending.

That leaves a remainder of 15 police cases.

In 13 of them, a conditional warning was given, which means if the offender commits another crime during a stipulated period, he will be charged for both the latest and earlier offences. The last two were given a stern warning.

One man, among the 15 cases, re-offended. He had earlier been given a conditional warning for a voyeurism offence he committed in 2015. When he re-offended in 2017, he was taken to court for both offences and sentenced to eight months in jail and fined $2,000, Mr Shanmugam said.

He also referenced the proposed changes to upcoming laws that criminalise voyeurism - to make it a standalone offence and increase the penalties. Currently, voyeurism cases are dealt with as insult of modesty cases.

"The proposals show the Government's approach to sexual offences where the victims are predominantly women," said the minister, adding that such offences are taken seriously to deter would-be offenders and protect victims.

He also stressed the importance of follow-up victim care and support. "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," he said.

"The criminal legal framework must deal with the offender in a way that ensures the specific lady's safety, deals with the specific offender and deters other would-be offenders."

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He also said the police will not show leniency in certain cases, and these include situations where there is premeditation and deception in committing the offence, for example, if the offender used hidden pinhole cameras, masked his face, covered CCTV cameras or used other means to evade detection.

On the other hand, leniency could be granted depending on the offender's level of remorse - whether he comes clean and cooperates, and whether any video has been posted online or shared with anyone.

The minister emphasised that a conditional warning does bear weight. "It means the offender is on thin ice. 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 offence.

"In other words, he is not let off the hook for the earlier offence, and will also pay for it."

Referring to the NUS case involving Mr Lim, Mr Shanmugam said: "I should point out that Mr Lim is on thin ice, with his conditional warning.

"A conditional warning is an effective deterrent for perpetrators who have good propensity to reform."

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