Rape more serious than sex assault with fingers: Apex court

Pram Nair's sentence was reduced by two strokes of the cane, but the length of imprisonment is not affected.
Pram Nair's sentence was reduced by two strokes of the cane, but the length of imprisonment is not affected.

Rape is a more severe sexual offence than another form of sexual penetration, a five-judge Court of Appeal ruled yesterday, in a case involving a former Sentosa beach patrol officer who faced one charge of each offence.

As a result, the court lowered the overall sentence imposed on Pram Nair, 28, by two strokes of the cane, having reduced his sentence for penetrative sexual assault using one or more fingers, an act known as digital penetration.

The apex court disagreed with the High Court judge who had, in October last year, imposed equal sentences for both charges as he was of the view that both were equally serious.

Nair's overall sentence now stands at 11 years and 19 days' jail, and 10 strokes of the cane.

Yesterday, delivering the apex court's decision, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said "at the highest level of abstraction, there is an intelligible difference" between the two offences.

"The benchmark sentences should not, therefore, be equated," concluded the court, which also comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang, Judith Prakash and Tay Yong Kwang.

First, penile penetration carries the risk of unwanted pregnancy and of transmitting sexual diseases, which would have far-reaching consequences for the victim, said the court.

Second, penile penetration, a more intimate act, represents a greater degree of intrusion into the sexual autonomy of the victim and a greater degree of exploitation by the offender as he derives more gratification from it.

However, the court agreed that its framework for sentencing rapists, issued in May, should be transposed to that for digital penetration because both offences share many aggravating factors.

Depending on the severity of the case, the sentencing range for digital penetration is: Band 1, seven to 10 years' jail and four strokes of the cane; Band 2, 10 to 15 years' jail and eight strokes of the cane; and Band 3, 15 to 20 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane.

For rape, the sentencing range for Band 1 is 10 to 13 years' jail and six strokes of the cane; Band 2 is 13 to 17 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane; and Band 3 is 17 to 20 years' jail and 18 strokes of the cane.

Nair was originally given 11 years and 19 days' jail, and six strokes of the cane, for each charge.

The apex court upheld his sentence for rape but reduced that for digital penetration to seven years, six months and 19 days' jail and four strokes of the cane.

While he faces fewer strokes of the cane, the length of imprisonment on the whole is not affected as both terms run concurrently.

Nair had appealed against his conviction and sentence for raping and sexually assaulting a then 20-year-old drunken partygoer at Siloso Beach in May 2012.

Nair, who was then off-duty, approached her group and played drinking games with her. He later left with the victim, who said she was "wasted" and woke up on the beach while he was raping her.

Nair said the victim was not as drunk as she claimed. He alleged that she had flirted with him and agreed to have sex. His story was rejected, at trial and on his appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2017, with the headline 'Rape more serious than sex assault with fingers: Apex court'. Print Edition | Subscribe