School counsellor gets nearly three years' jail for molesting secondary school boys

SINGAPORE - A secondary school counsellor, who worked with troubled youth, abused the trust placed in him when he molested three teenage boys between 2011 and 2013.

The 50-year-old was sentenced to two years, eight months and 12 weeks in jail on Friday (Aug 31) after District Judge Tan Jen Tse found him guilty of attempted outrage of modesty and four counts of molestation. He was acquitted of three similar charges.

The father of two was convicted in June after a 20-day trial. He cannot be named to protect his victims' identities.

The man started working at the school in the south-eastern part of Singapore in 2009.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Charlene Tay Chia and Yvonne Poon stated in their submissions: "The accused was a dedicated counsellor who was highly committed to his counselling job at (the school). He earned the trust and liking of the school community and the students as he was dedicated to his job and genuinely cared about the welfare of the student body."

However, the DPPs added that the man had "grossly abused that trust" when he "capitalised" on the boys' vulnerability.

The prosecutors noted that of the three victims, two had been referred for counselling in 2010 when they were in Secondary 1. The man was their counsellor until 2013.

The third victim was a friend of one of the boys who occasionally accompanied him to his sessions.

The court heard that the man started molesting one of the boys in 2011, when he asked the teenager a sex-related question before pulling down the youngster's shorts.

The following year, he touched the boy's private parts and, on another occasion, attempted to touch them.

He molested the second troubled boy in September 2013, one month after outraging his friend's modesty, according to the DPPs.

Said the prosecutors: "The accused was able to get away with his acts for multiple years because of the trust reposed in him by the students and staff of (the school). The victims...felt too ashamed to come forward, or were of the view that they would not be believed. Staff did not suspect that anything amiss was ongoing."

Two victims reported the counsellor to the school authorities after they realised that they had been molested by him. The prosecutors sought a jail term of three years and seven months, stressing that all three boys were vulnerable victims.

Defence lawyer Melanie Ho, however, urged the judge to sentence the man to one year and two months' jail. She said this was his first brush with the law and has "otherwise been an upstanding citizen who has contributed significantly to the society and the people around him".

On Friday, Ms Ho told the court that her client will be appealing against his conviction and sentence. He was offered bail of $20,000.

For each count of molestation, offenders can be jailed for up to two years and fined or caned. The man cannot be caned as he is 50 years old.

A Ministry of Education spokesman said on Friday night that the ministry will be taking further disciplinary action against the man, who has been suspended from duty since November 2013.