Penal Code review committee: New laws to tackle voyeurism, revenge porn and flashing

The Penal Code review committee noted that there is currently no specific provision to address the offence of voyeurism as well as the possession and distribution of voyeuristic images.
The Penal Code review committee noted that there is currently no specific provision to address the offence of voyeurism as well as the possession and distribution of voyeuristic images.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - Emerging crime trends such as voyeurism, revenge porn and flashing will be tackled under proposed new offences by a committee reviewing the Penal Code.

Key points from a report of proposed changes by the review committee included new laws to target the act of voyeurism and the process of making, distributing, possessing and accessing voyeuristic recordings.

The committee noted that there is currently no specific provision to address the offence of voyeurism - defined as the observation or recording of a person in circumstances where one could reasonably expect privacy - as well as the possession and distribution of voyeuristic images.

Where voyeuristic behaviour is concerned, one of the provisions the accused is likely to be prosecuted under currently is that of insulting the modesty of a woman. However, this is gender-specific and creates an "anomaly" in the way offenders are prosecuted and sentenced, said the committee.

It said the existing law is "inadequate" to acknowledge or address the serious problem technology has created and the "bustling" online market for upskirt content.

It recommended that, depending on the actions of the voyeur or the handling of such material, punishment could range from mandatory two to five years' imprisonment, and a possible fine and caning, if the victim is below 14. If the victim is aged 14 and above, and depending on the offender's involvement, the committee proposed a maximum of two to five years' jail, and a possible fine and caning.

The proliferation of the Internet and smartphones has given rise to situations where sexual images can distributed without consent or used to threaten victims. Lawyers such as Ms Gloria James-Civetta said they have seen an increase in such cases, which could include instances of "revenge porn".

To tackle this particular emerging crime trend, the committee proposed a new specific offence criminalising the distribution of, or the threat to distribute, an intimate image.

The Penal Code now does not have a specific offence that criminalises the distribution of nude, semi-nude or other sexual images without consent, and some of the existing provisions the offender is prosecuted under include extortion and criminal intimidation.

The committee said a "stronger and consistent response" is required. Given the ease at which images can now be created, uploaded and downloaded on various platforms, and are difficult to remove, existing law should be updated to respond to this contemporary phenomenon, it said.

Under the proposed new offence, offenders face a mandatory jail term of up to five years, with a possible fine and caning, if the victim is below 14 years. In other cases, offenders face discretionary imprisonment of up to five years, or a fine or caning, or any combination of the three.

Another emerging crime trend is sexual exposure. The committee suggested that a specific offence be created to make it criminal for one to expose his or her genitals to anyone - in a public or private place - intending that someone will see them and knowing that it would cause or likely cause the victim fear, alarm or distress.

Jurisdictions like the United Kingdom and Canada already have such offences dealing with the public exposure of genitalia, said the committee.

It proposed that the offence, if committed against a victim below the age of 14, carry with it a jail term of up to two years and a possible fine and caning. If the accused is a serial offender who targets children, caning can be appropriate.

Where the offence is committed in any other case, the committee prescribed up to one year's jail, or a fine, or both.

Mr Gregory Vijayendran, president of the Law Society of Singapore, said that given the changing times, technology has become a modus operandi and weapon in modern crime. "Any smartphone is potentially a virtual crime scene," he said.

He added that while a "patchwork quilt of non-specific laws" have been used to tackle emerging crime trends, it would be ideal to have specific laws to tackle the specific crime head on.

Mr Vijayendran also said laying out the elements for the specific offences would address the "core mischief" involved in the various acts such as flashing.