Singapore considering new penalties for sex crimes targeting women, kids online: Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam also said he hopes to relook issues surrounding marital rape, which is currently an offence only under limited circumstances. Photo: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore is considering new penalties to address sex crimes targeting women and children on the Internet, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (Nov 27).

In a Facebook post, Mr Shanmugam also said he hopes to relook issues surrounding marital rape, which is currently an offence only under limited circumstances.

"We made some amendments in 2007. We will see if more can be done," he said.

"I intend more changes to the law," he wrote in the post, adding that the existing punishment regime for sex offences is under review.

There will also be moves next year to "deal with" the way sexual assault survivors can be cross-examined, and how they can give evidence in court from a safe space, he said.

Mr Shanmugam's latest remarks come as people around the world observe 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, starting last Saturday.

Each year, the police see an average of 150 rape cases and 1,200 to 1,300 cases of outrage of modesty.

The High Court, which heard 16 cases of sexual offences such as rape and sexual assault by penetration last year, saw 11 convictions. In 2012, there were six rape cases filed. Meanwhile, the number of sex crimes here hit a high in 2015, with 272 cases filed in the State Courts. Last year, there were 233 cases.

The moves next year that Mr Shanmugam alluded to follow the Law Ministry's proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act in July.

These include issuing gag orders the moment a police report is lodged and automatic closed-door hearings. Victims will also be able to give their oral testimony through video recording.

In April this year, then Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin also said a review of the law on marital rape was under way to ensure that married women have the same protection against violence as unmarried women.

The laws were last changed a decade ago to recognise marital rape under some circumstances, such as if divorce proceedings have begun.

Until 2007, the concept of marital rape was not recognised here.

It is not the first time Mr Shanmugam has spoken about a review of the punishment regime for sex offences.

In June last year, he wrote a Facebook post on a Stanford University sexual assault case, in which the female victim was subjected to an offensive line of questioning in court. He said that Singapore needed to "work at making it easier for women to report and undergo examination when they have been victims of sexual violence".

In February this year, the Home Affairs Ministry unveiled a new centre to examine people reporting rape within 72 hours, to avoid the stress of being taken to a public hospital instead. Currently, most cases are reported only after 72 hours of the alleged offence.

In April, Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that those who commit sex crimes against minors could face harsher penalties in future, as the Government considers if the relevant laws should be revised.

This came after mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson was sentenced to four years' jail earlier in the year for consensual sex with two underage girls, and showing an obscene clip to a six-year-old girl, among other offences.

Last year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 107 cases of sexual abuse involving children, up from 82 in 2015.

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