Stiffer punishments for crimes against vulnerable people

Under the Criminal Law Reform Bill passed yesterday, the punishment for those who are found guilty of committing any crimes against vulnerable people can be twice the maximum penalty, compared with 1.5 times previously for some offences.
Minister For Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam
Under the Criminal Law Reform Bill passed yesterday, the punishment for those who are found guilty of committing any crimes against vulnerable people can be twice the maximum penalty, compared with 1.5 times previously for some offences.
Under the Criminal Law Reform Bill passed yesterday, the punishment for those who are found guilty of committing any crimes against vulnerable people can be twice the maximum penalty, compared with 1.5 times previously for some offences.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Police can arrest without warrant those who commit crimes against children, maids and the disabled

People who commit any crimes against vulnerable people, such as young children, maids and the disabled, can be arrested by the police even without a warrant, under a law passed by Parliament yesterday.

If found guilty, their punishment can be twice the maximum penalty, compared with 1.5 times previously for some offences.

Under the old law, non-arrestable offences require the police to obtain an arrest warrant to detain a suspect, but the change in the Penal Code "will allow the police to intervene quickly", said Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam during the debate on the Criminal Law Reform Bill.

The new law refers to crimes committed against children below age 14, those with mental or physical disabilities and domestic workers.

A major part of it gives stronger protection to those who cannot protect themselves, said Mr Shanmugam, who highlighted the case of a severely abused woman named Cindy that played a part in his resolve to change the law.

The case was brought to his attention by family violence specialist centre Pave.

Cindy suffered almost daily sexual abuse by her live-in partner for eight years. "Quite unspeakable. Two young children she had with the abuser witnessed all of this abuse," he said.

HORRIFIC ABUSE

Quite unspeakable. Her two young children she had with the abuser witnessed all of this abuse.

MINISTER FOR LAW AND HOME AFFAIRS K. SHANMUGAM, citing the case of a woman who suffered almost daily sexual abuse by her live-in partner for eight years.

  • Criminal Law Reform Bill: Other changes

  • NEW OFFENCES

    • Voyeurism, which involves the non-consensual observation or recording of a person doing a private act, will be a crime. It is also a crime to make, possess or distribute voyeuristic recordings.

    • Sexual exposure, like flashing, will be a crime. This also covers cyber-flashing, where one is sent unsolicited explicit photos via messaging platforms.

    • Revenge porn will be dealt with under the offence of distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images. It will cover cases where these images are obtained via unlawful access to databases or recordings.

    • Specific laws against child abuse material will tackle the demand and supply of such content. The crimes will be extra-territorial and cover instances in which a Singaporean or permanent resident commits them overseas or where the offender or victim is based in Singapore.

    • The new law will criminalise situations where one obtains sexual activity by deceiving or lying about the use of a sexually protective device or whether one is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.

    • It will be an offence to possess, distribute, import and produce child sex-dolls.

    • In a new offence involving sexual exploitation of minors aged 16 to under-18, a key factor in determining exploitation will be the power imbalance between the accused and the minor.


    CHANGES TO OFFENCES

    • The scope of rape will be expanded to include all forms of penile penetration, including that of the anus and mouth. The old definition covers only penile-vaginal penetration.

    • Marital immunity for rape will be repealed and marital rape will be criminalised without exception.

    • Attempted suicide will no longer be a crime but abetment of attempted suicide, which includes physician-assisted suicide, will still be a crime.

    Tan Tam Mei

 
 

The police found her in 2000, almost completely blind, with slash wounds and broken bones all over her body.

With the new law, punishments will be harsher for specific offences against victims in intimate or close relationships with offenders, even if they are not married, like in Cindy's case.

Victims in intimate or close relationships with their abusers are two new groups that will be considered vulnerable victims.

The offences of rape against victims in these two groups, as well as wrongful confinement and causing hurt to them, can result in twice the maximum punishment.

Those in intimate relationships include people who live in the same household, share daily duties and rely on each other for financial support, while close relationships could refer to people living in the same household and those who have frequent contact with each other.

The new law includes new offences that address particularly the serious abuse of children, maids and people with disabilities.

For example, it is a crime to cause or allow the death of any of them in a situation where two or more people had the exclusive opportunity to cause the death, but they all deny any ill treatment of the victim.

It can be difficult to prove in court who committed or permitted the abuse, said Mr Shanmugam, noting that ambiguity under the old law could acquit those accused.

"This is not right... (With the changes), if you stood by and you allowed the child to be abused in this way, you can be charged," he said.

He also noted the case of waitress Annie Ee, a 26-year-old woman with low IQ who died in 2015 after eight months of torture by her flatmates.

In 2017, the couple, Tan Hui Zhen, 33, and her husband Pua Hak Chuan, 38, were jailed 161/2 years and 14 years respectively for causing grievous hurt. Pua was also given 14 strokes of the cane.

Under the new law, they could face up to 20 years of imprisonment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'Stiffer punishments for crimes against vulnerable people'. Print Edition | Subscribe