SINGAPORE REVIEWS SEXUAL OFFENCES TO BETTER PROTECT VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, MARITAL RAPE AND CHILD ABUSE

As of 2017, out of the 338 cases that Aware’s Sexual Assault Care Centre saw last year, 60 cases – it was found that in these cases, some form of technology was used to facilitate or exacerbate sexual violence or harassment or to record the sexual abuse or harm.

Such cases involved the following scenarios:

  • The victims meeting the perpetrators through online dating apps.
  • The perpetrators sending intimate digital images or videos of the victims to others.
  • The perpetrators issuing rape threats to victims online.

In light of such cases, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam announced that punishments for sexual offences and new penalties for sexual crimes targeting women and children on the Internet are being reviewed by the Government. This was published on his Facebook page as the world is observing 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence beginning on 25 November 2017.

Adding that the Government “will make Singapore one of the best places in the world for young girls to grow up and become fulfilled, confident adult women with a life full of possibilities.”, Mr Shanmugam announced the laws on marital rape and child abuse would be reviewed as well.

Victim Protection; Changes To The Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act

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

The Law Ministry proposed various changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act this year. These changes concerning sexual assault victims were included in this proposal. The changes next year are to follow the Law Ministry’s proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act this year. Mr Shanmugam also stated in his Facebook post there would 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.

Sexual Assault; Further Changes To Victim Protection

Currently, a gag order on the identities of vulnerable victims is issued only when the case goes before a court. As such, the latest proposed changes include issuing gag orders the moment a police report is lodged and automatic closed-door hearings. Victims of sexual crimes can video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person in court, while video recording will be made compulsory for suspects in such crimes. To further lessen the ordeal faced by such victims, lawyers will also be barred from probing a victim’s sexual history unless they obtain permission from the court.

In February 2017, a One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination Centre (OneSafe) to serve adult rape victims was set up by the police with the Singapore General Hospital, handling cases reported within 72 hours of assault where victims do not require other medical attention.

“In many cases, women are assaulted and the assaulter deserves to be punished seriously,” said Mr Shanmugam. But there are also cases where false accusations are made, and this is why rigorous trial processes are needed, he added. “Within that framework, how to make the trial process less intimidating, more accommodating for the victim, and also to make the process of cross-examination less vexatious for the victim – those are the things we are looking at.”

Additionally, the eligibility for mandatory treatment orders, where offenders undergo treatment for mental health conditions instead of jail time, will include certain offences with sentences of up to seven years. At present, the limit is three years.

Marital Rape; Married Women To Have Same Protection Against Violence As Unmarried Women

In an interview with The Straits Times, Benny Bong, a family and marriage counsellor with more than 30 years of experience, said it was hard to track how many women have had their husbands force sexual intercourse on them. “There is the issue of wanting to come forward and also the issue of saying: ‘I am a victim of a crime that does not exist’.”

Under Singapore’s Penal Code, the definition of rape does not apply if the woman is the perpetrator’s wife unless she is below 13 years old. The same marital immunity applies to a separate section of Singapore’s law that makes it a crime to sexually penetrate a minor below the age of 16 – meaning it is not a crime for a man to have sexual intercourse with a minor aged between 13 and 16 years old, even without her consent, if she is his wife. The minimum age for marriage in Singapore is 18 years if there is consent from parents or a legal guardian, and 21 years old without.

The legal exemption for married couples from Singapore’s rape law dates back to a statement by Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Justice of England from 1671 to 1676.

In his posthumous treatise on British criminal law, “The History of the Pleas of the Crown” (1736), Lord Hale wrote that “The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”

Marital Rape; More To Be Done Than The Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007

Until almost a decade ago, the concept of marital rape was not recognised in Singapore. Marital rape was added to Singapore’s law with the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007 enacted in February 2008. The Act specified that marital immunity could be lifted in certain cases including circumstances where the couple had been living apart, and the wife had applied for a divorce, separation or a PPO before the alleged offence.

However, the total abolition of marital immunity, as stated by the Ministry of Home Affairs in September 2007, would be “too radical a step”. As explained further by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there is a need to strike a balance explaining the need to strike a balance between the needs of women who require protection and the general concerns about conjugal rights and the expression of intimacy in a marriage.

Child Pornography And Offences Against Minors; Harsher Sentences

In 2016, the Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 107 cases of sexual abuse involving children, up from 82 in 2015. On 2 March 2017, American Joshua Robinson was convicted and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for engaging in consensual sex with two underage girls and recording these acts on his mobile phone. Showing an obscene clip to a six-year-old girl, was also among his other offences. Police officers had seized 5,902 obscene films, including 321 films of child pornography when they raided his apartment.

Robinson’s jail sentence has caused widespread controversy, with an online public petition for harsher sentencing that has garnered over 20,000 signatures.

Currently, perpetrators are charged under Section 7, Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA), or Section 376E of the Penal Code, on sexual grooming, another piece of legislation that aims to protect minors under 16. The CYPA is an Act which aims to provide protection for children and young persons, where section 2 of the CYPA defines a “child” as a person below 14 years of age and a “young person” as a person who is 14 years of age or above and below the age of 16 years.

In April this year, Mr Shanmugam said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is working with other ministries to study if punishments for sexual crimes against minors and offences related to child pornography should be raised and if new laws need to be enacted. With the adequacy of current laws on child pornography and sexual offences against minors under review, such an extra layer of protection around victims of sex crimes or child abuse will spare them any further trauma.

Proposed changes such as the gag order that will kick in the moment a case of sexual or child abuse is reported to the police, and the ability to testify in closed-door hearings, with physical screens to shield them from the accused person, are among the steps the government will take to allow young girls to grow up and become fulfilled, confident adult women with a life full of possibilities in Singapore.

How We Can Help

As a victim or offender of sexual offences mentioned in this article, cases involving such issues are delicate cases for you to deal alone. We firmly believe that everyone deserves a second chance.

At I.R.B Law LLP we have experienced Criminal Litigation Lawyers who are passionate about justice and fairness. Our lawyers will be able to guide you through Singapore’s Criminal Justice System and every stage of the proceedings. We believe that everyone should be allowed the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and live life anew. Should you be in a position where you may need our assistance, please do not hesitate and contact us at Hello@irblaw.com.sg or call us at +65 6589 8913 so that we can advise you on your matter.

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