Law and Sentencing for Outrage of Modesty in Singapore

There has been an increase in the number of outrage of modesty cases which are reported over the past few years.

1. 354(1) of the Penal Code is the general provision which stipulates that the assault or use of criminal force to a person with the intent to outrage modesty is a criminal offence which will be liable to a jail term of up to 2 years, or a fine, or with caning, or a combination of the above mentioned punishments.

That being said, the well-established sentencing benchmark is 9 months’ imprisonment with caning as a starting point for molest or outrage of modesty under s 354 of the Penal Code where a victim’s private parts or sexual organs were intruded.

Offences under s 354(1) of the Penal Code include situations where there is outrage of modesty, regardless of whether criminal force was used or not.

Yet another relevant section under the Penal Code is s 509. This provision provides that anyone who “utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object” with the intention that a woman’s privacy is intruded and results in causing insult to the modesty of a woman is guilty of an offence. The sentence includes imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or fine, or both.

Elements of the crime

In order to qualify as an offence under s 354 of the Penal Code, there must be a lack of consent. Furthermore, the offender must have intended or knew that the acts were likely to outrage modesty.

In addition to these mental elements, there must also be the commission of act(s) that constitutes outrage of modesty.

Cases of molestation

The tabulated cases below highlight some of the reported cases as well as the sentences that were meted out in the specific cases.

Reported cases (Straits Times) Description Sentencing
“Man jailed for a week for molesting sleeping woman on MRT train” Male offender touched the thigh of a sleeping woman (more than once) sitting next to him on an MRT train. Jailed for 1 week after guilty plea
“Man on his way to lunch molested woman” Male offender, after dropping off his wife and son, went to park his car and then molested a 34-year-old woman while on the way back to meet his family for lunch. Fined $4,000
“Pastor jailed eight weeks for taking upskirt videos of women” Male offender crept up on unsuspecting women to record 12 upskirt videos. Jailed for 8 weeks
“Jail for engineer who molested tutor on bus” Male offender molested a part-time tutor on a bus by rubbing his thigh against the 23-year-old’s several times. Jailed for 3 weeks
“Man gets 10 months’ jail for molesting maid and expectant mother in lift” Male offender molested a domestic maid and expectant mother in the lift in separate incidents within the space of an hour. Jailed for 10 months
“Repeat sex offender given stiffer sentence after molesting woman 2 months after release” Male offender with history of trespassing into women’s toilets to molest his victims Preventive detention for 10 years with three strokes of the cane
“”Man, 60, jailed 18 months for molesting boy, 6, at Burger King” He first molested a six-year-old boy at a fast-food restaurant. Less than 15 minutes later, he touched the buttocks of a 60-year-old woman on a bus. Jailed for 18 months
“Employer’s husband jailed for 14 months and 2 weeks for molesting maid, insulting her modesty” The male offender molested domestic helper and exposed himself to the victim twice Jailed for 14 months and 2 weeks

Attempted crimes of outrage of modesty

Mere attempts, as well as failed attempts to commit an offence, are also punishable under the Penal Code, as prescribed by s 511 of the Penal Code.

In the case of attempted outrage of modesty case, the imprisonment imposed can be up to one-half of the longest term provided for the offence (i.e. up to 1 year jail term).

Factors taken into account for sentencing under s 354 of the Penal Code

The following is a non-exhaustive list of factors highlighted by local courts for sentencing in outrage of modesty cases:

  • Which part of the victim’s body did the offender touch?
  • How did the offender touch the victim/the manner in which the victim was molested?
  • How long did the molestation last?
  • Was the offence premeditated or committed on the spur of the moment?
  • Were the circumstances in which the offence was committed inherently reprehensible?
  • Is the offender recalcitrant?
  • Is the offender suffering from a mental disorder or intellectual disability?
  • What is the relationship between the offender and the victim?

Aggravated punishments in certain cases

S 73 of the Penal Code provides enhanced punishments for offences against a domestic maid. s 354(2) of the Penal Code provides for harsher punishments in cases involving victims below 14 years of age, which may extend to 5 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any combination of such punishments. s 354A of the Penal Code similarly imposes stiffer sentences against offenders which involve offences committed in lifts, physical threats, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint, and death. s 354A(1) of the Penal Code states where is death, or hurt, or wrongful restraint, or fear of instant death, instant hurt or instant wrongful restraint, the punishment involves imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years and not more than 10 years and with caning. s 354A(2) of the Penal Code subjects the offender to enhanced punishment of imprisonment for a term of not less than 3 years and not more than 10 years and with caning, if committed in a lift or against any person under 14 years old.

Who are the offenders and victims under s 354 and s 509 of the Penal Code?

Who are the offenders?

The offence of outraging modesty can be committed by men or women in both s 354 and s 509 of the Penal Code. Although 354 of the Penal Code refers to “he”, s 8 of the Penal Code defines that the pronoun “he” can be used of any person, whether male or female. However, it is evident that more often than not, male culprits are the ones responsible for transgressions of s 354 of the Penal Code.

Who are the victims?

S 509 of the Penal Code does not protect men as the provision expressly refers to the insulting the modesty of a woman.

In a recent case Public Prosecutor v Colin Teo Han Jern, SGMC 74, it was held that Singapore’s laws make a deliberate difference between the sexes when it come to the outrage and insult of modesty and thus there cannot be a general comparison with the cases where female victims were involved. According to the case, the more serious outrage of modesty, which involves the use of criminal force (i.e. s 354 of the Penal Code), applies to “all persons”.

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