SINGAPORE: A veteran athletics coach with 35 years of experience was found guilty on Wednesday (Jun 3) of molesting a teenage athlete twice in 2013.
Loh Siang Piow, 75, also known as Loh Chan Pew, was convicted of two charges of using criminal force on the woman at Tampines Stadium in order to outrage her modesty.
He first molested the woman, then 18 years old, in early March 2013.
They were on a bench along a corridor leading to the gate below the spectators' waiting area when he molested her while massaging the back of her thighs.
He committed the second offence that same month, on a massage bed inside an equipment room at the now-defunct stadium.
Again, he molested her while massaging the back of her thighs.
The verdict came years after the trial began, with District Judge Marvin Bay finding that the defence was not able to establish its alibi defence.
Loh denied ever molesting the girl, and said he never conducted any individual training sessions with her. However, the judge found that his defence lawyers failed to show that he was involved in other activities on the dates of both charges.
The case was complicated by the fact that the building housing the stadium no longer exists, with no independent witnesses and the fact that the victim filed a report only in July 2016.
GIRL WAS AN ASPIRING NATIONAL ATHLETE
The victim was an aspiring national-level athlete who had some success in short-distance sprints.
She began training intensely in early 2013. She was coached by Loh, who also trained athletes from various schools, including a junior college and a university.
The teen testified that Loh organised one-on-one training sessions for her about two months after she started training under him, from end-January 2013 to mid-March 2013.
These were supposedly organised to improve her performance at upcoming competitions, and the teen initially felt lucky to have the one-on-one training.
She went for the sessions on Sundays, and the first one went uneventfully. Loh offered a cool down massage, and the girl agreed, thinking nothing of it.
As she lay prone, the coach massaged her calves from her ankles to her knees, and nothing out of the ordinary happened.
However after another training session, Loh massaged the back of her calves to her thighs.
The victim testified that she could feel Loh molesting her but told herself that the contact was probably accidental or that he was being clumsy.
Nevertheless, she felt confused and uncomfortable and later told her mother that the coach had massaged her such that she felt uncomfortable.
MOTHER TOLD HER TO SAY NO
Her mother told her to say "no", but the girl was concerned that her coach "would insist".
At the third training session, the coach met the victim's father and nothing untoward occurred.
However, he molested her again at the last training session.
Loh had asked the victim if she wanted a massage and she said "no".
In response, he said "just massage" and "cool down massage", the victim testified. She tried to decline, but said Loh persisted. She relented as she felt she had to comply given that he was her coach.
He took her to the equipment room and made her lie down before massaging her legs and molesting her. She told him to stop, but he said "just relax".
After this, Loh asked her to go for a meal and they did. Thereafter, she went only for group trainings.
EVIDENCE CONSIDERED AT TRIAL
The judge considered evidence including a chain of messages between the victim and a female training partner known only as Ms W, who also made complaints of molest against Loh.
The victim in this case also texted a friend and junior college senior, saying: "I think Mr Loh molested me, idk."
Sometime in 2013, she told another coach, Ms Michelle Eng, about feeling uncomfortable with Loh due to the massages, but did not give more details.
It was only three years later in 2016 that she texted Ms Eng to give her a full account. She wrote that Loh made her train individually with him and kept massaging her further up her thighs.
"I think I just spent (really) long crying and feeling very dirty but when I tried to explain to you that time I didn't dare say it," she said.
"I told Ms W what had happened and she told me he did the same to me to when she continued training ... but she just tried to forget about it. That's why I kinda stopped running and she stopped training under him. I'm scared you'll send the juniors to train under him when they graduate so just letting you know."
The victim stressed that her primary concern in raising the matter was not personal vindication but the concern that juniors from her alma mater might train under Loh.
The defence sought to cast doubt on the credibility of the victim's evidence, focusing on her apparent inability to recall specific details of the venue such as the colour of the stadium walls, but Judge Bay noted that she was trying to recall in 2018 what had happened several years ago in 2013.
He also noted the supporting text messages and the evidence by the victim's father, who corroborated her account of being present at one of the training sessions where he did not see any other trainees.
SINGAPORE ATHLETICS RESPONDS
A spokesman for Singapore Athletics told CNA that Loh was vice-president of the group when he was first charged in court, but voluntarily suspended himself from duties.
Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei said Loh has “contributed significantly over the years as an athlete, coach and administrator”.
In a statement on Wednesday, the sports body highlighted the setting up of SafeSport in 2018, a new commission to tackle sexual abuse in the local sports fraternity.
Singapore Athletics said the measures put in place included the appointing of an officer to investigate complaints, the establishing of a code of conduct and educating the fraternity on what constitutes acceptable behaviour and where to report incidents.
Loh will return to court for sentencing on Jun 26. He faces up to two years in jail, or a fine, or both per charge. He cannot be caned as he is above 50.