Former Drew & Napier lawyer jailed for taking upskirt and other photos of colleague in the office

Former Drew & Napier lawyer jailed for taking upskirt and other photos of colleague in the office

State Courts 07
File photo of the State Courts in Singapore (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: A former legal associate at top law firm Drew & Napier was sentenced to four weeks' jail on Monday (Jun 8) for taking compromising photos of a female colleague in the office.

The man's name and age cannot be published due to a gag order on his identity. The victim's identity is protected.

He had initially claimed trial, but pleaded guilty midway to two charges of insulting the modesty of a woman. Another two charges of outraging and insulting her modesty were taken into consideration.

The court heard that the offender worked at the law firm situated at the Ocean Financial Centre and was in the same team as the victim.

The accused, the victim and another colleague frequently went for meals and movies together, but the accused knew that the victim had a long-term boyfriend at the time.

In April 2017, the victim was staying back late to finish her work when the accused decided to take compromising photos of her to "ease his stress", knowing that she was alone.

She was seated facing her computer, when the man leaned over on the pretext of reading her computer screen. He asked her what she was working on and she replied that she was working on a set of legal submissions.

He then peeped at the woman, before positioning his handphone and taking several photographs of her chest and bra.

He wished her good luck before going back to his room, where he looked at the photos. He returned a while later and took several photographs of her underwear before leaving. He deleted the photos after looking at all of them.

THE SECOND INCIDENT

The next incident occurred on Oct 11, 2017, when the victim was eating lunch alone in her room at the office.

The man asked the woman what she was eating, but became sexually aroused and decided to take upskirt photos of her.

As he pointed the camera lens of his phone in the direction of the victim's thighs, the woman noticed this and swivelled her chair back under her desk so that her legs were underneath.

The man tried to get her to face him again, asking if he could see what she was having for lunch and she swivelled her chair towards him to show him her lunch.

When she went back to face her desk, the man prompted her to show him her lunch again and she turned back to him.

During this time, the man took several photos of the woman's underwear. 

When she crossed her legs, the man asked the victim if it was "painful for females to sit cross-legged for too long and how long she could sit cross-legged for".

He stood up and rested his buttocks on the victim's desk, pressing his thigh against her upper arm, an action that forms the molest charge that was taken into consideration.

After this, the man went to his room where he looked at the upskirt photos before deleting them.

HE BETRAYED THEIR FRIENDSHIP: PROSECUTION

Deputy Public Prosecutors Kelly Ho and Sheldon Lim asked for at least six weeks' jail for the man, noting that he had "betrayed" his friendship with the victim "in the most callous way", by taking multiple upskirt and "down-blouse" photographs of her in their shared workplace.

"Many Singaporeans spend long hours in the office, so much so that the office becomes a second home, and colleagues become close friends," they said. "This was true for the offender and the victim. They ... endured the same trials and tribulations that all junior lawyers undergo."

Despite this, the man betrayed the trust of the woman, who had developed a friendship with him over meal outings and late nights working together.

When the woman realised that her friend had taken advantage of her, she felt "betrayed and confused", her turmoil "amplified by the fact that she could not avoid or ignore the offender as she had to continue working with him on a day-to-day basis in the office", said the prosecutors.

She went through a period of self-loathing and shame, feeling responsible for what happened despite not doing anything to invite the offender's unwanted intrusions, and felt a "deep disgust" over what happened to her.

THE WOMAN'S TURMOIL

She experienced bouts of insomnia, nightmares and had to attend counselling. She also carried an umbrella to work each day for self-protection and avoided the offender during lunchtimes.

After she filed a police report, the man tried to convince her to drop the case against him by threatening to commit suicide and telling her how the case hurt his sick mother.

He also attempted to sway the victim indirectly by reaching out to their mutual friends and colleagues and saying that he was suicidal.

"Many of them reached out to (her) and expressed their concern, not for her, but for the offender," said the prosecution. "The emotional blackmail caused her so much pain and guilt that she began to engage in self-harm."

From the outset, the woman wanted nothing more than to forget all that had happened, but could not do so as she knew - as a lawyer - the importance of remembering the details for cross-examination.

The prosecutors said the man's actions were persistent and premeditated. They added that there is an urgent need for deterrent sentences, pointing out that the number of technology-facilitated sexual offending cases seen by the Association of Women for Action and Research’s (AWARE) Sexual Assault Care Centre has more than doubled between 2016 and 2018.

HE HAD TO LEAVE LAW JOBS: DEFENCE

Defence lawyer Tan Hee Joek asked instead for a week's jail for each proceeded charge, saying that his client was a first-time offender and had taken the pictures when he was "suffering under immense stress".

He said no record of incriminating photos was found in the man's phone and that the pictures did not involve genitalia.

He said a psychiatrist found that the offender's acts of taking upskirt photos were "impulsive" acts arising from his undiagnosed and untreated condition of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The offender resigned from Drew & Napier in late 2017 and found another job at another law firm, said Mr Tan.

He now works for an overseas firm.

The man has also written an apology to the victim, with his lawyer saying that the offender had safely escorted the victim home once despite "her heavily intoxicated state".

For each charge of insulting a woman's modesty, the man could have been jailed for up to a year, fined or both.

In a statement to CNA after the sentencing, Drew & Napier said its firm has "a strict zero-tolerance policy towards misconduct of any nature". 

"Our colleagues work hard to maintain a supportive and respectful work environment with an open-door policy. We are fully committed to ensuring that every single member of our firm feels safe and that reported cases of misconduct, sexual or otherwise are responded to swiftly. Appropriate steps were taken when the allegations came to light."

Source: CNA/ll(hs)

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