SINGAPORE: A man was sentenced to 24 years' jail on Friday (Feb 7) for sexually abusing his stepdaughter over six years since she was eight - crimes that came to light only when the victim suffered a mental breakdown.
After he was sentenced, the man requested to speak to the victim, who was in court, but she said she did not want to talk to him.
He then apologised to her in open court through an interpreter, and the girl started sobbing.
All parties cannot be named due to gag orders protecting the identity of the victim, who is now 20.
The court heard that the 55-year-old man married the victim's mother in 2006, when the girl was seven.
The accused, the victim, her mother and the victim's two siblings lived in a one-room flat from 2007.
SEXUAL ABUSE BEGAN WHEN VICTIM'S BROTHER MOVED OUT
The sexual abuse began when the victim's older brother moved out and the victim started sharing a bunk bed with her younger sister.
Her stepfather worked as a cleaner, while her mother worked shifts at a factory, returning home close to midnight. This resulted in the man often being the only adult home with his two stepdaughters.
He first sexually abused the older girl sometime before the victim's ninth birthday in 2008, when she had gone to sleep.
He entered the bedroom and started molesting her. The girl woke up and saw her stepfather touching her, but kept still and pretended to be sleeping as she did not know what to do.
Her younger sister was sleeping on the bunk above her and her mother was at work while this went on.
Her stepfather continued to sexually abuse her in this way, molesting her at night while she slept, or during her afternoon naps.
Over time, his actions escalated and he began sexually assaulting her with his fingers when she was nine, "as the victim lay helplessly in bed", said Deputy Public Prosecutors Eugene Lee and Chong Yong.
The victim would be shocked and try to stop the man, but he persisted in his assaults.
VICTIM HAD DIFFICULTY WALKING AFTER ASSAULT
The girl felt discomfort and had difficulty walking after the first assault and felt a sharp pain when urinating, a condition which persisted for a few weeks.
She confided in a classmate, saying she did not wish to return home.
After this first instance of digital penetration, the man continued committing such acts into the following year.
In 2011, the victim quarrelled with her younger sister over sleeping arrangements, and managed to get to sleep on the upper bunk instead.
However, it did not stop her stepfather, who climbed up to the upper bunk and continued to sexually assault the girl.
She went back to sleep on the lower bed as she felt it was pointless to switch sleeping arrangements as it did not stop the abuse.
The man also tried to rape the girl when she was 12, 13 and 14, in charges that were taken into consideration.
VICTIM SUFFERED ANXIETY ATTACK, CRIMES EXPOSED
The abuse continued up to 2014, when the stepfather was arrested and later jailed for drug offences.
However, the crimes against his stepdaughter came to light only in January 2018, when the victim suffered from an anxiety attack and went to a hospital.
She told doctors that she had been sexually abused by her stepfather since she was eight, and said she wanted to self-harm.
She was referred to the Institute of Mental Health, where she was diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder.
IMH informed the police of the offences, and the man was arrested.
In his forensic psychiatric evaluation, he admitted sexually assaulting his stepdaughter, and was found with a history of drug abuse, even though this had no link with the offences.
The man pleaded guilty on Friday to three counts of sexual assault by penetration of a minor. Eight other charges including attempted rape, molest, and sexual assault were taken into consideration.
He had no similar previous convictions, with most of his past offences drug-related.
Both the prosecution and defence agreed on the sentence of 24 years' jail, but the prosecutors asked for a year's more jail in lieu of caning.
They said the man would have been given 24 strokes of the cane, but cannot receive the penalty as he is above 50.
HE STOLE THE VICTIM'S INNOCENCE: PROSECUTION
Mr Lee and Mr Chong said the accused had stolen the victim's innocence from her, sneaking into her room two to three nights a week to assault her.
"That period of her life, which should have been filled with happy recollections of school and friends, is instead irreparably corrupted by memories of shock, disgust and despair," they said.
"So terrible was this violation of trust that, even after the abuse stopped, the victim continued to carry the burden of these attacks alone and without help," said the prosecutors.
"It was only in 2018, when, unable to bear the weight of this sickening chapter in her life, the victim suffered a mental breakdown and the accused’s crimes came to light."
Defence lawyer Beverly Lim said that adding a year's jail would not be effective as there would be "marginal deterrent and retributive value".
Justice Valerie Thean said the case involved a "severe abuse of trust" and a high degree of sexual exploitation over a period of time.
However, she said an early plea of guilt is mitigating, and a discount was given for that.
She did not give the man an additional year's jail in lieu of caning, saying that 24 years was "a substantial term", proportionate with "his overall criminality".
ACCUSED REQUESTS TO SPEAK TO VICTIM, SHE REJECTS
After the sentence was passed, the man requested to speak to the victim, who was in court with her family.
The victim said she did not wish to speak to him, and Justice Thean told the man that he could apologise to her in open court if that was his intention.
The man addressed the victim and her family through an interpreter: "I wish to apologise for all the wrongdoings that I have done, in this life and hereafter. I am really remorseful and I want to turn over a new leaf."
The victim started crying and continued sobbing as she left the courtroom with her family.
The penalties for each count of sexual assault by penetration of a minor are a jail term of between eight and 20 years' jail and at least 12 strokes of the cane.