SINGAPORE: There are no "free passes" for university students or anyone else when it comes to sexual misconduct cases, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament on Monday (May 6).
Mr Shanmugam was responding to queries from Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera and Member of Parliament (MP) Lee Bee Wah on sexual offences at Singapore's universities, as well as the general approach taken by the police and Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) regarding such cases.
CASES IN UNIVERSITIES
The Ministry of Education (MOE) had informed Parliament that between the academic years of 2015/2016 and 2017/2018, 56 sexual misconduct cases were reported to the autonomous universities. Of the 56 cases, 37 were forwarded to the police, Mr Shanmugam said.
The minister added that there was insufficient evidence to make out offences in two cases, and investigations in another four are ongoing.
Of the remaining 31 cases, 16 were prosecuted in court, with a jail sentence for 10 of them. Supervised probation was imposed by the courts in four cases, and a discharge not amounting to an acquittal was handed out in one case. The sentencing for one case is still pending.
Of the remaining 15 cases, 13 perpetrators were given a conditional warning, while two were given stern warnings.
One re-offender, an NUS student, had been given a conditional warning for a voyeurism offence in 2015. When he re-offended in 2017, police prosecuted him for both the 2015 and 2017 offences. He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and fined S$2,000.
Mr Shanmugam also said that beyond the 56 cases, there were an additional eight cases reported directly to the police. Six of these were dropped due to insufficient evidence to make up offences, while investigations into the two remaining cases are ongoing.
NICHOLAS LIM "ON THIN ICE"
The minister said there were no "free passes" for anyone.
"So these numbers show that some have been prosecuted depending on the facts, others have been given a second chance, and there are no 'free passes' to university students, or anyone else," said Mr Shanmugam.
"All of this - being tough, taking a no nonsense approach - does not mean that every offender must be or will be automatically charged in court. Police and (the) AGC must look at the facts of each case and exercise discretion," the minister added.
On the case involving NUS undergraduate Monica Baey, who was filmed by fellow student Nicholas Lim in the hostel shower, Mr Shanmugam said the perpetrator is "on thin ice" after he was handed a conditional warning by the police.
The minister said there were factors which could have justified charging Mr Lim - the primary one being that he had done something "very wrong".
"These factors were weighed against other factors, which were justified giving him another chance. Police weighed both sets of factors, and decided that a conditional warning was appropriate," Mr Shanmugam explained.
"It was one of those cases, quite usual for the police, where the decision was based on judgment. Police accessed him to be remorseful and likely to reform.
"He confessed voluntarily, within minutes of the offence being committed, and well before any police report was made.
"He was cooperative with the police. He had not circulated the video. It had been deleted. Other factors have also been mentioned in the police statement."
Should Mr Lim re-offend within a 12-month period, he will be charged for the offence related to Ms Baey, as well as the new offence, added the minister.
DEALING WITH SEXUAL MISCONDUCT OFFENCES
Mr Shanmugam said the assessment of future conduct and the possibility of rehabilitation were important considerations when it came to such cases.
"This is so even when the offender had done similar acts previously, which will of course weigh against him," the minister added.
"The police will look at all the factors, including the level of remorse, whether he owned up voluntarily, and the likelihood of reform, and the likelihood of re-offending.
"They will also of course consider the circumstances of the victim, the impact of the offence on the victim, and the need for deterrence."
Mr Shanmugam said in general, there would be "no reason" for police to show leniency if there are aggravating factors.
This includes if a person had any previous convictions or had been warned for similar offences.
Another factor is when the offender if premeditation or deception was used when committing the offence, such as using hidden pinhole cameras, masking his face, covering CCTV cameras, or other means to evade detection.
Police will also consider if the video was shared or circulated, and if the offender was not remorseful or had been uncooperative in the investigation.
"We take a very stern view of sexual misconduct. Several perpetrators have been prosecuted and put behind bars. But the rigid meting out of uniform penalties will not serve the wider public interest," added Mr Shanmugam.