SINGAPORE: A National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate who took videos of children in a toilet on multiple occasions was given a 24-month conditional warning in lieu of prosecution by the police, according to a document detailing offences heard by the school's disciplinary board between 2015 and 2018 and their outcomes.
The documents - which were obtained from the university's student portal and uploaded over the previous weekend by a group of NUS students on Facebook - reveal that the NUS' Board of Discipline heard at least 26 cases of sexual misconduct during the three academic years.
Several of the cases involved students taking photos and videos of male and female students in the shower and upskirt videos. In other incidents, offenders touched the thighs or buttocks of female students.
The document, however, also revealed that children were among the victims of the sexual voyeurs in NUS. It did not state where these offences took place.
In the case contained in the document, an undergraduate had "entered a children's toilet and filmed children in the adjacent cubicle on multiple occasions" between 2015 and 2016, according to the document.
The perpetrator was given a 24-month conditional warning by the police. He was also temporarily suspended for two semesters, ordered to undergo mandatory counselling and psychological assessment, fined S$1,000 and issued an official reprimand.
CNA has sought further information from NUS on the case.
NUS' handling of sexual misconduct cases has been under the spotlight, after undergraduate Monica Baey took to Instagram to call for tougher action against a student who had filmed her taking a shower.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday the penalties meted out to Ms Baey's perpetrator - which included a one-semester suspension and ban from on-campus housing premises - were "manifestly inadequate".
Responding on the case involving children, lawyers CNA spoke to said that while universities have the right to decide how they wish to review incidents that happen on their premises, offences involving minors or children are generally viewed as more serious.
Ms Cheryl Ng from Intelleigen Legal said that in the case of the student who filmed children in the toilet, while a conditional warning "does seem somewhat surprising", there could be facts that are unknown.
"The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) usually takes a very firm stance when children are victims in such situations. It is also more aggravated that children were the prime target. However, one factor that we know the AGC considers in whether to prosecute or not is the strength of the evidence," Ms Ng said.
"If there is no evidence, then it can be difficult to successfully prosecute the alleged accused. As such, the AGC or police will choose to issue a warning instead," Ms Ng added.
Lawyer Gloria-James Civetta from Gloria James-Civetta & Co said taking into account that the offender is a student and the video was apparently not circulated, the decision made by the Board of Discipline "fits the crime".
She added that the student could face charges under the Films Act or the Children and Young Persons Act.
Mr Che Wei Chin from Covenant Chambers said that in cases of vulnerable victims like children, it is more likely that AGC will issue charges instead of merely a conditional warning.
"Some factors that AGC are likely to consider when deciding on issuing charge(s) are: The degree of culpability, the harm caused to the children (and) whether there are public policy considerations," Mr Che said.
Still, he added, it is within AGC's rights to ask the police to issue a conditional warning if they assess that the person’s actions are an isolated incident and his chances of reoffending are not high.
However, if the person filmed children several times over different time periods, each occasion of filming could constitute one charge and the person could technically face multiple charges.
"In such instances, a conditional warning could be unjustifiably lenient," Mr Che said.
Lawyer Ashwin Ganapathy from IRB Law added that while a conditional warning does not amount to a legally binding pronouncement of guilt, it may nevertheless have a deterrent effect on the student.
"In this case, the recipient received a 24-month conditional warning. This means that he is forced to stay on the right path of law for the next 24 months," said Mr Ganapathy.
"Twenty-four months is by no means a short period of time. If he does not cherish the chance afforded to him and reoffends, he is likely to be charged for the latest offences and the offences for which he received the conditional warning," Mr Ganapathy added.
Ms Anisha Joseph, head of AWARE's Sexual Assault Care Centre, said that because children cannot legally give consent to a range of actions, the need to protect children's privacy is even stronger than that of adults.
"There may be a belief that filming a child in a bathroom, because it's not physical violence, is not abuse or is a lesser form of abuse. However, without even going into what the perpetrator planned to do with the footage, filming somebody without their knowledge or permission is a clear violation of privacy and respect," Ms Joseph said.
"It is the responsibility of institutions to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment on their spaces, via strong policies, procedures and training."
She added: "We expect institutions to keep their communities safe, more than we expect individuals to be able to protect themselves or their children from harm."
Editor's note: This article has been amended for clarity. It is as yet unclear where the offences took place.
Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker.