Prosecution seeks jail for piano teacher with Asperger's who molested 5-year-old student

Prosecution seeks jail for piano teacher with Asperger's who molested 5-year-old student

child playing piano
(Photo: Unsplash/Siniz Kim)

SINGAPORE: The prosecution on Monday (Sep 2) urged the court to sentence a part-time piano teacher to 18 months' jail for molesting a five-year-old student during a class three years ago.

The man, 22, was a liar who was "patently unremorseful", said the prosecution, arguing that he was inconsistent in his statements to doctors and psychiatrists.

However, the defence pointed out that his client, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, had been assessed to be suitable for probation. Jail would "destroy" the young man, who had been exempted from National Service, said the lawyer. 

Both the accused and the victim cannot be named due to gag orders imposed by the court.

The man had pleaded guilty in April to one count of molesting the girl, a charge that had been reduced from attempted sexual assault.

He molested the child on Nov 7, 2016, on the pretext of correcting her posture. This happened at a studio that was not named in court documents. 

Despite the girl saying "ouch" several times, the man continued molesting her in a small room. He did not remove his hand from her undergarments even though he apologised each time.

The girl's father made a police report after his wife discovered that their daughter was crying as she felt pain while trying to urinate.

The child's injuries took two weeks to heal. She stopped playing the piano on her own and started wetting the bed.

MAN FANTASISED OF SEX WHILE MOLESTING GIRL: PROSECUTION

While "rehabilitation usually takes primacy" for young offenders, the victim in this case was "exceptionally young" and the violation was "very serious and very intrusive", said Deputy Public Prosecutor Gail Wong. 

She added that while the man has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, he is high-functioning and was able to complete school. 

The prosecutor added that he had lied to other doctors about not watching pornography or masturbating, before admitting to a psychologist from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) about his sexual habits.

"It's not the Asperger's, it's not the Autism Spectrum Disorder that caused the offences," said the prosecutor. "There was a real sexual motivation borne out of arousal, borne out of sexual intent."

She also referred to a report from Raffles Hospital that detailed the man's "supposed gay orientation", saying that the man's wish to convey that he was never erotically attracted to women was inconsistent with his claim to the MSF psychologist that he had been thinking of a heterosexual sex scene while molesting the girl.

The prosecution argued that the only contribution his mental condition had to the offence was his limited empathy for the victim, but said it was "certainly not the trigger to him committing the offence".

She added that they were not seeking caning as the punishment would be "more disproportionate" for a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but are asking for a compensation order of S$7,000 to cover the costs of counselling borne by the victim's family.

CLIENT SUITABLE FOR PROBATION: DEFENCE

Defence lawyer Shashi Nathan pointed out that the prosecution had no objections for a probation report to be called, and said the report came back positive, with his client found suitable for probation.

He said he found it "strange" that prosecution was now objecting to probation, and pointed out that the "lies" his client was accused of making were just "slightly different things" he said to different people in different circumstances.

"It is not easy for an ordinary person to talk about something as private as pornography or masturbation, let alone a person like (the accused)," said the lawyer. 

"He doesn't behave like an adult. He behaves like a young boy, much like that five-year-old girl herself ... Any normal adult if asked questions about sexual history, whether they watch porn or masturbate, most of us will be very reticent to openly talk about, whether or not it's connected to an offence."

"This is not an ordinary young man we are dealing with," said the lawyer. "His Asperger's is significant. When I take instructions from him, I have difficulty even making eye contact with him. I do not think he is a liar, I think he is genuinely remorseful for what he did."

His client sat in the dock with his head in his hands most of the time, or with his hands in a praying position. 

Referring to the report in which his client said he was gay, Mr Nathan said the orientation had "nothing to do with the offence at all". 

He pointed out that contrary to what the prosecution had argued, sexual exchanges between his client and a Twitter user were by an older man who was trying to groom his client, and that his client was not trying to reoffend.

"The fact that he may watch porn does not mean he's at risk of committing an offence, otherwise 90 per cent of the world's population will be at risk of committing an offence," said the lawyer.

IF HE DOESN'T GO TO JAIL, I WON'T ENJOY MY BIRTHDAY: VICTIM

The defence also raised objections over the victim impact statement, in which the girl said she hoped the man goes to jail, as "if he doesn't go to jail I won't enjoy my birthday".

"It can never be the case that the victim dictates to the court what the sentence should be," the lawyer said.

He said the conditions and length of probation can be altered, and one of the suggested conditions is for the accused not to work with young children.

"I don't think he can survive even one day in jail," said Mr Nathan. "He is so reliant on the group around him, his parents, his brother, it would devastate him, and I think he could even suffer some sort of mental breakdown."

In response, the prosecution said the victim suffered low self-confidence and self-esteem after the incident, and was bullied by children in kindergarten. The offender is "of average intellectual functioning" and does not have a young mind like the defence claimed, the prosecution added.

Justice Pang Khang Chau agreed with the defence's point on how the court should not be hearing things about how the victim would be impacted if a certain sentence were not imposed.

"You cannot try to affect the court this way," he told the prosecution. "I cannot be hearing things that are trying to exert emotional blackmail on me. This is not appropriate at all."

The judge adjourned the case for the MSF psychiatric report to be shared with other psychiatrists to ascertain if their assessments will change with the new information.

He also asked for detailed reasons for the accused's exemption from NS.

The case will be heard again at a later date.

For using criminal force on the five-year-old girl to outrage her modesty, the man could be jailed for up to five years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these punishments.

Source: CNA/ll(gs)

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