SMU student grilled on the stand about consent as woman he allegedly molested sits in to listen

SMU student grilled on the stand about consent as woman he allegedly molested sits in to listen

Lee Yan Ru
SMU student Lee Yan Ru leaving the State Courts on Apr 5, 2021. (Photo: TODAY/Raj Nadarajan)

SINGAPORE: A Singapore Management University (SMU) student on trial for molesting a woman during an overnight study session was grilled by the prosecutor about consent on Tuesday (Apr 6), as the woman made a surprise showing to attend the hearing.

Under cross-examination from Deputy Public Prosecutor Andre Chong, 24-year-old Lee Yan Ru repeatedly maintained that he thought the woman, now 22, had consented to his acts throughout the whole night.

Mr Chong charged that Lee did not care if she consented, that he could not take no for an answer and that he did not stop when the woman asked him to stop because based on his police statement, he "just (wanted) to release".

READ: 'She was completely fine with all my advances', says student on trial for molesting woman in SMU

Lee is contesting one charge of using criminal force on the woman by rubbing his privates on her chest in a study room at SMU on Jan 8, 2019, intending to outrage her modesty.

The woman in the case, who is not an SMU student, turned up for the hearing on Tuesday morning and was allowed to stay after a brief stand-down where parties discussed whether her presence might be an issue.

District Judge Sharmila Sripathy allowed her to stay after the prosecutor said he had no objections, and she stayed in the hearing for the entire time Lee was being cross-examined.

Lee had testified a day earlier under the direction of his defence lawyers from Rajah & Tann that he had met the woman on Instagram in early January 2019 and arranged to meet her at a cafe soon after. That same night, she accepted his invitation to meet him at SMU to study through the night, turning up at 1am on Jan 8, 2019.

READ: Woman testifies in trial of SMU student accused of molesting her, saying she felt 'weird and awkward'

Throughout the night, Lee testified, what happened between them was "mutual" and "consensual", and she "was fine" with him touching her breast, hugging her and trying to kiss her as they studied, watched a movie under a table and went for smoke breaks.

At about 6am on Jan 8, 2019, after they both lay down in separate areas of a study room in SMU for a nap, Lee woke up and knelt over the woman.

He then touched her breast to wake her up before exposing himself and rubbing himself against her chest. This forms the charge he is contesting. Lee admitted to the acts, but said he did not intend to outrage her modesty, and that the woman had consented to the acts.

THE CONCEPT OF CONSENT

Mr Chong opened his cross-examination by asking Lee about the concept of consent.

"If I want to do something to you, isn't the burden on me to ask you for consent?" asked Mr Chong.

"It will be my job to ensure I say no," answered Lee, whose parents were in the public gallery. 

"Even though I'm the one who wants to do something to you?" asked Mr Chong.

"Based on your question - I need to say no if you want to do something to me and I do not want you to do something to me," replied Lee.

When Mr Chong said the only way to be certain if someone consents to an act is to ask them, Lee said "well, it depends". He added that it depends on the place he was asked and the environment he was in.

Under Mr Chong's questioning, Lee agreed that he had not asked the woman for permission before he performed any of the physical acts against her - including poking her at the cafe where they first met, kissing her, hugging her or touching her breast.

While they were studying in a room at the university, Lee said he placed his feet on the woman's thighs and "flapped them". One of the signs he took to be her consent was how she would take his feet and place them back on her lap when they slipped off.

However, the woman had testified that she had grabbed his feet and pushed them off each time he placed them on her legs.

"On the previous occasion, (the woman) pushed your hand away when you poked her," said Mr Chong. "So she didn't want you to even poke her. But you are telling us now that when you put your feet on her thighs - which is a far more intrusive act, she wanted that to continue?"

"Yes," replied Lee.

"Your dirty unwashed feet, on her thighs?" asked Mr Chong.

"Yes, sir."

"Is that believable, Mr Lee?" asked Mr Chong.

"That's exactly what happened," Lee maintained.

DETAILS NOT IN HIS POLICE STATEMENT

Mr Chong pointed out that this detail was not in the statement he gave to the police soon after the incident, when his memory was freshest in his mind. Lee said he had not thought about it at the time.

Lee had also testified that while the woman was changing her clothes in a corner of the room, he had asked her what if he were to peek. Lee said she replied, "I trust you."

This detail was also not in Lee's police statement. He again said he had recalled what he could at the time and was in a "scared state".

READ: SMU molestation trial: Defence claims woman is lying and giving 'completely illogical' account of events

"You were 22. By the laws of the country, you would be an adult. You had served your National Service. You were in fact an officer. So how can it be that you were 'young and scared'?" asked Mr Chong.

"Why can't that be the case?" replied Lee. "I'm young and scared. Even right now if I'm brought to the police station, I will still be young and scared."

Mr Chong charged that Lee was changing his statement repeatedly, from what he said to the police to what he said under questioning by his defence lawyers and now under cross-examination, but Lee said he was not.

Mr Chong questioned Lee about his behaviour during a movie he watched with the woman at about 2am that day.

PROSECUTOR: "I WILL HIT YOU" MEANS SHE'S OK?

When Lee asked the woman what she would do if he tickled her, she said "I will hit you or punch you", according to Lee.

"You took the words ... to mean she was OK with you tickling her," said Mr Chong. "When (she) testified, she didn't mention that you asked her what happens if you tickle her."

"Even if I believe you - which for the record, I don't - which part of her response 'I will hit you and punch you' translates to 'I am OK with being tickled'?" asked Mr Chong.

"To me, at that point in time, we were just comfortable with each other," said Lee. "I will know if she will really punch me after her act. If I poke her and she punch me, then it means, yes, but she didn't. She only flicked me."

"You will only find out after you did it, right?" asked Mr Chong.

"No, sir," answered Lee.

Mr Chong accused Lee of changing his evidence again on the stand, and Lee replied: "I know you don't get it because you weren't there at the scene. I was there, and we were there, and I could really feel-"

"Mr Lee, it doesn't matter if I was there. My job here today is to test your evidence. You weren't the only one at the scene, because (the woman) was also there. She has also given evidence," Mr Chong interjected.

THE MEANING OF THE WORD "STOP"

When it came to the final act in the room in the early morning of Jan 8, 2019, Mr Chong pointed Lee to his police statement where he was asked why he rubbed himself against the woman's chest.

On Mr Chong's direction, Lee read out his answer in the statement, which said that Lee just wanted to "release" and that it was a "moment of lust".

Mr Chong charged that what was foremost on Lee's mind was "your desire to ejaculate", but Lee said he did also think of whether the woman was "fine with it" and thought she was.

Mr Chong said it was an "absurd situation" for the woman to find herself in, and said Lee was prepared to override her refusal - when he began rubbing himself on her and she said stop - to achieve his own gratification.

READ: 'To me, her stop didn't actually mean a stop', says man on trial for molesting woman during SMU study session

"You said - 'To me, her stop didn't mean stop. I felt like she wanted me to carry on and I took it that she was fine with my advances'," said Mr Chong. "Now Mr Lee, what's the ordinary meaning of the word stop?"

"It's to ... someone to pause what they are doing," answered Lee.

"Pause, cease, not continue, right? That's the ordinary meaning of the word 'stop', right?" asked Mr Chong.

"It depends on the context still, sir, not necessarily someone says stop it means stop," answered Lee.

"If (she) wanted you to carry on, wouldn't she have said 'carry on', or words to that effect?" asked Mr Chong.

"She could, but when she said the word 'stop', I saw it as 'carry on' also," said Lee.

Asked why he thought so, he reiterated that the whole night was "a progressive thing" and he could tell she was "ok with my advances".

"The way she used 'stop', it sounded very playful still, so it sound(ed) like the time when we went to the toilet and I splashed water on her and her saying 'don't disturb me' so to me her definition of stop didn't mean stop, and to me I took it to mean the phrase you used - just carry on," said Lee.

Pressed by the prosecutor to demonstrate how the woman had supposedly said "stop" in a playful tone, Lee said he could not show it to him in this current environment.

"If even the word 'stop' meant carry on to you, what could (she) have said to get you to stop?" asked Mr Chong.

"Like I said it depends on the feeling I have. Like if she shouted 'stop', or shouted any other words. Her hands were free, right. If she hit me, pushed me hard, I would know it means stop. But the word 'stop' she gave doesn't mean a stop," said Lee.

"The truth is, Mr Lee, there was nothing (she) could've said to get you to stop," countered Mr Chong. Lee disagreed.

HE HAD "SIMILAR" EXPERIENCES WITH OTHER GIRLS

Mr Chong also pointed to Lee's police statement, where he said his "past experiences with other girls were similar and they were OK with it" and he did not expect this incident to end like that.

Asked to explain, Lee said: "Before that, I did go out with other girls, we did have intimacy throughout the night, and after the night they were fine with it. We are still friends, and all those are similar experience I had with (the woman). I believe she was fine with it, so I really don't know why she tried to tell me the lawyer's letter thing and called the police on me."

When Mr Chong asked if Lee had knelt on top of other sleeping girls and rubbed himself on them on other occasions, Lee's lawyers objected, but the judge allowed the question. 

Lee denied doing this.

"Your belief that she consented to you doing these things to her is completely unsupported by any of the facts," said Mr Chong.

"It's the whole environment, that, that's the whole process, I keep repeating, these are the facts where we are constantly getting closer and closer and there's consent all the way," said Lee.

"What you are saying this entire time about what you felt, what you believed, about the mood - this is a fantasy that you've constructed, which had no basis in reality," Mr Chong said.

Lee's lawyers had no questions for him in re-examination. The judge called for both sides to file written submissions and reply submissions, and fixed a date to deliver her verdict in July.

If convicted of molesting the woman, Lee can be jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these penalties.

SMU said in September last year that Lee remains a student pending the outcome of his trial and the university's disciplinary proceedings.

Source: CNA/ll(ac)

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