Judge acquits man accused of molesting his 12-year-old daughter while she wore a VR headset
SINGAPORE: A district judge on Thursday (Mar 16) threw out the case of a man accused of molesting his 12-year-old daughter while she wore a virtual reality (VR) headset.
The 35-year-old man went on trial last January for one charge of outraging the modesty of his daughter in his bedroom sometime between July and November 2018.
On Thursday, he was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal for the single charge.
He faces four other charges of outraging the girl's modesty, which were stood down during the trial.
The identities of father and daughter are protected by a gag order.
The man had previously testified that he often disciplined his daughter, and that he believed these disciplinary measures, including threats to remove privileges, motivated her allegations against him.
District Judge Brenda Tan said that the girl's evidence was inconsistent in numerous aspects, and that she was not a compelling or unusually convincing witness.
The judge said she was satisfied that the credit of the girl, who is now 16, has been "impeached".
"While I accept that she appears to have no apparent motive to lie about the molests, the prosecution has not discharged the evidential threshold of proving the charge against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt," she found.
The girl's father did not know of her existence for the first seven years of her life, as he did not know that her mother was pregnant when they broke up. The couple reconnected in 2014 and got married.
The girl was not told that the man was her biological father. She knew him as her stepfather until the point that she reported the allegations against him in 2020.
At trial, the man denied all the allegations. Defence lawyers Ashwin Ganapathy and A Meenakshi of IRB Law argued that living, working and sleeping arrangements in the house would have made it impossible for him to commit the alleged acts.
The defence also argued that the girl had lied in her testimony. They said that the pair's relationship was close at first, and that the man spoilt his daughter, who was "the apple of his eye".
But their relationship started to deteriorate from 2017 due to disciplinary issues, with the father's disciplinary methods ranging from verbal scoldings to strict curfews and caning or slapping, said the defence.
In this context, the girl had a "plausible motive to falsely accuse" her father, they argued.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Sarah Siaw and Senior Counsel Wong Woon Kwong argued that this theory was discredited by the fact that the girl had made the sexual abuse claims known since at least 2019, but was consistently reluctant to report them.
"The defence's theory is also incongruous with the undisputed fact that, notwithstanding any abuse, (the girl) loved her father deeply and was close to him," they added.
The prosecution also argued that the girl had no reason to make up the allegations, and was in fact put to "considerable embarrassment and inconvenience" after reporting them, including staying in a children's home for a month.
THE GIRL'S INCONSISTENCY
Judge Tan pointed out at least two times the girl contradicted herself in her testimony. One related to the position of the VR headset on her head, her visibility and her movements during the incident. The other related to whether her father was clothed before the incident.
The judge also found that the girl's testimony was inconsistent with other evidence. For example, her testimony about the VR headset incident was not supported by the evidence of other prosecution witnesses.
Judge Tan noted that the VR headset incident was supposed to be memorable to the girl because it was unusual. But she did not tell a child psychiatrist about it. The girl's explanation for this was that she was emotional, yet she was able to narrate other more intrusive incidents to the psychiatrist.
The judge also said it was "disturbing" that the girl "did not appear to have breathed a word about the VR headset incident to her friends even though she had shared other instances of molest with them".
Another example of inconsistency was when the girl's grandmother refuted the girl's testimony that she had told the older woman about the alleged sexual abuse. The girl's mother also denied having heard anything about the alleged abuse until her husband was arrested, contrary to what her daughter claimed.
Instead, the girl's grandmother and mother gave evidence supporting the girl's father, the judge noted.
WHETHER THE GIRL LIED
On whether the girl had a motive to falsely accuse her father, Judge Tan said: "In my view, it is possible for a child to have a love-hate relationship with her parents especially where it is a complex relationship.
"Be that as it may, even if there is no apparent motive for (the girl) to lie about the molests, the evidential burden is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."
In that regard, the judge said the defence had raised reasonable doubt.
For instance, the girl acknowledged that her mother would frequently view live closed-circuit television recordings of the bedroom where the offence allegedly took place. This would have made it hard to carry out the act.
When asked for reasons why the girl would have falsely accused him, the man offered as explanation the last two times he disciplined her, which happened a few days before his arrest in January 2020.
In the first incident, the girl had returned home late. The man slapped and shouted at her, and threatened to remove her from sports, confiscate her mobile devices and disallow her from attending a school camp.
In the second incident, the girl's teacher took disciplinary action against the girl because of her school attire. When the man found out, he slapped the girl twice.
"I agree with the defence that these were intense parent and child disciplinary episodes, and it was not surprising that the accused would regard them as triggering events to lead (the girl) into making the serious allegations against him," said Judge Tan.
The girl admitted that she was upset and angry with the man for threatening to take away things she liked, noted the judge.
"My point is that (these disciplinary incidents) are not afterthoughts, but the accused has mentioned them at the earliest opportunity," she said.
The judge therefore acquitted the man of the charge in the VR headset incident. He will return to court on Apr 12 for a pre-trial conference.