Woman fined for letting customer into her salon for massage and masturbation during COVID-19 circuit breaker
SINGAPORE: A woman who let a customer into her salon for massage and masturbation services during the "circuit breaker" was fined S$22,000 for her actions on Wednesday (Jun 10).
Jin Yin, 55, paid the fine in full. The jail term in lieu of the fine was eight weeks' jail.
Jin pleaded guilty to one charge of providing unlicensed massage and masturbation services, and a second charge of failing to ensure that her salon was closed during the circuit breaker, when non-essential businesses were not allowed to operate.
A third charge of advertising her unlicensed services was taken into consideration.
This is the first prosecution of Regulation 9 of the COVID-19 regulations, which states that non-essential businesses must close their premises during the circuit breaker.
The court heard that Jin owned the In-Style Beauty Salon at Block 34 Upper Cross Street, across from the State Courts.
She knew that the circuit breaker measures were in place from Apr 7, 2020, and received a WhatsApp text on Apr 9 that her salon could not operate, as it was not an essential service, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Jane Lim.
A customer, 67-year-old Chan Fun Hwee, saw an advertisement on the Locanto website advertising Jin's massage and masturbation services, including pubic hair trimming, said Ms Lim.
He called the number and booked an afternoon appointment with Jin for a two-hour package priced at S$150 for body massage and masturbation services, the court heard.
Despite knowing that she could not open her salon under prevailing rules meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, Jin told Mr Chan that she was still open for business, and told him she was "open all the way", "like normal".
CUSTOMER AFRAID OF POLICE, BUT SHE ASSURED HIM
Mr Chan asked if it was safe to go down to the salon as he feared police checks, but Jin replied to assure him that she was working with the doors closed.
Mr Chan went to the salon at about 1pm on Apr 10, and received the advertised services for about one-and-a-half hours. Jin did not carry out any temperature checks when he arrived, and did not get his travel history or particulars for contact tracing.
"In fact, the customer had actually used a fake name that day," said the prosecutor.
At 12.44pm that day, an unidentified person called the police saying: "Massage shop is still operating. I saw one person coming out from the shop although it is stated close(d). It is very dangerous. They should not be operating. I am a resident here."
The same caller called again minutes later to say he saw a customer going in.
Police officers went to the salon at 1.35pm and saw a "closed" sign on the door, with no apparent movement inside and the air-conditioning off.
They left the salon but later returned for a second check at 2.30pm and saw the same signs - the lights were off and the "closed" sign remained on the door. However, this time, they could feel air-conditioning blowing out and knocked on the door until Jin opened it.
The police entered and found Mr Chan sitting on the massage bed. Both he and Jin were not wearing any masks, said the prosecutor.
Investigations revealed that Jin has owned the salon since 2013 but did not have a valid massage establishment licence. She had been convicted twice before in 2014 and 2016 for running an unlicensed massage establishment, in relation to the same salon.
Replying to CNA's queries, the police said on Thursday night that they have given a 67-year-old man a 12-month conditional warning for breaching safe distancing measures under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020.
Jin pleaded guilty before District Judge Bala Reddy. She had tried to plead guilty previously before another judge, but had her plea rejected as she could not stop crying and the judge found that she was not in the right frame of mind to plead guilty.
When she began to cry on Wednesday, Judge Reddy told her: "No need to cry to impress me here."
The prosecutor asked for a fine of between S$21,000 and S$23,000, noting that this was "not an archetypal case".
"The accused in this case not only knowingly and deliberately breached the circuit breaker measures after knowing that they were in place, she was explicitly told via a WhatsApp message that her business was not essential," said Ms Lim.
She said the offences were "clearly premeditated" as Jin took steps to tell the customer not to worry and that her business was operating behind closed doors.
When the customer clearly expressed reservations about going down during the circuit breaker, Jin assured him and immediately took him to the back of the shop when he arrived, with curtains covered to avoid detection.
FORCED BY CIRCUMSTANCES: JIN
Jin, who was unrepresented, said that she has been asking for mercy and said she did not want to commit the crimes but has problems at home such as debts and a sick mother.
"I was forced by circumstances," she said through a Mandarin interpreter. "My mother in my hometown was ill, she died of cancer in September last year."
The judge asked her why she kept "doing this" as the offences were repeated.
Jin said she had gone to China to learn how to conduct massage services, including "how to maintain the health of the kidney".
"But she was not just maintaining the health of the kidney, she was masturbating the customer," said the judge to the interpreter.
"Initially, it didn't start off as masturbating. I was helping with the kidney ... then the customer asked for the frontal part," said Jin.
She said she has never done anything to harm anyone in the 10 over years she spent in Singapore.
"What about the offences you committed?" asked the judge.
"I have not done anything to harm anyone, I merely wanted to support my child. There were many requests that were over board but I did not perform those requests," answered Jin.
PENALTIES MEANT TO OUTSTRIP POTENTIAL PROFITS: JUDGE
Judge Reddy said Jin had taken no precautions to reduce the risk of infection as a business owner, and that she had run her illegal business despite receiving a message confirming that her business could not operate at the time.
Referring to the Massage Establishments Act, the judge said there had been a sharp increase in the prescribed punishment, as Parliament had intended for the higher penalties to serve as a strong deterrent against massage establishments being used as fronts for vice activities.
"The penalties were intended to far outstrip profits that can be made, especially if the massage establishment engages in vice activities," he said.
He added that Jin's case is precisely the kind that the legislation is targeted at deterring.
"A high fine must be imposed to deter like-minded offenders, who might be weighing the economic cost of engaging in such conduct," said Judge Reddy.
He said this is the first prosecution of Regulation 9 of the COVID-19 regulations pertaining to operating a non-essential business during the circuit breaker.
The regulation plays an important role in the overall plan to curb the spread of COVID-19 transmissions, said the judge. While this incurs a cost to businesses and the overall economy, "it is imperative ... to put a lid on COVID-19 infections", he said.
"A strong signal is needed to prevent those who do not treat the situation seriously, and whose behaviour will negate collective efforts of the law-abiding majority during the circuit breaker period," he said, adding that the fine "is a fair and proportionate sentence".