SINGAPORE: A GrabHitch driver who molested two women he picked up in the same day was sentenced to a year and 10 months' jail on Tuesday (Dec 17).
Tan Keng Leng, 39, molested the victims aged 24 and 46 when they had to sit in the front passenger seat beside him due to either a locked back door or items in the backseat.
Tan pleaded guilty to three counts of outrage of modesty, with another two charges taken into consideration.
The court heard that the two incidents occurred within an hour of the same day on Oct 12 last year.
Tan picked up the first victim, the 46-year-old woman, after she booked a GrabHitch via the Grab mobile app.
GrabHitch is a social carpooling service where non-commercial drivers can give passengers going the same way a lift for a fee.
When she got to Tan's vehicle, the woman tried to board the vehicle through the rear door, but it was locked.
Tan told her to sit in the front passenger seat as there were some files in the back, and she complied.
As they travelled along the Pan Island Expressway at about 5.30pm, the victim felt Tan's left elbow touching the right side of her arm.
Thinking this was accidental, she shifted her body to the left, but Tan extended his elbow towards her and touched her breast with it at least four times throughout the journey.
When they reached a car park, he placed his hand on her waist. The woman made a police report later that night.
TARGETED SECOND WOMAN WITHIN THE HOUR
Not long after dropping the first woman off, Tan picked up another victim, aged 24.
She had also booked a ride via GrabHitch and intended to sit in the back, but saw files and paper in the back, so she sat in front.
While the car was travelling along East Coast Road at about 6.20pm, Tan moved closer to the victim and extended his elbow towards her, brushing against her chest.
The woman shifted away from the driver, but Tan placed his left elbow on the centre console and talked to the woman, gesturing with his left hand.
Whenever the car drove over a bump or rough road surface, he touched her chest with his left hand over her clothing. This happened at least three times, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Goh Yi Ling.
When they arrived at a car park, Tan touched the woman's abdominal and hip area.
Ms Goh had asked for two years' jail, noting that Tan had initially wanted to claim trial but later pleaded guilty.
As a GrabHitch driver, he was considered a public transport worker with the responsibility of ensuring his passengers' safety, said Ms Goh.
There was premeditation involved, she added, as Tan specifically targeted his passengers by making them sit in front, and they could not escape as they were in the confines of his vehicle.
"The accused committed the offences against both victims in succession – the second victim was his next passenger after the first victim," pointed out the prosecutor.
Tan was previously convicted of outrage of modesty in 2013 and 2014.
TAN GRIEVING ABORTED CHILD, FACING STRESS: DEFENCE
Defence lawyer T M Sinnadurai had urged the court to impose a mandatory treatment order, saying his client admitted that his actions were due to a moment of folly.
He said Tan is married and has a daughter "described as a high-needs child", requiring assistance with basic functions.
He gives financial support to his family and parents-in-law, and was facing financial stress at the time, with the couple reporting declining levels of sexual intimacy since their daughter's birth.
His wife had aborted a second child she fell pregnant with in 2017 as he was assessed at the pre-natal stage to be suffering from Edward's syndrome, a condition which would severely impair the child's functioning and mortality if born.
After the abortion, Tan and his wife appeared to be still grieving over the loss of the child, noted a medical report tendered by Mr Sinnadurai that found Tan had persistent depressive disorder.
Tan had joined a counselling programme of his own accord to cope with his stress, diligently attending the sessions, said the lawyer.
The judge granted a deferment of his sentence to Jan 16.
For each count of outraging a person's modesty, Tan could have been jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these punishments.
In response to CNA's queries, Grab said that Tan has been banned from the platform.
"We have zero tolerance for indecent behaviour and users found to display errant behaviour will be suspended from the platform," said a spokesperson.
"Our consumers' and delivery-partners' safety are important to us and we urge both passengers and driver-partners to treat each other with respect and kindness."