SINGAPORE: A 34-year-old man was sentenced to jail and caning on Monday (Aug 20) for sexually abusing his girlfriend's eight-year-old daughter in 2014.
The man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim, was given a sentence of 12 years and six months' jail and 15 strokes of the cane for three charges: One count of committing an indecent act with a child, one count of aggravated sexual assault by penetration and one count of outraging the modesty of a minor under 14.
In 2009, he started a relationship with the girl's mother, after her marriage broke down, the High Court heard.
Three years later in 2012, the couple moved into a rental flat in Tampines. The woman had a son and a daughter with the accused, but the boy died before he turned a year old.
The couple lived in the flat with their surviving daughter, as well as the woman's own daughter.
Apart from this, the accused was still married to another woman, whom he had a son with, and regularly stayed with them with his girlfriend's knowledge.
He treated the victim like his own child and was a disciplinarian and father figure to her, court documents said.
The sexual abuse began in June 2014, during the school holidays, when the accused was working as a despatch rider for courier service firm Koli Express.
He would return home to rest during his lunch breaks before going back to work. He was usually by himself, but during the school holidays, the victim was also at home, while her stepsister was at a childcare centre.
ABUSE BEGAN WITH A MASSAGE
That month, the accused was on medical leave and stayed home. He asked the eight-year-old girl to massage his legs in the living room. She did so while watching a YouTube video on her phone.
While massaging his legs, the girl unwittingly made contact with the accused's genitals over his boxer shorts. He became aroused and made her perform a sexual act on him.
That same month, the accused asked the child to perform another sexual act on him without her consent. He then kissed her and molested her.
The next day, the girl confided in a neighbour, telling her what had happened. Shocked, the neighbour asked her to repeat her account and recorded the conversation on her phone.
She later played the recording for the girl's mother. The mother confronted the accused about the sexual abuse and he immediately confessed to it, begging for forgiveness.
The girl's mother threw him out of the flat at first, but eventually relented and let him back in after the accused begged for her forgiveness.
She did not report the matter to the police as her daughter did not report any further incidents after this.
However, in February 2016, the girl's grandmother lodged a police report after discovering that the accused had hit the child and bruised her head.
By this time, the grandmother was aware of the sexual abuse and was concerned that it was happening again.
The child told the police that she had been molested and sexually penetrated over several occasions in 2014, and the accused was arrested in March 2016.
PROSECUTION ASKS FOR 14 YEARS' JAIL, 15 STROKES OF CANE
The man pleaded guilty on Monday. Deputy public prosecutor Winston Man asked for a sentence of 14 years' jail and 15 strokes of the cane, saying that it was a "serious sexual assault against a young child".
"It was not a one-off instance of offending," he said. "It was only upon being confronted that he desisted."
He said there was a clear abuse of trust, and that the child at eight years of age was "even more defenceless and unwitting than a teenager".
"There was also an element of persistence in this case, with no less than three separate incidents in June 2014 alone," said the prosecutor.
The man's defence lawyer Dhanwant Singh asked for the minimum mandatory eight years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane.
He said the case was "exceptional" in that the father-daughter relationship "was repaired" and "remained intact".
"Shortly after June 2014, the family unity was mended," said the defence. "It was only in 2016 when the accused took steps to discipline the child that it was reported, the welfare officer stepped in, and the accused had to move out."
He asked for a "substantial discount" on account of the accused's plea of guilt and genuine remorse, adding that the period of offending was "for a short duration".
Judicial commissioner Audrey Lim said this was "not a case that calls for the minimum mandatory sentence".
She said the victim was young and vulnerable, and had lived with the accused, who took the role of a father figure.
After the sentence was passed, the accused asked for some time with the mother of the victim, who was present.
VICTIM'S MOTHER ASKS JUDGE FOR LENIENCY
She had written a letter to the judge asking for leniency, saying that the accused was a "dutiful, loving, responsible father and son".
She wrote that she was "really disappointed and heartbroken" the day she found out about the incident, but said that the accused "sincerely wants to change to be a good father".
"He has done so much for the past few years to improve his life and has built a very good family bond with us," she wrote. "Please give our children ... hope that we may live happily like before. Our baby needs her father."
For sexual assault by penetration on a minor under 14, the accused faced a maximum jail term of 20 years.