SINGAPORE: A new Bill tabled in Parliament on Monday (Aug 2) is proposing tougher maximum penalties for three types of sexual offences, among other changes to the Penal Code.
The proposed harsher punishments would see maximum jail terms raised by a year for molestation and two other sexual offences involving minors.
The potential changes were first announced by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in March, after a review of penalties for hurt and sexual offences was completed in February.
READ: Penalties for 3 sex crimes to go up after review, academic potential should not carry much weight: Shanmugam
The review had been conducted following widespread public debate over the sentencing of multiple university students for sex-related crimes, with some calls for tougher sentences.
Apart from raising penalties for some of these crimes, the Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill will also aim to expand and clarify the scope of other offences, such as providing false information to a public servant.
OUTRAGE OF MODESTY
An average of 1,190 cases of outrage of modesty were reported each year from 2016 to 2020, marking a 24 per cent increase from the previous five-year period, from 2011 to 2015, said the Law Ministry and Home Affairs Ministry in a joint release.
Currently, this offence is punishable with a maximum jail term of two years, a fine or caning, or a combination of these.
To “enhance deterrence and allow the courts to deal with egregious cases more severely”, the Bill is aiming to increase the maximum jail term for molestation from two years to three years.
SEXUAL OFFENCES INVOLVING MINORS
The Bill is also seeking harsher punishments for engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a minor, aged between 14 and 16, or causing them to view a sexual image – and for similar activities done in front of a minor aged between 16 and 18.
It aims to raise maximum jail terms for these from one to two years.
The ministries said this will “ensure parity with similar offences involving sexual communication with minors of the same age ranges … which carry a maximum imprisonment term of two years.”
PROVIDING FALSE INFORMATION TO A PUBLIC SERVANT
In addition, the Bill aims to expand and clarify certain parts of the Penal Code.
One such section involves giving false information to a public servant with the intent of causing, or knowing that it will likely cause, the public servant to improperly use, or not to use, his lawful powers.
But this section does not apply if a person does so to cause the public servant to be “ineffective or inefficient in exercising his lawful powers”, said the ministries.
An example, they noted, would be if someone misled the police about a suspect’s identity, causing them to have to put in more time and effort to uncover this identity.
In a recent case, an offender falsely told the police that he did not know the suspect of the case – causing the police spend more than 21 extra man-hours uncovering the suspect’s identity.
“This is not just a matter of wasting police resources, but also compromising public safety; if the suspect remains at large, he could commit more offences, leading to more victims,” noted the ministries, adding that changes under the Bill would help cover such scenarios.
Another amendment involves clarifying that voluntarily obstructing public servants from carrying out their public functions can arise from providing false information – rather than just physically obstructing them.
The Bill aims to raise maximum jail terms for this offence from three months to six months, to align the penalty with a similar offence under another section of the Penal Code.
CLARIFYING OTHER SEXUAL OFFENCES
It is currently an offence for someone to get sexual consent by deceiving the victim about the use of any sexually protective measure, or about whether the person engaging in sexual activity with the victim has a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
The Bill aims to broaden the scope of the offence in a few ways, such as covering deception about the risk of the victim getting an STD. This includes, for instance, if an offender lies to the victim that the offender’s STD is not transmissible via sexual activity.
In addition, the Bill seeks to clarify terms relating to “child abuse material” and “abusive material”. These are currently defined to include “material depicting minors’ breasts, or their genital or anal regions, in circumstances which reasonable persons would consider offensive”.
A proposed clarification is that these body parts may be either “exposed or covered”.
“This ensures that the offences will cover photographs of scantily clad minors; or close-up photos of minors’ genitals, buttocks, or breasts even if they are covered by clothing, in circumstances which reasonable persons would regard as sexually offensive,” the ministries said. Another clarification is that these depictions must be sexual in nature.
The Bill will also clarify the offence of sexually penetrating a corpse. Currently, the law only prohibits a man from penetrating a corpse’s vagina, anus or mouth with his penis; or anyone from causing a man do this without his consent.
“The Bill makes this offence gender-neutral, and expands its scope to cover other forms of sexual penetration involving corpses,” said the ministries.
Finally, the Bill hopes to replace certain “archaic terms” - such as “wantonly”, “malignantly” - with ones that are more easily understood (“rashly”, “intentionally”), said the ministries.
It will be up for a second reading in Parliament in September.