SINGAPORE: After a night of drinking, two passengers started touching their Grab driver inappropriately as he drove them home, including while they were on the expressway.
In what a magistrate described as a "tag team" effort, the friends took turns touching the victim and ignored his pleas to stop.
After one of them alighted, the other moved to the front passenger seat to continue the assault as the victim drove.
Goh Suet Hong, 40 and Neo Wei Meng, 41, were on Tuesday (Jul 5) each found guilty of one count of using criminal force to outrage the modesty of the victim.
The offences took place in a car along the Central Expressway (CTE) between 1.18am and 3.03am on Nov 12, 2018.
Goh, then a hairdresser, and Neo, then a freelance interior designer, met for drinks along Neil Road around 10pm on Nov 11, 2018.
After drinking, they booked the then 28-year-old victim's car to drop Neo off at his home in Hougang followed by Goh at his home in Punggol.
The victim testified that when he picked Goh and Neo up, they told him he looked "very cute" and said: "Do you know god has sent us to pleasure you?" and "We are women disguised as men."
During the first leg of the journey to Hougang, while travelling on the CTE, Goh touched the victim's nipples. The victim told him to stop.
At the same time, Neo touched the victim's private parts. When he told Neo to stop, the man persisted and also started licking his cheek and ear, the victim testified.
According to the victim, Goh and Neo traded places after some time, with Goh moving to the victim's private parts while Neo touched his nipples. His repeated pleas for them to stop went ignored.
He said that Goh and Neo only stopped when they spotted a police car after exiting the expressway.
The second leg of the journey started after Neo alighted at his home in Hougang.
Goh shifted to the front passenger seat, where he kissed the victim on the cheek and lips and touched his private parts again.
The victim said that when they reached Punggol, Goh asked for them to spend some time together in the car but the victim declined.
Goh then asked the victim to drive to a multi-storey car park and wait while he stepped outside to relieve himself. The victim drove away while Goh was urinating behind a pillar.
Around 3am, the victim made a report at a police station that he had been molested, and also handed over to police Goh's belongings that were left in the car.
"THAT RING OF TRUTH"
Magistrate Hairul Hakkim Kuthibutheen said he preferred the victim's testimony over Goh's and Neo's as his was "unusually convincing" and contained "that ring of truth".
Goh's defence was that he was asleep during the first leg of the journey. He admitted to committing the acts during the second leg, but claimed that he believed the victim consented as he purportedly smiled at Goh after being kissed.
Magistrate Hairul Hakkim rejected the argument that Goh was asleep during the first leg, saying that sequence of events "defies logic".
He also rejected the defence of implied or mistaken consent, finding that Goh did not establish that he had exercised due care and attention in allegedly coming to believe the victim consented.
Neo's defence was one of bare denial that he had committed the acts, instead claiming that he fell asleep after boarding the car and hardly spoke to the victim.
The magistrate rejected this argument as he found the victim's testimony to be truthful.
During the trial, defence counsel Kalaithasan Karuppaya argued against believing the victim's testimony as he was supposedly "unclear and unsure" of where Goh and Neo were seated in the car.
Magistrate Hairul Hakkim said this was a "gross misrepresentation" of the victim's evidence, as he was clear that Goh was seated behind him and Neo was in the middle back seat during the first leg of the journey.
Mr Karuppaya also argued that the victim failed to seek assistance during the journey despite having "ample opportunity" to do so.
For example, the victim could have stopped the car along the shoulder of the expressway or sought help from a couple crossing the road during the second leg of the journey.
Magistrate Hairul Hakkim said that the High Court had repeatedly made it clear in previous rulings that there was no such thing as an expected or typical response of a victim of a sexual crime.
"I find the victim's failure to do any of the actions suggested by the defence to be clearly within the realm of possibilities," he said.
The magistrate recounted some of the reasons the victim had given at trial for continuing to drive the passengers despite the assault.
The victim had testified that he was "terrified" of Goh and Neo and worried that if he terminated their trip early, his Grab account would be suspended.
The victim said that he had been a Grab driver for about a year at the time of the incident and it was his only source of income, which he needed to pay for the daily rental of the car.
It was also understandable that the victim felt fearful as he was confined in the enclosed space of a car and being molested by two male passengers, said the magistrate.
The magistrate noted the victim's testimony that he drove off at the multi-storey car park because Goh and Neo were no longer in his car and "it gives me the confidence to run away from them".
He also cited the fact, corroborated by both Goh and the victim, that the front passenger door from which Goh had alighted was not completely shut when the victim drove away.
This evidenced the victim's "desperation" to escape to safety, said the magistrate.
Goh and Neo will return to court on Thursday for sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutor David Menon is seeking nine to 10 months' jail for Goh, and 14 to 15 months' jail and three strokes of the cane for Neo.
He said the offences were aggravated as the victim was a public transport service worker and Goh and Neo were voluntarily intoxicated at the time.
The prosecutor also said that the victim was driving at speed during the offences, and Goh and Neo took advantage of his vulnerability while also posing a safety hazard to him and other road users.
Mr Karuppaya asked the court not to consider his clients' intoxication as an aggravating factor, arguing that they did not get drunk in order to commit the offence, and "it just happened".
The maximum penalty for using criminal force to outrage a person's modesty is two years' jail, a fine, caning or any combination of these punishments.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article placed the two accused men in incorrect seating positions and attributed an extra word to the magistrate's oral judgment. We apologise for the errors.