SINGAPORE: A secondary school counsellor who molested three boys in the counselling room of the school was sentenced to jail for two years and eight months on Friday (Aug 31).
The 50-year-old was given an additional 12 weeks' jail in lieu of caning, as he cannot be caned because of his age.
The accused and the school cannot be named in order to protect the identities of the boys, who were aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the crimes.
The counsellor, who has been suspended since 2013, committed the offences between 2011 and 2013.
The prosecution said he was a dedicated counsellor whom the school community liked and trusted.
However, his role gave him access to several troubled and vulnerable male students who, according to the prosecution, often looked up to the accused as the "sole adult figure in their lives whom they could rely on or turn to".
HE MOLESTED THE BOYS IN HIS COUNSELLING ROOM, WHICH HAD WINDOW BLINDS
The accused had a counselling room to himself, with blinds on the windows and a door that could be locked, the prosecution noted. It was here that he molested the three boys.
According to court documents, two of the boys were referred for counselling in 2010, when they were 13 and in Secondary 1.
One of the boys was referred for academic difficulties, gaming habits as well as problems with his family, particularly with his mother.
The other boy had behavioural issues, ranging from fighting to being rude to teachers.
The accused was their counsellor from 2010 to 2013 and he quickly built rapport with them. They saw him in his counselling room during curriculum time, during recess or after school.
"Both victims grew to depend on the accused for advice on how to manage academic stress, difficulties with their teachers, family problems, and even monetary issues," said the prosecution.
The accused molested the third boy in 2013 when they were talking in the counselling room about one of the other boys' results.
According to this boy's evidence, he was not personally counselled by the accused, but was close to the other boy. He said the accused had called him into his counselling room in August 2013. The man then unbuckled and unzipped the boy's pants while continuing to speak to him, before molesting him.
He found out later when talking to his friend that the same thing had happened to him.
The prosecution said the accused was able to get away with his actions for several years "because of the trust reposed in him". The victims were also "too ashamed to come forward" or felt they would not be believed.
"It was only on the three victims' coming together and realising the extent of the accused's offending, and the fact that they were not alone in the depredations carried out upon them, that the matter was revealed to the school authorities and investigations commenced," said prosecutors Charlene Tay and Yvonne Poon during the 20-day trial.
The man was convicted of five outrage of modesty charges in June this year. He was acquitted of two other charges by the judge who deemed the evidence confusing and unreliable.
ACCUSED WAS A CARING COUNSELLOR: DEFENCE
His defence lawyers Melanie Ho and Tang Shangwei said their client, who is married with two children, was a "caring counsellor".
Ms Ho said that two of the victims had themselves "confirmed that (the accused) was still a positive note in each of their lives".
The defence also presented testimonials from students who said the accused was patient and helped them with their difficulties.
Ms Ho said that her client "has already been adequately punished", as about five years had passed since the police report was first made in 2013.
She asked for a sentence of 14 months, while the prosecution pressed for 43 months, with three of those in lieu of caning.
After sentencing, Ms Ho told District Judge Tan Jen Tse that her client intends to appeal against his conviction and sentence.
The judge offered the accused bail pending appeal of S$20,000.
He could have been jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these punishments for each charge.