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SMU student who molested woman in overnight study session fails in appeal

SMU student who molested woman in overnight study session fails in appeal

Lee Yan Ru at the State Courts on Sep 7, 2020. (Photo: TODAY/Raj Nadarajan)

SINGAPORE: A High Court judge on Friday (May 20) dismissed the appeal of a Singapore Management University (SMU) student convicted of molesting a woman during an overnight study session.

Justice Chua Lee Ming rejected the defence's arguments that the man believed the victim had given her consent based on what happened earlier that night and during the act itself.

Lee Yan Ru, 25, was sentenced to 10 months' jail and three strokes of the cane last year after being found guilty of using criminal force to outrage the modesty of the woman.

He had contested the charge at trial, during which he argued that the victim consented to the act and the defence accused her of lying.

The identity of the woman, now 23, is protected by gag order.

Lee and the victim, who became acquainted on Instagram, agreed to meet up at SMU in the early hours of Jan 8, 2019.

Throughout the night, Lee repeatedly made advances on the victim, who was not a student at the university.

After watching a movie and taking several smoke breaks on campus, the pair lay down to sleep in separate parts of the study room.

The woman was woken up by Lee kneeling over her body and rubbing his private parts on her chest.

Lee's lawyer Thong Chee Kun argued that his client believed he had consent based on "a series of acts of growing intimacy" that night, and the woman's reaction during the act itself.

He argued that by the time the act took place, Lee had touched the victim's chest twice and put his private parts on her thigh, and believed that he had her consent for these actions.

Later, during the act itself, the victim told Lee to stop and Lee said "awhile more". The victim, who was "not restrained", kept still and did not say anything else, said Mr Thong.

Lee therefore believed he had communicated his wish to continue and the victim had consented during this exchange, argued the lawyer.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Andre Chong countered that this was different from the defence's position at trial, where the defence argued that Lee took "stop" to mean "carry on".

He argued that the basis on which Lee claimed to believe he had the victim's consent was "factually flawed", as Lee and the victim gave different accounts of how she reacted when he groped her breast.

The actions before the act of molestation did not give rise to any "blanket consent", said the prosecutor.

During the defence's arguments, Justice Chua questioned Mr Thong about several incidents that he said indicated Lee "knew the sum of his advances were being rejected by her".

He found that the victim's reactions to Lee's advances, which escalated in physical and sexual intimacy throughout the night, showed that she did not consent to those actions.

These included her prying his fingers off when he groped her breast and, after Lee put his private part on her thigh, asking him to take her for a smoke break so they could leave the study room, said the judge.

He also found that Lee's own testimony and police statement showed it was clear to Lee that the victim found his actions "unacceptable, to say the least".

"In light of the above, I cannot see how the appellant could possibly have believed that the complainant consented to him rubbing his (private parts) across her chest," said the judge.

Upholding both the sentence and conviction, the judge also said it was clear that the victim expressed disagreement during the act itself, and that Lee understood her rejection.

"The truth is, as the appellant admitted in his statement to the police, he 'just (wanted) to release', it 'was a moment of lust' and he was 'purely thinking with (his) private part'," said Justice Chua.

Lee remains suspended from SMU. An SMU spokesperson said the university will "decide and determine the appropriate additional disciplinary sanctions" that Lee should receive.

He will start serving his sentence in a week after the judge granted him a deferral to settle matters related to his studies.

Source: CNA/dv(ta)

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