Top UK university student admits taking illicit videos of women since he was in junior college in Singapore
SINGAPORE: A Singaporean undergraduate at a top university in the United Kingdom pleaded guilty on Thursday (Jul 29) to taking illicit videos of women since he was in junior college.
The 23-year-old man cannot be named due to a gag order protecting the 12 victims. The prosecution on Thursday successfully applied to lift the gag order, saying that all 11 known victims have given their approval for the accused to be named.
However, he cannot be named yet as the defence quickly applied for the lifting of the gag order to be stayed, and said they would apply to the High Court for a reversal.
The accused pleaded guilty on Thursday to seven charges of insulting the modesty of women and an eighth charge of possessing obscene films. Another eight charges will be considered in sentencing.
The court heard that the offender took videos up women's skirts and of victims in the shower from 2014 to 2015 when he was in JC, from 2016 to 2018 while he was a full-time national serviceman, and from October 2018 when he was studying at a university in the UK.
Between early 2016 and June 2019, the Singapore Police Force received multiple reports alleging that two obscene videos featuring the victims had been circulating online, showing them showering or in the toilet.
One of the victims said she found the accused's phone placed in the toilet of his former residence on Dec 24, 2016, and confronted him about it.
Police identified the accused as the main suspect around Jun 26, 2019, and raided his home the following week. They seized seven of his devices, which yielded 16 offending videos and 124 upskirt photos.
The man had recorded the two videos that were circulating online. In total, there were 11 identified victims and one unknown victim in his videos. Fourteen of the 18 videos he took were filmed at his residence.
He insisted on hosting gatherings for his friends and would invite the victims there, placing a video-recording device in his toilet beforehand to film them.
He admitted taking upskirt videos of "not more than five victims" in 2015 and could not remember how many victims he filmed between 2016 and 2018.
In total, he estimated that the number of voyeuristic videos he filmed was "maybe three digit", the court heard. He said he committed the offences when he felt stressed due to school or work, and felt that filming the victims "was an addiction" to him.
Because of how the videos were deleted, forensic analysis could not recover all the voyeuristic clips that were stored in his devices.
One victim was 18 at the time of the offence on Dec 1, 2015. She had gone for prom night, which the accused also attended. He suggested that the victim and other classmates share a room with him at a hotel to rest after the prom, and they agreed.
He placed a recording device in the toilet of the hotel room and filmed the victim showering for almost 14 minutes.
The nude video began circulating online, and the principal of the girl's JC informed her of the video in early 2016.
The girl lodged a police report with her parents. The video, which shows the victim in her prom dress, was still circulating as of August 2020 and had been viewed at least 177,000 times.
She said in her victim impact statement that she received messages from friends and strangers about the video. She felt embarrassed, betrayed and wary of male friends, and has turned down many social activities such as birthday parties that involve using a public toilet.
She has self-esteem issues and feels "very unworthy", said Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhi Hao.
VICTIM'S VIDEO ON PORN WEBSITE
The second victim was 19 at the time of the offence on Dec 23, 2016, when the accused invited her along with other schoolmates to a Christmas gathering at his residence.
The accused left a recording device in his toilet and filmed the victim relieving herself, capturing her face and private parts.
Almost two years later, the victim received a message on Instagram from an unknown person including pictures of her relieving herself.
The person asked the victim if it was her in the picture, adding that they met sometime back. The victim searched the Internet and found a video of herself urinating on a pornography website. It had been viewed at least 38,000 times on Aug 17, 2020.
She said in her victim impact statement that she felt "betrayed and shocked at the fact that such a horrible thing was done by a friend". She now feels a "compulsive need to check if there are any recording devices" in toilets, and finds it difficult to trust male friends.
Another victim was 20 when she was filmed in an upskirt video at a train station on Jul 26, 2018. She said in a victim impact statement that she felt violated and was so shaken that she cried in school.
Her school performance suffered, and she felt "a lot of undeserved guilt that weighed heavily" on her conscience, as she potentially placed her friends at risk by introducing the accused to them.
Other victims said in their impact statements that they felt violated and ashamed for "not being careful enough", and angry that the accused showed "no remorse".
The 11th victim was 21 when the accused offered to give her a tour of the university in the UK. He filmed her relieving herself in the toilet at his residence, capturing her face and privates.
In her statement, the woman said her trust towards the opposite gender was tainted. She was fearful of how the incident would affect her future marriage and physical intimacy, and felt like her "purity had been taken away". The incident affected her studies, giving her headaches and making her cry on many nights.
The defence, led by lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan, asked for a report assessing the accused's suitability for probation. The prosecution did not object, but said they reserved their position on sentencing after the report is out, including to ask for a jail term.
The defence and prosecution then tussled over whether to lift the gag order on the accused's name.
PROSECUTOR PUSHES TO NAME ACCUSED
Deputy Public Prosecutor Foo Shi Hao asked the court to lift the gag order, saying that all identified victims were unanimous in agreeing to this, even if it increases the risk of identifying them.
The victims' names will still be gagged in this instance, he said. He argued that the public interest in open justice in criminal proceedings is sacrosanct. He said that the identity of an accused person can be published under law, even if it would be damaging to someone who is later acquitted.
In Singapore, a gag order is extended to an accused's name only in very limited circumstances, such as when publication might lead to the identification of a victim, said Mr Foo.
He added that all 11 victims in the case have made it "crystal clear" that they do not want additional protection via a gag order on the accused's name.
"There is undeniable public interest in identifying the accused. He should not be allowed to hide behind the gag order," said Mr Foo.
The defence argued that the prosecutors had previously tried to have the gag order lifted but failed. They should not be allowed to make the same application in the district courts, and should instead go to the High Court, said the lawyer.
He said the victims are between 20 and 23 now and "may not truly appreciate the risk of their identities being compromised". He added that the court is the custodian to decide on the victims' protection, and that it is "not for the victims to say I don't want it".
District Judge Tan Jen Tse ruled in the prosecution's favour.
"I have a bit of difficulty with this," he told the defence. "Assuming the victim comes forward ... you mean they will be in breach of gag order? In a sense they are volunteering to have their identity published."
He ruled that the gag order on the accused's name should be lifted, but that the victims' names cannot be published. The names of the schools and the location of the offences also remain under the gag order.
The defence successfully applied to have the lifting of the gag order stayed and will apply to the High Court against the decision within a week.
The accused will return to court for sentencing on Aug 26.