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Woman testifies in trial of SMU student accused of molesting her, saying she felt 'weird and awkward'

Woman testifies in trial of SMU student accused of molesting her, saying she felt 'weird and awkward'

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

SINGAPORE: A young woman who said she was molested by a Singapore Management University (SMU) student during a late-night study session on campus took the stand on Monday (Sep 7) and told the court how she felt "weird" and "uncomfortable" after his alleged advances on her.

The identity of the woman, who is now 22, is protected by gag order. 

The accused, 24-year-old Lee Yan Ru, is contesting one charge of using criminal force on her by rubbing his privates on her chest in a study room at the university on Jan 8 last year.

Before this, he allegedly groped the woman under a table, followed her into a ladies' washroom and placed his arm around her in the school lift.

After the alleged offence, Lee wiped the woman's neck, face and hair with tissue paper before the woman spoke to a security guard and called the police. 

Lee's semen was later found in swabs taken from the tissue paper, and the woman's neck and face.

THEY MET ON INSTAGRAM

The woman, who is a student at another university, said she got to know Lee on Instagram about a week or two before the incident. She had posted a photo of herself wearing a pair of sunglasses, and Lee offered to buy them from her, she said. 

"I told him no, because I have a boyfriend," said the woman. Explaining her response, she said that men usually "take the hint" when told this and will back off.

Lee also offered to take her out for a meal but she declined. They continued chatting about their mutual friends and school, as she "didn't want to be rude and brush him off". 

"I mean, there's no harm to just making friends and talking to someone," she said. 

They continued to chat on the social media platform and later moved to the messenging service Telegram. Lee complimented her by calling her "pretty", the woman said, but she did not take this as an expression of interest.

A day before the alleged molestation offence, the woman told Lee that she was going to Kith Cafe in Millenia Walk to study. 

Lee suggested going to the Kith Cafe at SMU instead so they could meet up, and she agreed.

During the study session, Lee sat beside her and poked her rib, she said.

"I felt awkward. I didn't really know how to act, because if it's someone I didn't know, I'd have moved away or left the place, but considering the nature of our acquaintanceship and how we had mutual friends, I didn't know how to respond," she said.

She also said it would have been easy to move away if a stranger had done that to her, but because they had about 20 mutual friends, she "didn't want to be rude or leave a bad impression".

Lee returned to school about half an hour later and they continued chatting on Telegram about their mutual friend, said the woman.

They met again later that night, after Lee asked what she was up to. The woman said she was finishing up a lab report and he asked to meet up to work together.

Explaining her reason for agreeing, the woman said she was feeling sleepy and thought that meeting someone else would prevent her from falling asleep at home, and that it would be "a way to force myself to complete my assignment".

The prosecutor asked the woman why she did not ask her boyfriend to accompany her instead.

The witness said her boyfriend turned in early as he would be busy the next morning.

She added that her boyfriend did not know that she was meeting Lee as he had fallen asleep before she could tell him.

She met Lee at the School of Economics and Social Science Building at SMU at about 12.30am to 1am on Jan 8, 2019.

She thought they were going to his usual study spot in the library, and was "quite shocked" when he took her to another room instead.

LEE'S ALLEGED ADVANCES ON HER

A short while later, Lee allegedly used his foot to reach the woman under the table, resting his heel on her thigh, an act he repeated.

Feeling "weird and awkward" and thinking it was "quite unhygienic", the woman pushed his foot off. 

She said she was "lost for words" and added: "It just felt really awkward and I'm not really verbal when I'm awkward".

After she was done with her work, she moved to lie on her back on the floor and watched a show on her laptop.

Despite the woman telling him to continue with his work, Lee joined her on the floor. At about 2am, they moved under the table to continue watching the show as the lights hurt their eyes, and lay on their stomachs watching the film shoulder-to-shoulder, the court heard.

When the show ended at about 4am, the woman alleged that Lee tickled her again and reached from behind and molested her under her clothes.

She was "quite shaken" and did not know how to react, so she asked Lee to take her somewhere where she could smoke a cigarette, she said.

The court was shown closed-circuit television footage of the pair entering the study room and leaving it before returning.

Explaining her change of tops as seen in the footage, the woman said she had changed into a red top sometime before the movie in the walkway of the room, which was L-shaped, where Lee could not see her.

She is shown giving what she described as a "playful kick" at Lee as they headed for the smoke break. She said she did this to break the tension.

WHY SHE DID NOT LEAVE

Asked why she did not just leave, the woman said: "It was the middle of the night and there was no mode of transport, and also I didn't want to leave a bad impression. 

"I didn't want to make him feel bad. I didn't want to make things hostile." 

"Usually if it's someone I didn't know, I would have just gotten up and left. But this was different because we have gotten to know each other already, so I just didn't have it in me to say something or walk off. Considering we were alone in school ... the last thing I wanted was to turn him into an enemy," she said.

During one of their two cigarette breaks, Lee placed his arm around her waist, testified the woman. She said it "felt wrong because I am attached" and moved away, but did not say anything as she was embarrassed and also did not want to embarrass him.

Another CCTV clip of the pair in the lift showed them hand-in-hand, with fingers interlaced before the woman pulled her hand away.

She explained that Lee had held her hand and she had let go, trying to "brush it off" as she felt he was "trying his luck".

After this, Lee allegedly followed the woman into the ladies' washroom as he said the men's toilet was too far away, and also tried to kiss her when they returned to the classroom, said the woman.

She said he tried to push her down to lay on the table, but she resisted. The woman also alleged that Lee tried to kiss her about three more times but failed, before hugging her "really tightly".

She said she suspected that Lee later exposed himself and placed his private parts on her thigh as something felt "warm" but she did not look down as she did not want to see it.

She asked to leave, first saying it was very hot then changing to say she wanted to smoke again, but Lee allegedly told her to kiss him first.

The hearing ended on Monday evening before going into the details of the actual offence making up the charge, and is set to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lee is represented by lawyers Thong Chee Kun, Ms Josephine Chee and Mr Jonathan Oon from Rajah & Tann.

If convicted of molesting the woman, he can be jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these penalties.

CNA has contacted SMU for more information.

Editor's note: At the request of the Attorney-General’s Chambers, this story has been edited to remove details on the woman’s boyfriend. The AGC said that the details "may lead to the identification of the victim".

Source: CNA/ll(ta)

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