By Gloria James-Civetta

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Insulting a Woman’s Modesty

2 min read
Section 509 of the Singapore Penal Code

S 509 criminalizes the intention to insult and act of insulting a woman’s modesty. Found guilty of s 509, one may be sentenced to up to a year of imprisonment, or with fine, or with both.

Insult of Modesty to Domestic Maids

Pursuant to s 73(c), enhanced penalties, one and a half times the normal maximum, apply to insult of modesty offences committed against domestic maids.

Insult of Modesty aggravated by Racial or Religious Reasons

Pursuant to s 74(2)(a) read with s 74(4), enhanced penalties, one and a half times the normal maximum, apply to insult of modesty offences committed out of racial or religious hostility.

Elements of the Charge

S 509 is a gender specific charge, where the victim must be a woman. The prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had the requisite Mens Rea and Actus Reus of s 509:

Actus Reus of s 509 will be satisfied where the accused has uttered any word, made any sound or gesture or exhibited any object that insults the victim’s modesty.

Mens Rea of s 509 will be satisfied where the accused (1)intended for his words, sounds, gesture of exhibition of any object to be heard by the victim, or to intrude upon the victim’s privacy and (2) intended for his actions to insult the victim’s modesty

Examples of Insults to a Woman’s Modesty

Like s 354’s outrage of modesty, there is also no clear list of what constitutes the charge of s 509. What actions may be convicted under s 509 would vary over time and social context as well as the race or religion of the victim. Courts may take into consideration relevant factors such as the nature of the accused’s act or words, the relationship between accused and the victim and so on.
These are some examples where courts have held to constitute an insult of modesty

  1. Flashing one’s private parts to a woman (Ramakrishnan s/p Ramayan)
  2. Threatening to spread nude photographs of a woman (Mohammed Liton)
  3. Up-skirt video situations (Tay Beng Guan Albert, Soo Ee Hock) – judges held that where up-skirt videos are concerned, a fine would not be a sufficient deterrent and thus, a jail term should be imposed
  4. Verbally expressing sexual desires to a woman customer service officer and asking about her sexual preferences in a derogatory manner (Chandran s/o Natesan)

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