In Singapore, criminal offences are mostly governed by the Penal Code. On 6 May 2019, the Criminal Law Reform Bill (“the Bill”) was passed in Parliament. With the last major review of the Penal Code being in 2007, when it is implemented, the Bill will introduce a number of new offences. In this article, we will focus on the new sexual offences that will be introduced.
Sexual Offences in Singapore
Voyeurism is the act of observing or recording someone else who is undressing or engaged in sexual activities. It also covers situations when the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy, including acts such as taking upskirt photos.
Such behaviour is currently criminalised under Insult of Modesty provisions of the Penal Code and the Films Act. However, the Bill will amend the Penal Code to introduce a new criminal offence of voyeurism so as to address such crimes directly.
This is because it was felt that the current measures do not adequately deal with these new problems that arise through the use of technology. While Insult of Modesty under the Penal Code only applies to female victims, the Bill implements a gender neutral offence. Additionally, punishment can be a maximum of two year’s imprisonment, doubling the one year term under Insult of Modesty.
The Films Act deals with the taking and distribution of voyeuristic videos, imposing either a fine or up to two year’s imprisonment or both. The Bill will amend the Penal Code to have stricter punishments for the distribution of such videos, allowing for any combination of a fine, a maximum of five year’s imprisonment or caning.
Distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images
Until the Bill is enacted and creates this new offence, the Penal Code does not have a specific offence that covered such acts. Instead, these acts are currently addressed via the provisions of extortion, criminal intimidation or sale of obscene books.
This new offence will adopt the term “intimate image” which is defined as a visual recording (photograph, video recording, etc) in which the victim is (semi)nude or engaging in sexual activity. Visual recordings that are altered to portray the victim as nude or engaged in sexual activity also fall under this offence.
The Bill will introduce changes to the Penal Code that addresses the issues stemming from new technology. Smartphones and the Internet have made it easy for images to be created, uploaded and distributed. Such images are very difficult to remove and can potentially last forever, especially after being downloaded.
Due to this, victims may suffer particularly serious harm. To reflect this, the punishment for distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images can be a combination of a fine, caning or imprisonment of up to five years. If the victim is below 14 years old, imprisonment is mandatory.
Procurement of sexual activity by deception or false representation
This is a new offence meant to address cases where the victim’s consent was provided only because of the deception. These instances consist of two broad categories.
The first category relates to deception of the absence or presence of sexually transmitted diseases (“STD”). In such a case, the offender either does not disclose or misleads the victim with regards to their STD. It is easily understandable that if the victim knew that the offender had an STD, he or she would not consent to sexual activity.
The second category refers to the deception of the absence or presence of sexually protective measures. This category has arisen out of instances of ‘stealthing’ in which men agree to use contraceptives such as a condom, later secretly removing it before or during sexual activity. In such cases, the victims would likely not have consented had they known the offenders’ intentions. Women who deceive or mislead their partner into thinking that they are on birth control would also commit this offence.
These two forms of deception are specifically highlighted due to the serious risks faced by the victim. In the future, this offence might be expanded to cover other consent related conduct that violates the victim’s sexual autonomy.
If the sexual activity in question relates to the penetration of the mouth with the penis or the penetration of the vagina or anus, the punishment can be any combination of a fine, caning or a maximum of ten year’s imprisonment. If the sexual activity relates to anything else, the punishment can be a fine, imprisonment for up to two years, or both.
These new offences are slated to come into effect in early 2020. They are meant to better safeguard and increase our rights in light of the newfound phenomena that has plagued society in recent times.