Internet sex crimes against women, kids may get new penalties

Existing punishments for sex offences is under review too, says Shanmugam

Singapore is considering new penalties to address sex crimes targeting women and children on the Internet, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in a Facebook post yesterday.

He also said he hopes to relook issues surrounding marital rape, which is currently an offence only under limited circumstances.

He added that the existing punishment regime for sex offences is under review.

There will also be moves next year to "deal with" the way sexual assault survivors can be cross-examined and how they can give evidence in court from a safe space, he said.

Mr Shanmugam's comments come as people around the world observe 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, starting last Saturday.

Each year, the police see an average of 150 rape cases and 1,200 to 1,300 cases of outrage of modesty.

Last year, about one in six cases - out of the 338 the Association of Women for Action and Research's Sexual Assault Care Centre dealt with - involved some form of technology to facilitate or exacerbate sexual violence or harassment.

The most common type was image-based sexual abuse, including revenge pornography and "sextortion" - attempts to extort or coerce using nude images.

Lawyers said the new penalties could help recognise targeting women and children online as an aggravating factor for sex crimes.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said such offences could include sexual grooming over the Internet, or disseminating private and intimate photographs of women out of revenge.


He added that judges could be given greater latitude to mete out heavier penalties when there are aggravating factors.

"These seem to be the new kinds of crimes that we are seeing," said lawyer Amolat Singh, who noted that the intended victim may also be unsuspecting.

He added that children's access to technology may contribute to a growing trend.

The moves next year that Mr Shanmugam alluded to follow the Law Ministry's proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act in July. These include gag orders the moment a police report is lodged and automatic closed-door hearings.

In April, then Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin also said a review of the law on marital rape was under way to ensure that married women have the same protection against violence as unmarried women.

The laws were last changed a decade ago to recognise marital rape under some circumstances, such as if divorce proceedings have begun. Until 2007, the concept of marital rape was not recognised here.

Mr Shanmugam's post is the latest in a series of updates this year, aimed at making it easier for women to report sex crimes.

In February, the Home Affairs Ministry unveiled a centre to examine people reporting rape within 72 hours, to avoid the stress of being taken to a public hospital.

In April, Mr Shanmugam said that those who commit sex crimes against minors could face harsher penalties in future.