Rape in hotel at Chinatown: Could it have been prevented?
What started as a drinking game with three men at a Boat Quay pub had serious repercussions for one teen waitress who was working there.
Heavily intoxicated and unable to defend herself, the waitress, then 18, was taken in a taxi to Hotel 81 Cosy in Chinatown, where she was raped.
She found herself alone in Room 112 with the three men from the pub, who sexually violated her after checking in at 3.06am on July 4, 2010.
The woman, whose identity cannot be revealed because she is a victim of sexual assault, screamed as she tried to fend off her attackers.
Her screams were heard by hotel staff as Room 112 was just metres away from the front desk. For the next 30 minutes, three staff members tried no less than five times to find out what was happening in the room.
By the time they called the police after the fifth time, one of the men had raped the woman.
Yesterday, the three men - brothers Calvin Tan Jian Wei and Edwin Tan Jian An, and their friend, Ho Boon Sheng - were sentenced in the Supreme Court.
Jian Wei, 28, who was in the hotel line, and Jian An, 26, who was then a Navy regular, were each sentenced to 11 years in jail and eight strokes of the cane for conspiracy to commit rape.
Ho, 25, who was then a claims assistant, got 13½ years and 12 strokes for committing rape.
As details of their crime were read out in court, Ho's wife, who was carrying their newborn daughter, wiped tears from her eyes while Ho's elder daughter stood beside her.
The situation could have escalated if not for the hotel staff, Justice Chan Seng Onn said during sentencing.
"Clearly, the accused persons had been unrelenting and persistent in their sexual assault," he said.
"It could have been more serious if not for the timely intervention of the hotel staff."
The question remains, though, whether the rape could have been prevented if the hotel staff had raised the alarm earlier instead of waiting until they had checked on the men and their victim for five times.
The woman, who was out cold, was carried past the hotel front desk to the room. As she lay on the bed and was unable to open her eyes, she screamed when she felt her breasts being fondled.
According to court papers, front office executive Nurhayati Sani called the room. When Ho answered, she told him that only two persons were allowed in the room. Ho told her that they would be leaving soon.
Shortly after the call, Jian Wei asked his younger brother to have sex with the victim first. But when Jian An asked if he could have sex with her, she said "no" and screamed again.
Ms Nurhayati, who heard the scream, called the room but nobody answered.
Hotel 81 Cosy manager Ng Kok Kean knocked on the room door after hearing the woman's screams. Jian Wei told him that they would leave soon.
Moments later, Ms Nurhayati and a male cleaner knocked on the door again.
Jian Wei opened the door. As it was slightly ajar, the two hotel employees saw the woman on the bed on her hands and knees. Her dress had been lifted up, exposing her buttocks.
She was crying and not wearing her panties. When they asked if the woman was all right, Jian Wei said she was "OK".
After they left, the three men restrained and pinned down the woman.
She screamed and struggled violently, and even kicked Jian An.
She bit Jian Wei's thumb when he had tried to silence her by covering her mouth. It was around this time that Ho raped her.
Hearing the screams, the three hotel employees took turns to knock on the room door. But no one in the room responded until Jian An opened the door and walked off, followed by Jian Wei.
When Mr Ng entered the room, he saw the crying woman on the bed in a foetal position. She was covering her exposed breasts. Her tube top was around her waist and her panties were on the floor.
Ho was the last person to leave the room and the hotel.
Ms Nurhayati covered the woman with a blanket. When Mr Ng asked the victim whether she wanted to call for the police, she said "yes".
Ho and Jian Wei returned to the hotel to get the woman after realising that Jian An had used his name to register for the room. But the hotel staff prevented them from taking the woman.
The three men were later arrested by the police at the hotel.
COULD MANAGER HAVE INTERVENED EARLIER?
The New Paper asked Hotel 81 Cosy manager Ng Kok Kean yesterday if he could have done more to intervene after hearing the first screams from the woman.
Mr Ng, who left Hotel 81 soon after the incident, said: "It's really subjective. We had no idea what they were doing inside.
"We can't enter the room unless we have permission. It has to do with privacy."
He added that he remembered hearing the first scream and instructing front office executive Nurhayati Sani to make the call to Room 112.
"Until today, we had no idea that she had been raped. I can only say I'm sorry it happened," said Mr Ng.
The management of Hotel 81 could not be reached for comment.
During submissions, the prosecution argued that there had been a plan in the pub to sexually violate and eventually rape the woman.
The men ditched an idea to take the woman to the brothers' house because their parents were home. It was then that Jian Wei had suggested going to a hotel.
Said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz: "It was a calculated decision to sexually violate the victim together.
"The intention to rape the victim was first formed at the pub, when the accused observed her to be intoxicated and helpless."
Mr Chee Wai Pong, who defended the brothers, said his clients were remorseful but believed they were less culpable compared to what Ho did.
There was no evidence to suggest that his clients would have "gone further" if the victim has said "no" to them, he said.
But Mr Chee acknowledged that his clients did nothing to prevent the rape.
Ms Sharmila pointed out that the men were caught red-handed by hotel staff and had not surrendered.
They had five opportunities to stop their acts but instead continued their assault, she said.
Ms Sharmila added: "The accused persons' subsequent return to the hotel was likewise not motivated by remorse or regret, but instead, a conscious and calculated attempt at self-preservation."
'Fine line' between safety and privacy
While the rape at Hotel 81 Cosy has raised questions about hotel security, those in the industry say it can be difficult to prevent such incidents, especially if they occur behind closed doors.
But they told The New Paper that they do take precautions to prevent trouble.
The general manager of Dragon Court Hotel in Chinatown, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, said it has a policy of turning away intoxicated customers.
"When someone is drunk, you don't know what they are going to do. Some throw up in the rooms, which can make it difficult for our cleaning staff. Worse, some may even get violent and break things," he said.
He recounted an incident during the recent Christmas holidays when three men entered his hotel carrying a drunk woman.
"My staff said 'no' to them immediately. When you see a group like that, who knows what they're going to do. So we try to prevent these as much as possible," said Mr Lee, who has more than a decade's experience in hospitality.
KNOCK ON DOORS
When guests have noisy rows in the room, hotel staff would knock on the door to ensure everything is all right.
"Most of them are couples who are having a tiff, so we tell them to keep the volume down and not affect the other guests," he said.
But when quarrels or fights get out of hand, security is called in to ask the guests to leave.
In the two years that he has run the hotel, there have been no major incidents that required police intervention, Mr Lee said.
A manager for a budget hotel chain said it has an unwritten rule on turning away groups that raise alarm bells.
"For instance, if there are two or three guys and a girl, we'd usually tell them no," said the manager, who cannot be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
"This is to prevent incidents like (the Hotel 81 Cosy rape) from happening."
But the manager admitted that it can be tricky when a couple check in, and that it is nearly impossible to prevent crime, especially if it happens behind a closed hotel room door.
"If we go knocking on someone's door every time we hear loud noises, we may be invading their privacy," he said.
"It's a fine line that we tread, ensuring safety while giving our guests the space they need. So we can only take precautions like turning away suspicious characters and making sure we have ample security."