Cyber flashers may soon get jail time
Proposed Penal Code changes to make sending of unsolicited images of genitalia an offence with up to two years in jail, fine or caning
She was just eight years old, but she could draw highly realistic images of genitalia and sexual acts.
One particular image of a clown performing sexual acts on a young child shocked her psychologist, who told The New Paper that the girl had been receiving unsolicited images of male genitalia online.
The authorities want to criminaise such cyber flashing acts as part of the Criminal Law Reform Bill, which was read for the first time in Parliament on Monday.
Cyber flashing includes situations where images of genitalia are sent to recipients without their consent, which humiliates, distresses or alarms them.
Psychologist Frances Yeo told TNP that her young patient had been exposed to cyber flashing by a male acquaintance she met on an online platform for drawing and art. She then started drawing the images.
Such images are often sent by people known to the young recipients in an attempt to groom them for future sexual acts, she added.
The proposed change targets the act of flashing, including cyber flashing, under the offence of sexual exposure.
Those who commit sexual exposure against minors under 14 years old will face heavier penalties of up to two years' jail and a fine or caning.
Other offenders can be jailed for up to a year and/or fined.
Ms Yeo said she has seen an increase in such cases and has also heard about such situations more often, especially with the prolific use of smartphones nowadays.
Young people, especially those under 16, are especially vulnerable as they may lack the maturity to handle such situations, and victims could become overly sexualised or unable to distinguish what is normal and what is not.
They might believe that it is acceptable for an adult to behave in such a sexualised manner, Ms Yeo said.
Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre's case manager Lim Xiu Xuan told TNP that one in five of the 338 cases it handled in 2016 involved an element of technology.
Of these, 30 per cent, or about 20 cases, featured contact-based sexual harassment that included unsolicited images of genitalia.
In a straw poll by TNP, 25 out of 74 people aged from 12 to 30 said they had received unsolicited images of genitalia on messaging or social media platforms.
Ms Yeo said it is important for schools and parents to educate children on managing their Internet use. Parents, in particular, should monitor their children's use of smartphones and social media to ensure they do not fall victim to cyber flashing.
Programming instructor Swe Sin Tha, 22, said she was furious to receive an unsolicited lewd image recently and reported it to the police.
"When I expressed my anger, (the sender) pretended it was a mistake and that he had not intended to send the image to me," she said.
"I think he was trying to see my reaction. When it was not positive, he tried to retract it."
Ms Swe said her ability to deal with such situations comes with age and experience.
"I had received similar images when I was in secondary school, but I was too afraid to bring it up. I was scared if I had told an adult, I would be asked what I did or why I led the guy on, even though I had done nothing.
"But I am no longer afraid. People who do such things need to realise it is a crime. It is flashing and doing it digitally does not make it any less egregious."
Aware's Ms Lim said victims could face myriad pressures and challenges in seeking help or speaking up about their experiences.
"They may have feelings of guilt, denial, fear or anger, and this can contribute to not feeling confident enough to reach out."
Social media influencer Jade Rasif, 25, said she receives such images weekly from strangers who send them on Facebook, Instagram and e-mail.
The New Face 2013 runner- up added: "Just because I might find it funny doesn't mean it is acceptable. Sometimes the recipient might think it is a joke, but many don't. That is why consent is important."