‘Insulting modesty’ law does not apply to men, rules court

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The value of a man's modesty versus a woman's has come under the spotlight after the Public Prosecutor appealed against a 10-week jail term given to a man who covertly took obscene videos and photos of 33 men in public toilets.

The prosecution had urged the court to punish 27-year-old Teo Han Jern with a six-month jail term, arguing that this would have been the benchmark if the Malaysian's victims had been women.

But District Judge Kenneth Yappointed out that Singapore's law on insult to modesty protects only women - and this could be down to the different way society regards the two sexes.

"The fact that male urinals and changing rooms are typically more 'open concept' than their female equivalents would, to some, speak volumes of a differentiated approach to modesty," he said.

Using his mobile phone, Teo, a sales executive, secretly took videos and photos of men - some engaging in sexual acts and others defecating.

He committed almost all of his offences at the Paragon and Cathay shopping malls.

He was caught on Sept 9 last year, when he went to a toilet on the ground floor of Paragon around 6pm and tried to film a man who was inside a cubicle by placing his phone over the partition.

The victim spotted the device, snatched it away and reported Teo to the mall's concierge. The police were alerted.

Teo pleaded guilty to five counts of making obscene films, for which he was jailed for four weeks each, four counts of being a public nuisance for the photos he took ($1,000 fine each), and one count of having an obscene film (two weeks' jail).

Some of the jail terms will run concurrently, which means he would have to serve only 10 weeks. Thirty other charges were taken into consideration.


In Singapore's penal code, there are two laws that deal with crimes against a person's modesty. The more serious outrage of modesty, which involves the use of criminal force, applies to "all persons".

But the other law states that whoever intends to insult the modesty of a "woman", whether through words, gestures or by intruding on the privacy of the woman, is guilty of an offence.

So Teo could not be charged with insulting the men's modesty. The most serious charges he faced were for making obscene films under the Films Act - for which the precedent was one to three weeks in jail.

The judge wrote that the fundamental question is whether a man is capable of having his modesty insulted in the same way as that of a woman. While some may argue that everyone's privacy, regardless of gender, should be equally protected, this debate is for Parliament, not the courts, he added.