SMU molest trial: DPP grills accused on issue of consent

Alleged victim makes surprise appearance at hearing, allowed to stay for cross-examination of accused

The alleged molest victim of a Singapore Management University (SMU) student sat through the accused's testimony yesterday, during which he repeatedly maintained that she had consented to his advances on her.

The issue of consent took centre stage during Deputy Public Prosecutor Andre Chong's cross-examination of Lee Yan Ru, 24, who is on trial for outraging the modesty of a female student during an overnight study session at SMU in 2019.

While admitting he had not asked for her consent before making his advances, Lee repeatedly said he believed she had consented based on her actions, The Straits Times reported.

DPP Chong argued that Lee had not obtained her consent, and that the woman had moved away from him and taken his hands off her when he touched her breasts, sat on her lap and tried to kiss her.

Lee, who is alleged to have rubbed his private parts on her chest in an SMU study room, said: "Throughout the whole time, I thought it was mutual (and) there was consent between both parties."

He repeatedly attributed this to the "mood and environment" between them during the early hours of Jan 8, 2019.

"You weren't there. Only both of us were there. Only both of us know how we were getting more and more intimate," he told DPP Chong.

The woman, now 22, made a surprise appearance at the hearing yesterday morning, prompting a discussion between the parties as to whether her presence would be an issue.

After DPP Chong said he had no objections, District Judge Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz allowed her to sit in the public gallery, and she stayed for the DPP's entire cross-examination of Lee.

The woman, who attends another university, cannot be named due to a gag order.

The DPP began by asking Lee what consent meant to him. "If I wanted to do something to you, but I didn't get your consent, does it mean that it's your job to say no?"

Lee replied: "Yes, it would be my job to say no."

Asked if he thought the only way to be certain that someone consents is to ask the person, Lee said it depended on the place, environment and setting.

On Monday, when questioned by his lawyers from Rajah & Tann, Lee testified he had arranged to meet the woman at a cafe after getting to know her on Instagram in early January 2019.

She accepted his invitation to meet him at SMU to study through the night, turning up at 1am on Jan 8, 2019.

He added that what happened between them was "mutual" and "consensual", including him touching her breast, hugging her and trying to kiss her.

Yesterday, DPP Chong argued that several statements made by Lee on Monday were fabricated, since they were not put to the alleged victim when she was being cross-examined or were missing from his original police statement.

The statements include the woman saying she trusted Lee while she was changing in the room, that she had placed his feet on her thighs, and that he had asked her what would happen if he tickled her.

Lee denied that the statements were fabricated.

The court also heard on Monday that the woman had said "stop" to Lee as he knelt over her, but he did not think she meant it because of her "jest(ing) tone".

DPP Chong argued that she had just woken up and would have been disoriented and unable to consent. "When she finally came to her senses, she said 'stop'," he added.

DPP Chong asked Lee to mimic the way she had said "stop", but Lee said: "There is no way I can replicate that tone because... I am not her and I am not in that environment now."

When asked what she could have said to get him to stop, Lee said: "If she shouted 'stop', or (since) her hands were free (and) she pushed me hard... It's just at that point in time, her 'stop' didn't mean 'stop'."

DPP Chong said: "The truth is, Mr Lee, there is nothing (she) could have said to get you to stop."

Lee disagreed.

Judge Sripathy-Shanaz is expected to give her verdict on July 27. If convicted of outraging the woman's modesty, Lee can be jailed for up to two years, fined and/or caned.