Woman jailed for covering up husband's rape of niece
In what is believed to be the first case of its kind here, a woman was yesterday convicted of covering up a rape
For two years, a man raped, molested and sexually assaulted his niece, starting from when she was just 12.
The girl, now 17, was so traumatised that she tried to kill herself by drinking a solution of bleach and soap powder soon after being raped.
When the rapist's wife found out about the attacks and suicide attempt, she did not report him to the police or get her niece medical help.
Instead, she covered up the crime and even used her position as the girl's aunt to buy her silence.
Last October, the uncle was jailed for 20 years, but the authorities were not done.
Yesterday, the aunt, 47, was also sent to jail for six months for preventing the course of justice.
The parties cannot be named to protect the girl's identity.
The woman's conviction is a timely move by the authorities to send out a clear message that:
- Anyone who covers up a crime to protect their loved ones will have to face the consequences.
- No effort will be spared to protect our young and innocent, especially in sexual abuse cases.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development handled 38 cases of sexual abuse involving minors in 2014, and 40 in 2013, The Straits Times reported last year.
In most cases, the perpetrator was a family member.
It is anyone's guess how many other such cases go unreported, with the young victims left to suffer in silence, either because the very people who should be protecting them do not believe them, or will not do anything to help them for self-serving reasons.
The circumstances in yesterday's case are hardly unique. What makes it unique is that it is believed to be the first such prosecution here.
In a number of past cases, it was mentioned in court that someone - a mother, an aunt - had found out about the sexual abuse within the family, but did nothing about it.
These cases came to light only because the victims finally confided in another relative or someone outside the family - a friend, a teacher, a counsellor.
Some were sadly similar to yesterday's case, such as the woman who tried to cover up her husband's molest of their teenage niece in 2010.
She warned the girl to keep mum, otherwise "there will be a lot of problems at home and the whole family will be separated".
The truth came out only three years later, when the girl confided in another aunt. The culprit, a 58-year-old driver, was jailed for 11 months in February last year.
So why haven't more people been prosecuted for covering up sexual abuse?
Criminal lawyer Ravinderpal Singh said it could be because it is difficult to prove that someone had the intention to hide information from the authorities.
"If you didn't lodge a police report, no one would know that you even knew," he said.
Mr Joseph Tan, who served in the police force from 1985 to 1992, also said such cases are difficult to prove, especially if no one talks.
The founder of Crime Library, a voluntary group that tracks missing people, added: "The wives would usually feel inclined to stay loyal to their husbands. They see it as their duty.
"They would deny everything. Sometimes, they would even blame the young victim for seducing the husband."
Dr Ken Ung, a consultant psychiatrist at Adam Road Medical Centre, said the spouses could have been trying to keep the family unit intact.
He said: "Often, such people do have values and they know the act was wrong.
"But in a situation where they could lose their spouse, possibly the sole breadwinner, and their family, they may choose what they feel is the lesser of two evils and keep quiet."
To do so, they could enter a state of partial denial and choose to believe their spouse or relative over the victim, he said.
But covering up sex offences is not just committing a crime. It also leaves the child untreated with psychological harm, he said.
"The child would feel betrayed, having suffered injustice, and would have a warped idea that the world is a dangerous place. It would affect the child's social relationships."
Reporting the matter might vindicate the child, who could then be counselled and treated, he added.
Psychologist Daniel Koh from Insights Mind Centre said the wife could have been trying to avoid her family being shamed if the offence had come to light.
"It's not the right thing to do, but trying to save the family helps with the guilt," he said.
Mr Koh said other family members could look out for signs of abuse, such as a drastic change of behaviour or mood in the child, and alert the authorities.
In sentencing the aunt yesterday, District Judge Crystal Ong said: "One may say that the accused acted out of loyalty for and love for her husband. But her behaviour cannot be excused."
We can only hope the court's message will resonate with those on whose shoulders lie the responsibility of protecting the children.
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They would deny everything. Sometimes, they would even blame the young victim for seducing the husband.
-Mr Joseph Tan, founder of Crime Library.
Judge: Aunt's behaviour 'cannot be excused'
The woman's niece was so distressed after she was raped that she tried to hurt herself by drinking bleach.
In her grounds of decision yesterday, District Judge Crystal Ong said of the accused: "Instead of being filled with outrage over what her husband had done, she chose instead to silence her niece.
"One may say that the accused acted out of loyalty for and love for her husband. But her behaviour cannot be excused."
Judge Ong sentenced the aunt, now 47, to six months' jail after she pleaded guilty to intentionally preventing the course of justice.
In mitigation, the woman's lawyer, Mr Rajan Supramaniam, told the court that his client "regrets her foolishness".
Pleading for leniency, he said she had taken full responsibility for her wrongdoings.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz urged the court to sentence the woman to at least six months' jail.
She added: "The very adult who ought to have protected (the girl), chose instead to silence her."
Before handing out the sentence, Judge Ong said she agreed with the prosecution.
"I am also of the view that a strong deterrent message needs to be sent out to would-be offenders who choose to silence victims of sexual offences in a bid to preserve their family ties," the judge said.
- SHAFFIQ ALKHATIB
A strong deterrent message needs to be sent out to would-be offenders who choose to silence victims of sexual offences in a bid to preserve their family ties.
- District Judge Crystal Ong
She paid niece $50 to stay silent
He sexually abused his young niece multiple times over two years from 2010, and raped the then-14-year-old in 2012.
Instead of reporting him after finding out what he had done, his wife helped him to cover his tracks.
The mother of two, 47, was sentenced to six months' jail yesterday after pleading guilty to intentionally preventing the course of justice.
A charge of intentionally omitting to report the rape to the police was taken into consideration in sentencing.
She is out on $5,000 bail after the court allowed her to begin her sentence after Hari Raya Puasa.
Her husband, a food stall operator who's now 55, was jailed for 20 years on Oct 26 last year after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual assault by penetration and one count each of outrage of modesty and rape.
Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Michael Quilindo said the girl and her family lived with the couple in a flat in the north of Singapore.
On Dec 20, 2012, her uncle raped her in the living room while his wife was asleep in the master bedroom.
Afterwards, the distraught teenager drank a mixture of water, bleach and soap powder from a cup. Her aunt later heard violent retching and saw her vomiting.
After confessing what he did, her husband told his wife not to take her to the hospital as it would result in a police report. So she took her niece to a private clinic, and told her not to tell the doctor she had drunk bleach.
Her niece complied and told the doctor that she had a migraine and had vomited.
A few days later, the woman gave the girl $50 and asked her for another chance to "protect her".
DPP Quilindo said: "As the victim pitied her aunt and did not want to cause problems within the family, she kept mum about the offences until her noticeable absence from school in January 2013 was queried by (her school counsellor)."
After some probing, she told the counsellor about the sexual abuse, and the police were notified.
For intentionally preventing the course of justice, her aunt could have been jailed up to seven years and fined.
Association of Women for Action and Research's (Aware) Sexual Assault Care Centre
6779-0282 (Monday to Friday, 10am to midnight)
Samaritans of Singapore
1800-221-4444 (24 hours)
Mental Health Helpline (Institute of Mental Health)
6389-2222 (24 hours)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin)