Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do

Last updated on July 6, 2020

man sexually harassing woman

The Penal Code in Singapore covers sexual offences such as rape, sexual penetration without consent, and more. These offences usually involve a victim’s lack of consent towards the sexual act done to them. But what does consent mean?

What is Consent in Sexual Offences?

When it comes to sexual offences, the court believes that consent is an agreement to the sexual conduct in question, and that is given voluntarily. While the Penal Code does not provide a definition for consent, it describes situations which do not amount to consent:

  • Consent given under fear of injury or restraint. For example, if someone gave consent because the perpetrator threatened their or a loved one’s safety, such consent is not valid.
  • Consent given under a misconception of fact. This means that the consent was given due to a misunderstanding of what was happening. For sexual offences, the misconception must relate to one of the following:
    • The nature of the act. An example of this is someone who was deceived into sexual intercourse under the misconception that it was to exorcise an evil spirit. Because the consent was given for the exorcism and not the sexual intercourse, this would be a misconception of the nature of the act;
    • The purpose of the act. For example, someone who was under the impression that sexual intercourse can cure a certain disease and therefore provided consent. Such consent is not valid because it was given towards a health purpose, and not a sexual one; or
    • Identity of the person doing the act. An example of this is someone who provided consent under the misconception that the person who initiated sexual intercourse was her husband, when the person was actually an imposter.
  • Consent given by a person unable to understand the nature and consequence of the consent. For example, if the person was drunk, not of sound mind, does not have the mental capacity to consent, or was under the influence of drugs.
  • Consent given by someone younger than 12. For the offences of rape and sexual assault involving penetration however, consent given by someone younger than 14 will not be considered valid.

Does Consent Need to be Proven for an Offence to Have Been Committed?

There are some sexual offences where proving a lack of consent is a requirement for there to be an offence. For example, the offence of rape or sexual assault involving penetration requires proof of a lack of consent where the victim is 14 years old or older.

Usually, the court will look at all the evidence as a whole in coming to its decision on whether the victim had provided valid consent. For instance, it will look at any available forensic evidence, testimonies of any witnesses, and how the accused and the victim behaved before and after the alleged offence.

On the other hand, sexual offences that do not require consent to be proven include:

  • Sexual intercourse with someone under 16 years old
  • Sexual penetration of someone between 16 and 18 years old who is in an exploitative relationship
  • Incest, namely sexual penetration of a close family relative, such as a grandchild, child, sibling, half-sibling, parent or grandparent.

For these offences, the perpetrator can be penalised regardless of whether it can be proved that the victim had consented to the acts.

What are the Penalties for Sexual Offences?

Sexual Offence Punishment
Rape and sexual assault involving penetration Jail term of up 20 years, and fine/caning.
Causing fear or hurt to facilitate the offence of rape or sexual assault Jail term of between 8 to 20 years and caning of at least  12 strokes.
Sexual penetration of a minor below 16 years old If the victim is between 14 and 16 years old and is in a sexually exploitative relationship, jail term of up to 20 years and fine/caning.

In any other situation, jail term of up to 10 years and/or a fine.

Exploitative sexual penetration of a minor between 16 and 18 years old Jail term of up to 15 years, and fine/ caning.
Incest Jail term of up to 5 years.

What happens if either party furnishes false information to the authorities?

An accused or an alleged victim may be tempted to provide false information to the authorities. For instance, an accused may lie in his statement that the victim had provided consent, or an alleged victim may lie that they had not consented to the sexual act.

Regardless, providing false information to the authorities is an offence. The punishment for such an offence can be a fine up to $5,000, or jail up to 6 months, or both.

What Can Victims of Sexual Offences Do?

Immediate steps

If you or anyone you know is a victim of a sexual offence, the first 3 days after the offence took place are crucial. This is because any DNA evidence that has been produced can remain on your body for up to 72 hours. Within this period:

  • Safety comes first. This involves distancing yourself from the alleged perpetrator of the offence, avoiding places where they might be, and avoiding all forms of contact (including through calls, messages or social media). You can also call the police if you are in danger.
  • Get medical help if you have suffered serious physical injury. Even if you are not suffering from serious physical injury, you may want to consider getting yourself tested for any sexually transmitted infections. It would also be a good idea to consider emergency contraception if you are worried about an unwanted pregnancy.
  • Collect evidence. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience and it is understandable if you do not wish to relive it through a police report. Regardless, it’s a good idea to collect any evidence you can. This would allow you to make a stronger case if you make a police report later. Do note there is some urgency because certain evidence, like DNA, can only remain on your body for 72 hours. Collecting evidence can involve:
    • Taking photos of any physical injuries.
    • Noting the address of where the sexual assault happened and taking any photos of the crime scene, if possible.
    • Calling someone you trust to inform them of what happened. They can act as both your emotional support and witness, if you decide to pursue the matter.
    • You may also want to follow up with a detailed written description of the incident. Over time or because of the traumatic experience, you may forget certain important details. It will be useful to have the details recorded somewhere if you wish to make a police report later.
    • Placing clothing worn or sheets used at the time of the sexual assault in a sealed plastic bag.
    • If you decide to make a police report right away, it is important to preserve any evidence that may be on your body or at the scene. You are advised to avoid:
      • Bathing or showering.
      • Using the restroom.
      • Combing your hair.
      • Cleaning up the area.

Calling the police

Once you’ve called the police, they may require you to come down to the police station personally for an interview. Your statement will usually be recorded at this point. The police will take the utmost care in protecting your privacy, such as conducting the interviews in private rooms.

The police may then require you to do a rape-kit examination. This will help preserve any evidence on your body but it is only useful when there has been penetration of any form. The examination will involve completing your full medical history, a physical examination, and samples of semen and hair will be collected for DNA testing.

Unfortunately, a rape-kit examination is not something you can independently request for. You must first make a police report. A police officer will escort you to the OneSafe Centre in the Police Cantonment Complex to have the examination performed. You will need to bring your parents along if you are younger than 21 years old as their signature would be required.

The police will then investigate the matter. If there is sufficient evidence, the offender will be charged. Do also note that most sexual offences under the Penal Code are arrestable offences. This means that the police have the authority to arrest the offender without first getting an arrest warrant from the court.

The case may then proceed to a trial if the charges are contested. During the trial, the court can continue to protect your identity by issuing a gag order. If so, no one will be allowed to disclose your identity and the hearing can be conducted behind closed doors.

If you do not feel comfortable facing the offender again, the court will allow you to testify from behind a physical screen in the courtroom, or through a video link from a safe space outside the courtroom.

Further, questions regarding your sexual history not related to the accused will not be asked unless the judge allows them.

Can a Victim of Sexual Offence Seek Compensation?

If you are a victim of a sexual offence, you can seek compensation by suing the perpetrator. However, this is not always practical since lawsuits often cost a lot of money.

Alternatively, the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) provides the court with some leeway in ordering the offender to compensate you. In considering whether to make a compensation order, the court will consider your financial resources to sue for compensation, and the offender’s ability to pay it within a reasonable time.

If the court does grant a compensation order in your favour, you can still seek further compensation through a lawsuit. However, the amount that you are claiming for in the lawsuit must exclude the amount that you have received from the compensation order.

Should a Victim of Sexual Offence Engage a Lawyer?

As a victim of a sexual offence, you may still need legal advice. A lawyer can help in several ways:

  • Provide you with general guidance on your case.
  • Advise you on your legal rights based on your circumstances.
  • Filing a lawsuit if you are seeking compensation.

If you require legal advice, do not hesitate to contact one of our criminal lawyers.

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