Cybersexual Crimes in Singapore and Their Penalties
Cybersex is a subcategory of online sexual activity where two or more individuals engage in sexual exchanges online for sexual pleasure. Examples of cybersex include sexting, webcam sex and pornography. With the prevalence of the internet, cybersex is a common occurrence.
However, engaging in or seeking out cybersex can be a crime in certain situations. For instance, it is illegal to make, distribute, import, sell, advertise and even possess and download any form of pornographic content. If cybersex is used to commit such an offence, it can also become a crime.
There are also other types of cybersexual crimes, such as cyber extortion, cyber flashing and online grooming, which will be discussed in this article. It will cover:
Cybersexual Crimes and Their Penalties
Cyber extortion or sextortion
Cyber extortion, also known as “sextortion”, happens when the culprit threatens to distribute compromising or explicit photographs and/or videos of the victim unless the victim pays a sum of money.
Culprits may befriend victims on social media or dating platforms, and subsequently ask them to perform compromising sexual acts over the webcam. Unbeknownst to victims, these acts are being recorded by the culprits who then threaten to distribute such compromising videos.
In some other cases, culprits threaten victims with explicit photographs that the victims may have shared, or those that have been edited to put the victims’ faces on them.
If you have committed cyber extortion, you may be convicted of the following offences:
You may be guilty of criminal intimidation if you threaten to distribute compromising photographs or videos of the victim with the intention of causing alarm, or causing the victim to do something that they wouldn’t have done or to not do something that they would have done.
If convicted of criminal intimidation, you will be jailed for up to 2 years and/or fined.
However, if you had communicated anonymously or created a false online profile to threaten victims regarding the distribution of their compromising photographs or videos, then you will face up to 2 additional years in jail.
Distributing or threatening to distribute intimate image or recording
You may be charged under section 377BE of the Penal Code if you knowingly threaten to distribute intimate images or recordings of another person without his/her consent, while knowing or having reason to believe that this will cause him/her humiliation, alarm or distress.
If convicted, you will be jailed for a term of up to 5 years, fined, caned or given any combination of these punishments. If the victim is below 14 years old, jail for up to 5 years is compulsory, and you will also be liable to be fined or caned.
Cyber flashing is the sending of unsolicited images of genitals to someone else through electronic means.
For cyber flashing, you may be charged with sexual exposure. Under section 377BF of the Penal Code, you are guilty of sexual exposure if you:
- intentionally expose your own or someone else’s genitals to a person for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification or causing humiliation, alarm or distress to that person;
- Intend for that person to see yours, or someone else’s genitals; and
- Do so without that person’s consent.
If convicted, you will be jailed for a term of up to 1 year and/or fined. If the victim is under the age of 14, jail for up to 2 years is compulsory, and you will also be liable to be fined or caned.
Online grooming is the act of building up a trusting and emotional relationship with a minor on an online platform, with the intention to sexually exploit, gratify oneself or sexually abuse that minor.
Groomers will first approach youths through an online platform, such as social media or gaming platforms. They may use manipulation tactics, such as by appealing to the youth’s sense of empathy or flattering them, to gain their victims’ trust. They may also fish for personal data such as the youth’s address or request to meet up.
If you are caught grooming minors online, you may be convicted of different offences depending on the age of the minor.
Under section 376E of the Penal Code, you may be guilty of sexual grooming of a minor under 16 if:
- You are above 18 years old or above and have met or communicated with the victim on at least one occasion;
- You intentionally meet with the victim;
- You intend to do something to or with the minor during or after the meeting that would constitute a sexual offence;
- The victim is under 16 years old at the time of the meeting; and
- You do not reasonably believe that the victim is or above 16 years old.
The penalties for this offence is up to 3 years’ jail and/or a fine. However, if the victim had been below 14 years old, and you had not reasonably believed that the victim was or above that age, then the maximum jail term is increased to 4 years.
On the other hand, if you had been grooming minors of or above 16 but below 18 years old, and had been in an exploitative relationship with them, you may be convicted of exploitative sexual grooming under section 376EA of the Penal Code instead.
Many factors determine if you are in an exploitative relationship with the minor. These include the age of the minor, the difference in age between you and the minor, the nature of the relationship, and the degree of control or influence you exercise over the minor.
However, there is a presumption of an exploitative relationship if you are:
- The parent, step-parent, foster parent or guardian of the minor;
- The partner of the parent, foster parent or guardian of the minor;
- A teacher or staff at the school the minor attends;
- A religious, sports or music instructor of the minor;
- A registered doctor or psychologist treating the minor; or
- A lawyer or counsellor and the minor is your client.
If convicted, you will be jailed for up to 3 years and/or fined.
Will Those Convicted of Cybersexual Crimes have a Criminal Record?
Those convicted of cybersexual crimes such as criminal intimidation, sexual exposure and sexual grooming are likely to have a criminal record.
For criminal intimidation and sexual exposure convictions, even if your criminal record has been registered, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent. This means that your record will be wiped clean. To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:
- If you had been given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
- If you had been given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
- You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
- You must not have any previous spent record on the register.
After meeting these criteria, you will have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you had been given a fine. Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.
However, if you are convicted of sexual grooming of minors, your criminal record cannot be spent.
If you are a victim, or know someone who is a victim of cybersexual crimes, the following are some steps you can take to seek redress.
If you are a victim of cyber extortion, stay calm and ignore any instructions regarding payment. Do not communicate further with the culprit and take screenshots of all communications as evidence. If any of your photos/videos were uploaded, report all compromising content using the report function on the respective online platforms to have them taken down. Also, help from the police immediately.
If you are a victim of sexual exposure, report the culprit on the online platform that the photo had been sent to you, and make a police report. Though the images may be unsettling, do not delete them as they serve as evidence against the culprit.
For minors who suspect that they are being sexually groomed online, you should cease all communication with the culprit, take note of the culprit’s identity or username and take a screenshot before blocking him or her. You should then report the user on the platform used for communication, and seek a trusted adult’s help.
For parents, if you suspect or learn that your child is being sexually groomed online, you should secure the devices used by your child to communicate with the culprit and collect evidence by taking screenshots of your child’s interactions with the culprit. File a police report immediately.
For accused persons
If you have been charged with a cybersexual crime in Singapore, you may choose to represent yourself in court, so long as you are above 18 years old and are not under any legal disability. However, this will run certain risks because if you are not aware of any available defences or mitigating factors, you may be convicted or sentenced unfairly.
Instead, you may want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer and get advice on how to proceed with your case. The lawyer will be able to represent you in court and put forth your case in the best way possible, to achieve a fair outcome for all parties involved.
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