The Offence of Attempted Rape in Singapore: Law & Penalties

Last updated on May 17, 2024

Man in handcuffs in jail

What is Attempted Rape? 

Attempted rape occurs when an individual attempts to commit the act of rape but fails to carry out the full offence. Hence, one can be said to have committed attempted rape if they have made an attempt to intentionally penetrate another individual’s vagina, anus, or mouth with a penis without the person’s consent, and without success.

The perpetrator may have failed to carry out the full offence for several reasons, such as the victim fighting him/her off, a third party intervening to stop the perpetrator, or the perpetrator withdrawing from the attempt after a change of mind.

This article addresses the offence of attempted rape in Singapore in detail by explaining the governing law and related penalties. It will discuss:

Given the potentially triggering subject matter of the article, reader discretion is advised.

How Does Attempted Rape Differ From Rape? 

Under section 375 of the Penal Code, rape is defined as the act of a man penetrating the vagina, anus or mouth of another person without that person’s consent. If the victim is below 14 years old, it does not matter whether he/she gave consent — so long as a man has penetrated his/her vagina, anus or mouth, the offence of rape has been made out. Although the definition of rape under section 375 of the Penal Code restricts the gender of the perpetrator to males, it must be noted that the offence of attempted rape can apply to both male and female victims.

While rape is clearly defined as above in section 375 of the Penal Code, there appears to be no legal definition for attempted rape under our laws. However, this does not mean that the offence of attempted rape does not exist — instead, section 511 of the Penal Code provides for attempts to commit offences, and this provision can be applied to rape, and by extension, attempted rape.

According to section 511(1) of the Penal Code, an attempt to commit an offence is defined as having the intention to commit the offence and taking a substantial step towards the commission of the offence. A “substantial step” refers to acts which are “strongly corroborative of an intention to commit the offence”. With regard to attempted rape, this means that the acts carried out by the perpetrator clearly indicate that he had intended to rape the victim despite his failure to carry out the full act.

For example, a “substantial step” or a “strongly corroborative” act could refer to the act of purchasing a date-rape drug with the intention of spiking a victim’s drink and raping him/her while unconscious.

How Might Attempted Rape Occur? 

There are many factual matrices that could give rise to the offence of attempted rape. Here are some examples of how the offence might occur, as well as what acts could constitute a “substantial step” towards the commission of rape:

What are the Penalties For Attempted Rape? 

The penalties for attempted rape are not expressly provided for under section 375 of the Penal Code itself. However, section 512(2) of the Penal Code provides that the maximum penalty for an attempted offence would be the same as that which is prescribed for the completed offence.

Therefore, the penalty for attempted rape is the same for a rape offence which has been fully carried out — imprisonment for a term which may extend to 20 years, as well as fine or caning.

For example, in the case of the man who attempted to rape his drunk female friend (as discussed above), he was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months’ jail, along with 3 strokes of the cane.

What is the Sentencing Framework For Attempted Rape? 

The Singapore Courts have increasingly turned to developing and applying sentencing frameworks, as well as standardising sentencing regimes for sexual offences (such as rape, sexual assault by penetration etc.). Sentencing frameworks are tools that enable the court to achieve consistency in calibrating sentences across offenders while simultaneously ensuring that the punishment is appropriate for each individual offender.

Before explaining the sentencing framework for attempted rape, it is helpful to first address the sentencing framework for rape cases (i.e. cases where the attempt was successful).

Sentencing framework for rape 

The sentencing framework for offenders who claim trial to rape cases was first set out in the 2017 case of Ng Kean Meng Terence v PP (“Terence Ng”).  In Terence Ng, a 42-year-old man befriended a 13-year-old girl and took her to his flat, where they eventually had sex. They had a total of three sexual encounters and the offender pleaded guilty to three counts of statutory rape and digital penetration.

The Terence Ng sentencing framework consists of two steps:

  1. Firstly, the court will determine which band the offence falls under (i.e. Band 1, Band 2 or Band 3 as shown below) by examining how the offence was committed and what harm was suffered by the victim. These are known as “offence-specific” factors (e.g. whether there was violence or an abuse of trust involved in the commission of the offence).
  2. Secondly, the court will consider the aggravating and mitigating factors that are specific to the offender to adjust the sentence in the applicable band, ensuring that it is appropriate for the offender in question. These are known as “offender-specific” factors, and they relate to the offender’s personal circumstances – such factors cannot have already been considered in the first step.

There are three bands of sentences for rape cases, depending on the severity of the offence:

  • Band 1: 10–13 years’ imprisonment and 6 strokes of the cane
  • Band 2: 13–17 years’ imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane
  • Band 3: 17–20 years’ imprisonment and 18 strokes of the cane

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the offence-specific and offender-specific factors that may be taken into consideration by the court during sentencing, at steps 1 and 2 respectively:

Step 1: Offence-specific factors Step 2: Offender-specific factors
Factors pertaining to how the offence was committed:

  • Gang rape
  • Violence used in the commission of the offence
  • Abuse of trust (e.g. offender was a trusted family member of the victim)
  • Vulnerable victim (e.g. very young, mentally disordered or elderly victim)
  • Victim lured through the use of the Internet
  • Location of the rape (e.g. violation of the sanctity of the victim’s home by raping the victim in his/her own home)

Factors pertaining to the harm caused to the victim:

  • Victim infected with a sexually-transmitted disease
  • Victim ended up pregnant
  • Victim sustained physical injuries
  • Victim suffered severe psychological trauma
Aggravating factors:

  • Offender has other charges taken into consideration for sentencing (known as TIC charges)
  • Offender has related past convictions
  • Offender displays a blatant lack of remorse

Mitigating factors:

  • Offender suffering from mental disorder
  • Offender displays evident remorse
  • Age of the offender (i.e. youth or elderly offender)

In the case of Terence Ng, the offender was sentenced to a total of 14 years’ imprisonment and 14 strokes of the cane – 13 years’ imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane for statutory rape, along with 1 year imprisonment and 2 strokes for penetrating the girl with his finger.

For a more detailed explanation of how the sentence for rape is calibrated, do refer to our article on rape laws in Singapore and the punishment for offenders.

We now turn to the sentencing framework for attempted rape, which builds upon the framework for rape.

Sentencing framework for attempted rape 

The High Court set out a sentencing framework for the offence of attempted rape in the case of  PP v Khor Khai Gin Davis. The framework also consists of two stages:

  1. Firstly, the court will apply the Terence Ng framework (as detailed in the previous section) to determine the sentence for a completed offence (i.e. if the rape had been carried out successfully).
  2. Secondly, the court will apply a reduction to the sentence to account for the fact that the offence was not completed. At this stage, the court will consider whether the offender had withdrawn from the rape attempt out of his own volition, or whether he had merely been prevented from completing the act by someone else.

To illustrate, in the 2022 case of PP v CEP, the accused was charged with abetment by conspiracy to commit rape (which was not completed successfully). The court made reference to the Terence Ng framework and applied a similar banding approach in sentencing the accused:

  • Band 1: 2.5 to 3.25 years’ imprisonment
  • Band 2: 3.25 to 4.25 years’ imprisonment
  • Band 3: 4.25 to 5 years’ imprisonment

In applying the framework, the court first considered the relevant offence-specific factors. In this case, the accused had planned the offence with the conspirator (i.e. it was premeditated). Therefore, it was not an offence committed on the spur of the moment and there was a greater degree of culpability on the accused’s part as a result. The court also highlighted the vulnerable state of the victim — she was unconscious, naked and blindfolded during the commission of the offence, enhancing the accused’s blameworthiness. Finally, the court noted that the offence had occurred in the victim’s own home, which was supposed to be a safe space for her, which further heightened the accused’s culpability for the offence.

After considering these offence-specific factors, the court held that the starting point for the sentence should be the higher end of Band 2, which was 4 years’ imprisonment.

The court then proceeded to consider the offender-specific factors pertaining to the accused (the presence of a TIC charge and similar previous convictions, offset by the accused’s plea of guilt), and eventually decided upon a sentence of 3 years’ imprisonment.

To conclude, although there is no express provision that criminalises attempted rape in Singapore, attempted rape is a criminal offence under section 375 read with section 511 of the Penal Code. Attempted rape occurs when one attempts to carry out rape but fails to commit the offence in its entirety, possibly due to the offender’s withdrawal from the attempt, the victim’s resistance or third-party intervention.

If you or a loved one have been charged with attempted rape, you may wish to seek further advice from a criminal lawyer. A criminal lawyer can assess your situation, determine whether the offence of attempted rape has been made out, and advise you on the most suitable course of action to take. It should be noted that rape cases can give rise to many complexities, so it is strongly recommended to seek legal advice should you require more information on the offence of attempted rape.

You may refer to our list of highly rated criminal lawyers in Singapore to find a lawyer that best suits your needs, or kickstart your search using our Find a Lawyer service.

If you require support services relating to sexual harassment/assault, kindly refer to AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC). Alternatively, you may wish to dial 1800-777-0000, which is the National Anti-Violence & Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH) operated by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), or you can access their online reporting form here.

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