What is the law on sexting in Singapore?
Recently, a 30-year old man was jailed for threatening to circulate the nude photographs of a woman he had befriended online after she ended contact and changed her number to avoid him.
With online dating apps such as Tinder growing in popularity amongst youths and young adults, it is not uncommon for young users to have been on the receiving end of inappropriate remarks or requests, where sexual predators on such platforms may attempt to obtain sexual favours or nude photographs from young users.
Although there is no definition of “sexting” under current criminal legislations in Singapore, there are in fact laws in Singapore which act as a deterrent to prohibit inappropriate advances and the sexual exploitation of young individuals.
What is sexting?
In a world where technology is the general means of communication for most youths, the term “sexting” is typically used to describe the writing of sexually explicit messages and the taking of sexually explicit photos, and transmitting those photos as well as messages to certain parties.
There is nonetheless, no consistent statutory or legal definition of sexting. For instance, it is unclear if sexting is confined to messages between romantic partners, or whether photos sent under duress or pressure constitute sexting.
Laws on sexting
Although there is a lack of consistent definition, “sexting” to procure sexual intercourse may fall under the provinces of laws that aim to protect young persons against predatory advances.
Section 7, Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA)
The CYPA is an Act which aims to provide protection for children and young persons, where section 2 of the CYPA defines a “child” as a person below 14 years of age and a “young person” as a person who is 14 years of age or above and below the age of 16 years.
Section 7 of the CYPA states that:
(a) any person who in public or private “commits or abets the commission of or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any person of any obscene or indecent act with any child or young person”, or
(b) any person who in public or private “procures or attempts to procure the commission of any obscene or indecent act by any child or young person”,
is guilty of an offence and can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to 5 years, or both. Any subsequent convictions under Section 7 of the CYPA carry a higher fine of up to $20,000, a longer jail term of up to 7 years, or both.
This means that should an accused send sexually explicit texts to young persons with the aim of procuring sexual intercourse or other explicit sexual favours, he may fall under section 7 of the CYPA.
An example of this can be found in the case of Public Prosecutor (PP) v Lee Seow Peng, where the accused argued that he was merely saying things in the Internet world with no intention of procuring sexual intercourse with the 13-year old victim. However, the Singapore High Court found that the intention of the messages were clear as the accused had suggested a future meeting in a hotel with references to the use of a sex toy.
It should also be noted that though the Singapore High Court stated in the same case that an “obscene or indecent act” is not statutorily defined, it would include acts like sexual intercourse and other explicit sexual acts.
Section 376E of the Penal Code
Section 376E of the Penal Code, on sexual grooming, is another piece of legislation that aims to protect minors under 16.
According to the Singapore High Court in PP v Lee Seow Peng, there are five elements to section 376E:
- The accused should be of or above 21 years old, and must have communicated with the victim on two or more previous occasions;
- The accused must then have intentionally met the victim;
- At the time of meeting the victim, the victim must be under 16 years of age;
- The accused must have intended to do something to the victim, during or after the meeting, which if done would amount to the commission of any of the relevant offences defined in s 376E(2) of the Penal Code; and
- The accused must not reasonably believe that the victim was of or above the age of 16 years.
“Relevant offences” under element 4 refer generally to sexual offences found in the Penal Code, section 7 of the CYPA and section 140(1) of the Women’s Charter.
While there are no outright references to “sexting” in Section 376E, communications of a sexual nature may nonetheless be taken into consideration when determining if the five elements have been fulfilled.
For instance, the Singapore High Court in PP v Lee Seow Peng viewed the message trail on SMS and Whatsapp as evidence of communication and the sexually explicit communication as demonstrating the accused’s clear intention of having sexual intercourse with the victim.
Case study: Public Prosecutor v Lee Seow Peng  SGHC 107
This case, which has been mentioned several times earlier, is an interesting one in relation to sexting and criminal offences.
The accused and the victim had met on an app and exchanged numerous text messages via SMS and Whatsapp thereafter. During the course of their virtual communication, the accused and the victim had exchanged messages on sexual matters, including messages from the accused on having sex in his car. The victim lodged a police report a few days after their first meet-up, where the accused had sex with her in his car. The court took sexting into account when deliberating on charges under section 7 of the CYPA and section 376E of the Penal Code. The court also rejected the accused’s defence that he was spouting “nonsense” in the “Internet world”. Sexually suggestive messages sent to persons under the age of 16 years old will thus not be taken lightly by the courts.
In a day and age where smart phones and technology are commonplace, the court was cognisant of the fact that the “prevalence of mobile technology in the present day and age provides fertile ground for exploitation and abuse” and that there was a “need to protect the young”.
As the case above has shown, the young can be vulnerable to the pressures of inappropriate sexual advances or requests made on apps or other social platforms. Whether you are a young person or a parent, it is important to be aware of the implications and dangers of online dating and social media platforms.
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