Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore

Last updated on March 3, 2021

Featured image for the "Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore" article. It features a man reaching out to touch a woman's butt.

You might have come across “outrage of modesty” cases in the news, for instance, where someone is found guilty of groping another person inappropriately and ends up in jail. Outrage of modesty is often equated with what is popularly known as the crime of molest in Singapore.

The main source of legislation in Singapore on outrage of modesty is found in section 354 of the Penal Code, but what does outrage of modesty mean?

If you have been charged with outrage of modesty, this article aims to help address some of your concerns as to:

What is the Offence of Outrage of Modesty?

Section 354 of the Penal Code criminalises the offence of the assault or use of criminal force to a person.

The offender must have also intended to outrage the modesty of that person or must know that outrage of modesty would likely occur in doing so. The gender of the victim and the offender does not matter for outrage of modesty cases.

The use of criminal force is a key element in fulfilling the requirements of the offence. This refers to the intentional use of force to any person, or being in physical contact with any person, without that person’s consent. Hence, merely staring at someone inappropriately would not amount to outrage of modesty.

What does it mean to “outrage someone’s modesty”? 

The Penal Code does not expressly define “modesty”. Therefore, there seems to be no easy answer as to what it actually means to “outrage someone’s modesty”.

A reason for this could be because views on what constitutes an outrage of modesty may vary over time and may depend on the context in which the incident occurs, as well as the race or religion of the victim.

Examples of acts that outrage modesty 

A wide variety of outrage of modesty cases have been reported in Singapore over the years. Examples include:

  • A tutor touching the breasts and thighs of a student
  • Hugging and kissing a woman without her consent
  • Grabbing a woman from behind and squeezing her breasts
  • Touching a secretary on the back and slapping her lightly on her buttocks
  • An acupuncturist kissing and nibbling his victim’s toes
  • Massaging the groin area of a man without his consent

Previously, upskirt offences were prosecuted under the offence of outrage of modesty. However, they now fall under the offence of voyeurism under section 377B of the Penal Code, which criminalises the use of equipment to film someone else’s private parts without their consent.

Similar to outrage of modesty cases, the gender of either the victim or the offender does not matter for voyeurism offences.

Can women be found guilty of committing outrage of modesty? 

As mentioned above, the offence of outraging modesty can be committed by men or women, even though reported cases of the offence often involve male culprits more than female ones.

Will an offence be committed if the alleged victim had consented to the act? 

If the alleged victim had consented to the intimate physical act, it would not constitute an outrage of modesty. This is because the accused must have intended or known that their acts were likely to outrage modesty to be found guilty of such an offence.

For instance, if a couple were to dance closely at a club, and consents to mutual touching, then there would be no case of outrage of modesty. If either party later brings this issue to the court, the accused is unlikely to be found guilty as he/she may not have intended or known that his/her act of touching would likely outrage the other person’s modesty.

Attempted Outrage of Modesty 

If you were caught trying to outrage a person’s modesty, even though you had not succeeded in your attempt to do so, you may still be punished for the offence.

Mere attempts to outrage a person’s modesty, including failed attempts to commit the offence, are punishable under section 511 of the Penal Code. These include instances such as taking the victim to a place you were going to outrage the victim’s modesty at (but ultimately failing to do so), or lying in wait or following potential victims.

Persons who have made attempts to outrage another person’s modesty can face the same punishment as prescribed for the offence of outrage of modesty below, although it is still ultimately up to the court to decide on the appropriate sentence for the offender.

Penalties for Outrage of Modesty 

If you are found guilty of the offence of outrage of modesty, you may be punished with a jail term of up to 2 years, or a fine, or caning, or any combination of such punishments depending on the severity of your case.

While sentencing an offender under this section, the court will take into account sentencing guidelines in deciding on the offender’s sentence. Firstly, offence-specific factors relating to how the offence was committed will be examined, and this determines the severity of the offence.

Offence-specific factors include:

  • The degree to which the victim was sexually exploited
  • Circumstances of the offence (whether there was premeditation or the use of force or violence for example)
  • The level of harm caused to the victim.

Once the severity of the offence has been decided, the court will place the offence within 1 of the 3 bands of punishments with varying jail terms according to the severity of the offence.

Band  Description Sentence
Band 1 At most 1 aggravating factor Less than 5 months’ jail, generally no caning
Band 2 2 or more aggravating factors

Lower end of band 2: no skin-to-skin contact

Higher end of band 2: skin-to-skin contact of victim’s private parts or sexual organs or deception of the victim

5-15 months’ jail, caning generally imposed
Band 3 3 or more aggravating factors

Examples: exploitation of a vulnerable victim, serious abuse of position of trust, and/or use of violence or force on victim

15-24 months’ jail, caning imposed

Caning may be imposed where a victim’s private parts are involved. Lastly, general aggravating and mitigating factors that are offender-specific would be considered in determining the final sentence.

Examples of general aggravating factors include:

  • The number of charges taken into consideration
  • A lack of remorse
  • Relevant past offences showing that the accused is recalcitrant

General mitigating factors include:

  • A timely plea of guilt
  • The accused has a mental disorder or intellectual disability that relates to the offence, e.g. there is proof that the accused’s condition reduced his or her ability to understand the nature of the act

Penalties for Aggravated Outrage of Modesty 

Offences against victims below 14 years of age 

Section 354(2) of the Penal Code provides for harsher punishments in outrage of modesty cases involving victims below 14 years of age. In this case, the offender shall be punished with a fine, caning, up to 5 years’ jail or any combination of these punishments.

While sentencing an offender under this section, the court will take into account the same sentencing guidelines as ordinary outrage of modesty as shown above, but the fact that the victim is below 14 years of age will lead to a harsher sentence. The 3 bands of punishment are scaled upwards to reflect the severity of the offence.

Band  Description Sentence
Band 1 At most 1 aggravating factor Less than 1 year’s jail, generally no caning
Band 2 2 or more aggravating factors 2-3 years’ jail, caning generally imposed with at least 3 strokes
Band 3 3 or more aggravating factors 3-5 years’ jail term, caning imposed with at least 6 strokes

Offences committed in lifts, or involving voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint, or death

Section 354A of the Penal Code similarly imposes stricter sentences if you had voluntarily caused hurt, wrongful restraint or death to the victim in order to commit the offence of outrage of modesty. The punishment is a jail term of 2 to 10 years with caning.

This minimum jail term is increased to 3 years if you had committed these offences in a lift in any building, or if the victim had been under 14 years of age.

Offences against domestic helpers

Section 73 of the Penal Code provides enhanced punishments for offences against domestic helpers. If you are the employer and found guilty of outraging your domestic helper’s modesty, you may be sentenced to up to twice the maximum punishment for outrage of modesty, which amounts to up to 4 years’ jail, a fine, caning or any combination of these punishments.

Is Outrage of Modesty an Arrestable Offence?  

Outrage of modesty is an arrestable offence. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant. For example, if a person is suspected to have outraged another person’s modesty, that person can be arrested without a warrant.

If you have committed outrage of modesty, you can choose to be released on bail/personal bond after you have been arrested. However, if you have committed an aggravated outrage of modesty, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release you on bail.

Will Outrage of Modesty Result in a Criminal Record? 

If you are convicted of outrage of modesty, or aggravated outrage of modesty, you may or may not have a criminal record. This depends on whether the Commissioner of Police chooses to exercise his discretion to not register your criminal record.

Once your criminal record has been registered however, you will not have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as “spent” or wiped clean.

If you have been charged with outrage of modesty, you may be unsure of what you should do next. While you may choose to represent yourself in court instead of engaging a criminal lawyer, a criminal lawyer would be more knowledgeable of the law and the entire criminal process.

The lawyer will be able to explain your charge to you and may be able to help reduce your charge in the first-mention stage. He or she may also represent you in court to argue against your charge or, if you were to be convicted, argue for a lessening of your sentence.

For these reasons, you are strongly encouraged to consider engaging a criminal lawyer if you have been charged with outrage of modesty. You may consult one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers for legal advice on how to proceed with your case.

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