Outrage of modesty in Singapore

Published on August 31, 2011

“Outrage of modesty” is a term commonly seen in the papers – for example, where a man gropes a woman inappropriately and ends up serving jail time for it. It seems that the outrage of modesty has been equated with the crime of molest in Singapore. If you were to search through the main source of criminal legislation in Singapore – the Penal Code – you can locate the term at section 354 of the Code itself. What, then, does the term “outrage of modesty” actually mean in the first place?

Section 354 of the Penal Code

The use of the term “outrage of modesty” originates from section 354 of the Penal Code which criminalises the offence of  the “assault or use of criminal force to a person with intent to outrage modesty“. The use of criminal force is a key element. Hence, simply staring at someone inappropriately would not fall afoul of this section, which has mainly been applied to molestation cases.

As for what it means to actually outrage someone’s modesty, there appears to be no easy answer to this question. The Penal Code does not expressly define ‘modesty’. This may be partly because views about what constitutes an outrage to modesty may vary over time and according to the context in which the incident occurs, as well as the race or religion of the victim.

Cases of molestation

A wide variety of cases falling within the definition of the outrage of modesty have been reported. They include, a tutor touching the breasts and thighs of a student; hugging and kissing a woman; grabbing a woman from behind and squeezing her breasts; touching a secretary on the back and slapping her lightly on her buttocks; and an acupuncturist kissing and nibbling his victim’s toes.

A gender neutral crime

The offence of outraging modesty can be committed by men or women (Criminal Law in Malaysia and Singapore, 2011). However, it is evident that more often than not male culprits are the ones responsible for transgressions of section 354.

Consent intention and knowledge

Intimate physical acts would not constitute an outrage of modesty if there is consent. Also, for the offence to stand, the offender must have intended or knew that the acts were likely to outrage modesty. For instance, a couple dancing closely in a club would be taken to have impliedly consented to mutual touching. Similarly, a doctor examining a female patient in accordance with established medical procedures would not be found to have intended to outrage the patient’s modesty.

Aggravated punishments in certain cases

Section 73 of the Penal Code provides enhanced punishments for offences against a domestic maid. Section 354(2) also provides for harsher punishments in cases involving victims below 14 years of age. Section 354A similarly imposes stiffer sentences against offenders in ‘outrage of modesty’ cases which involve offences committed in lifts, physical threats, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint, and death.

‘Upskirt’ offenders

Although the provision requires the involvement of assault or the use of criminal force in the act, this does not mean that other perverted acts that do not require physical contact will go unpunished. For example, section 509 of the Penal Code criminalises words or gestures intended to “insult the modesty” of women. The Singapore Courts have interpreted this section to include the taking of upskirt photographs.

Mere attempts

Mere attempts, including failed attempts to commit an offence, are also punished under the Penal Code, as prescribed by section 511 of the code.

 

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