Penalties for Distributing Intimate Images Without Consent in Singapore

Man using laptop in dark

Revenge porn is an informal term to describe the non-consensual leaking of explicit images or recordings of a person online such as WhatsApp or Telegram channels, or even offline mediums such as where a person shows someone an explicit image on a mobile phone. Even if you have initially consented to the taking of the image or recording, subsequent distribution without consent, with an intention to cause you harm or embarrassment, is enough to constitute revenge porn. 

As the term suggests, revenge porn is usually done as a form of revenge or punishment against the person depicted in the leaked content and can cause significant embarrassment, emotional distress and harm to the victim and their reputation. An example is the non-consensual leaking of local social media influencer Christabel Chua’s sex videos by her ex-boyfriend in 2018.

According to the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), 70% of technology-facilitated sexual violence seen in 2021 involved image-based sexual abuse, including non-consensual distribution of sexual images (i.e. revenge porn). This is the highest proportion of image-based sexual abuse cases seen to date by their Sexual Assault Care Centre. In 2020 it was 65%, and 61% in 2019.

In this article, we will cover:

What are the Laws Governing Revenge Porn in Singapore?

The law in Singapore regarding revenge porn governs a wide range of acts, such as threatening distribution of such materials, or simply mere possession.

A person convicted of committing revenge porn, or any offence that may pertain to it, which are set out under sections 377BC, 377BD, and 377BE (which this article will focus on) of the Penal Code (PC) in Singapore, may be caned, fined, and/or imprisoned. These specific sections respectively govern the:

  1. Distribution of voyeuristic image or recording;
  2. Possession of/gaining access to voyeuristic or intimate image or recording; and
  3. Distributing/threatening to distribute an intimate image or recording.

Section 292 of the PC also governs the sale of obscene materials (e.g., sells, distributes, imports or exports by electronic means, or in any manner puts into circulation), following which a convicted offender could face up to 3 months’ imprisonment and/or fined for transmitting obscene material electronically (e.g., sending nude photos on WhatsApp). These obscene materials include data stored in a computer disc, or any other electronic means that can convert the data to images or another form of representation.

Additionally, the severity of sentences is increased where the victim is under 14 years of age or if they shared an intimate relationship with the perpetrator (e.g., living in the same household where unnecessary, sharing the tasks and duties of their daily lives, sharing expenses or financial support, etc.). 

You may refer to our article for a more detailed discussion on other revenge porn-type offences in Singapore.

The Offence of Distributing Intimate Images Without Consent Under Section 377BE of the Penal Code in Singapore     

Under 377BE of the PC, any person is guilty of an offence if they:

  1. Intentionally/knowingly distribute, or threaten to distribute, intimate image or recording of another person;
  2. Without that person’s consent; and
  3. Knows/has reason to believe that it will cause them humiliation, alarm, or distress.

Note that the intimate image or recording includes the person’s genital or anal region, and breasts (for females), regardless if these regions are bare, or covered by underwear. This also includes the person doing a private act and includes any alteration of content to appear to show these regions or actions, that would be believed to be real by a reasonable person.

The following are examples of what would and would not constitute an offence under section 377BE of the PC:

  • Person A photoshopping Person B’s face onto the image of another person’s naked body, and consequently other people believed that it was indeed Person B’s entire body. Person A has committed an offence under this section.
  • On the other hand, if Person A pasted Person B onto a cartoon that depicted the performance of a sexual act on another party, the consequential outcome would be that nobody would believe that it was indeed Person B’s entire body. Person A did not commit an offence under this section.

What are the Penalties For the Offence Under Section 377BE of the Penal Code in Singapore? 

Offenders will be punished with a fine and/or caning, and/or imprisonment for up to 5 years.

Do note that offenders will face more severe penalties if the victim is below 14 years of age, and/or shares an intimate relationship with the perpetrator.

How Will Offenders be Sentenced in Singapore For Distributing Intimate Images Without Consent Under Section 377BE of the Penal Code in Singapore? 

A judgement, in the case of PP v GED and other appeals [2022] SGHC 301, was passed recently to follow up on 2 high-profile cases of revenge porn. The case sets out the revised sentencing framework for offences under section 377 BE(1) of the PC. Note that this framework is only applicable in the event of an actual distribution of such images/recordings, and does not include threatened distribution. 

The court’s decision concerned 2 unrelated cases (GED and GEH as 2 separate perpetrators), as both appeals raised similar issues and legal questions for the courts to consider. Both defendants pleaded guilty to section 377BE and other charges. For further context, here are the key details:

Defendants Main facts of the case
GED GED posted an image showing his naked wife having sex with her supervisor on Facebook under the “Public” setting, and attached the supervisor’s name and occupation, while also labelling the supervisor as a homewrecker. 

In about 8 hours, the images attracted about 1000 comments, 3000 likes, and 2000 shares. He subsequently removed it, but reposted it without his wife’s breasts being visible whilst the supervisor’s face remained fully visible. This image was also subsequently removed a day later.

GEH GEH took a video of a man he suspected was having an affair with his wife. He recorded the video while he and his accomplices attacked the man causing multiple facial injuries, holding him in a chokehold while exposing his genitals. This video was sent to more than 500 of the victim’s contacts. GEH also attached a follow-up voice message, stating “Please forward to all people!”

The court employed a five-step framework to determine the sentencing framework for the Actual Distribution Offence:

Step 1: Offence-specific factors

The court will refer to the relevant offence-specific factors as they prefer to adopt a structured approach. These factors are largely uncontroversial, and take into consideration:

  1. The level of harm caused by the offence; and
  2. The level of the offender’s culpability

The courts concluded that the case was of moderate harm and high culpability. They first identified the objective aspects of harm such as the nature of the video and exposure of genitalia. They then considered other factors such as the motive, which in this case, was to humiliate and punish the victim, and proved that the perpetrator was acting in a savage and dehumanising fashion that is motivated by malice and spite. 

Step 2-3: Indicative sentencing ranges and starting point

The duration of the sentence hinges on the severity of the harm and culpability. The court’s decision on its appropriate distribution is based on factors such as where more cases are likely to fall under regarding severity of harm and culpability. In this case, it is likely that there will be fewer cases that fall within the slight harm and low culpability, slight harm and medium culpability, and moderate harm and low culpability categories. The narrow variety of cases means that the court would not have a lot of flexibility in calibrating the appropriate term of imprisonment in each case.    

The courts concluded that this case fell between the middle to high end of the sentencing range (moderate harm and high culpability confers a sentencing range of 30 – 45 months’ imprisonment), and an appropriate starting point would be at 40 months.

Step 4: Offender-specific factors

These factors are generally applicable across all criminal offences. Examples include:

Offender-Specific Factors
Aggravating Mitigating
  • Offences taken into consideration for sentencing;
  • Relevant antecedents;
  • Evident lack of remorse;
  • Offending while on bail
  • Guilty plea;
  • Cooperation with the authorities;
  • Psychological factors with causal link to the commission of the offence;
  • Ill health, which would make the contemplated term of imprisonment markedly disproportionate;
  • Remorse

The courts decided not to reduce GED’s sentence on the grounds of the offender-specific factors. This was due to his evident lack of remorse, which disqualified the mitigating value of his guilty plea, as well as his repeated action of the crime.

On the other hand, they decided to reduce GEH’s sentence by 4 months on account of such factors. There were 2 mitigating factors that warranted a downward adjustment of remorse as observed in a letter of apology and substantial compensation to the victim, as well as pleading guilty at the first instance, which consequently spared the victim the trauma of having to testify in court.

Step 5: The totality principle

In short, this principle ensures that the court does not impose an excessive overall sentence in legal hearings, but also has a “boosting effect” on individual sentences to ensure they achieve an adequate overall sentence.

However, the court considers two connected points to determine whether the sentences of imprisonment imposed should be ordered to run consecutively or concurrently.      

The totality principle is the second limb of this examination that must be considered. This limb is crucial in ensuring that the aggregate sentence imposed is “sufficient and proportionate to the offender’s overall criminality”, and is stood on 2 elements:

  1. Whether the aggregate sentence is substantially above the normal level of sentences for the most serious of the individual offences committed; and
  2. Whether the effect of the aggregate sentence on the offender is crushing and not in keeping with his past record and future prospects.

In GED v GEH, the courts decided that while the provisional aggregate sentence was on the high side, it cannot be said to be substantially above the normal level of sentences for the most severe of offences committed, and therefore the first limb is not breached. The second limb may be implicated as the provisional imprisonment term of 57 months could be considered extreme, and they ought to consider that GEH was a first-time offender with a clean past record and has promise for rehabilitation and reformation. They, therefore, adjusted GEH’s imprisonment term down from 57 months to 51 months. 

Whereas for GED, the courts ruled that his 1-week sentence for a separate offence should run consecutively as they were distinct offences committed on separate occasions. Neither limb is breached too, as the 1-week sentence imposed for the other offence was considered short and no adjustments were necessary at this stage.

The sentencings on appeal, for the actual distribution offence, for GED and GEH, were respectively 18 months’ imprisonment, and 33 months’ imprisonment with 2 strokes of the cane.

To recap, while revenge porn and other related crimes are on the rise in Singapore, we ought to be thankful that the matter is viewed upon seriously in Singapore, and every individual must be mindful of the penalties that they may face should they think about committing such malefactions.

Individuals who are charged with this offence should consult a criminal lawyer for advice on how the sentencing framework discussed might potentially affect them or their case. 

Victims of this offence can likewise consult a civil litigation/disputes lawyer for advice and to discuss the possibility of taking civil action against the offender alongside criminal proceedings.