The spate of voyeurism cases at local universities in recent years has raised considerable public discussion and debate on the rise of offenders suffering from sexual disorders, also known as “paraphilia”. This has even led to a review of the sentencing framework for sexual and hurt offences in Singapore, which was completed in February 2021.
In this article, we explain:
What is Paraphilia?
The term “paraphilia” refers to a condition or disorder where there is any frequent and intense sexual interest, arousal, urges or behaviours that involve inanimate objects (e.g. furniture), non-consenting adults, or children. Paraphilic disorders are sometimes referred to as disordered sexual preferences.
In the case of Public Prosecutor v Chong Hou En, the High Court noted that there are three general characteristics common to all paraphilic disorders:
- There is a longstanding, unusual and highly arousing erotic preoccupation.
- There is an urge to act out the fantasy, usually in masturbation.
- There is significant or even severe sexual dysfunction involving normal desire, arousal or orgasm with the individual’s partner (if any).
Examples of common paraphilic disorders include:
- Voyeurism: Where an individual derives recurrent and intense sexual arousal from observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of removing their clothes or engaging in sexual activity.
- Paedophilia: Where there is recurrent and intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or sexual activities involving children who have not yet reached puberty.
- Exhibitionism: Where an individual derives sexual pleasure and gratification from exposing his or her genitals to non-consenting persons.
What are the Types of Offences Involving Sexual Disorders and Their Penalties in Singapore?
Voyeurism has been expressly provided for as a specific offence under Singapore’s Penal Code since 1 January 2020. The offence is found under section 377BB of the Penal Code.
Under section 377BB, voyeurism occurs when a person (person A) does one of the following:
- Intentionally observes another person (person B) doing a private act without B’s consent;
- Uses equipment with the intention of enabling person A or another person to observe person B doing a private act without person B’s consent;
- Intentionally or knowingly records person B doing a private act without person B’s consent;
- Uses equipment without person B’s consent with the intention of enabling person A or another person to observe person B’s genitals, breasts or buttocks (whether exposed or covered) in circumstances where these would otherwise not be visible; or
- Intentionally or knowingly records without person B’s consent an image of B’s genitals, breasts or buttocks (whether exposed or covered) in circumstances where these would otherwise not be visible.
For the offence of voyeurism, offenders can be imprisoned for up to 2 years, fined and/or be caned. If the offence is committed against a victim who is below 14 years of age, the jail term is compulsory, while the offender will also be liable to a fine or caning.
You may refer to our other article for more information on the types of acts that can be considered a voyeurism offence as well as the penalties for and defences to this offence.
Singapore’s Penal Code criminalises various acts, or sexual offences, committed by paedophiles against children.
An example of an offence committed by paedophiles is sexual grooming, where an adult seeks to build up a trusting and emotional relationship with a minor, usually with the purpose of sexual exploitation, gratification or abuse. Sexual grooming commonly takes place through online platforms, such as social media, messaging or gaming platforms.
If the victim is below 14 years of age, offenders face an imprisonment term of up to 4 years and/or a fine. If the victim is 14 years old or older but younger than 16, the offender will face imprisonment for up to 3 years and/or a fine.
Rape and sexual assault involving penetration
Rape and sexual assault involving penetration are offences that can be committed by paedophiles.
Offenders face imprisonment for a term of up to 20 years and will also be liable to fine or to caning. Where the victim is under 14 years of age, a minimum imprisonment term of 8 years and at least 12 strokes of the cane will be imposed.
For more information on these offences, you may refer to our article on rape laws in Singapore.
Production of child pornography
Other offences include the production of child pornography or child abuse material – where offenders face an imprisonment term of up to 10 years and shall also be liable to a fine or to caning.
For more information on these offences, you may refer to our article on child pornography laws in Singapore.
Exhibitionism is criminalised as the offence of sexual exposure under section 377BF of the Penal Code. The offence is committed when a person, person A, for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification or of causing the victim humiliation, alarm or distress, intentionally exposes their genitals and intends that the victim sees person A’s genitals. This is done without the victim’s consent.
Do note that under section 377BF, it is also an offence to intentionally distribute to any other person an image of your own or any other person’s genitals.
Offenders may be liable for a term of imprisonment for up to 1 year, or a fine, or both. If the offence had been committed against a person below the age of 14 years, the offender may be jailed for up to 2 years and shall also be liable to a fine or to caning.
Exhibitionism or indecent exposure in a public place may also subject you to be liable for offences committed under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance Act).
For example, an individual who intentionally exposes to public view, in a public place, an obscene print, picture or other indecent exhibition may be charged under either section 27(1)(c) or section 27A of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance Act). For committing either offence, the offender may be liable for a fine of up to $2,000 and/or an imprisonment term of up to 3 months.
How are Offenders with Sexual Disorders Sentenced by the Singapore Courts?
The sentences meted out to offenders with sexual disorders largely depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. However, there are various sentencing principles that the courts will also take into account in sentencing such offenders.
In voyeurism cases, the courts tend to prioritise the need for deterrence when sentencing the offender.
For example, in the case of Public Prosecutor v Chong Hou En, the offender pleaded guilty to the offence of insulting the modesty of women by taking upskirt videos and videos of females showering in his girlfriend’s parents’ home. (At that time, the offence of voyeurism had not been created yet.) He had been sentenced by the District Judge to a probation order, but the Prosecution sought an appeal against the sentence on the ground that it was manifestly inadequate.
In arguing for a sentence of imprisonment instead, the Prosecution did not challenge the fact that the offender had been diagnosed as suffering from voyeurism and fetishism. However, it submitted that the starting point for offences of insulting the modesty of women that involved the use of recording devices should warrant a term of imprisonment. Referring to the increase in similar offences using electronic recording devices, the Prosecution submitted that a deterrent sentence was warranted to send a stern message to potential offenders.
The High Court concluded that voyeurism is a clinical description of a “perverse behavioural option” and that it does not deprive a person of his self-control. The High Court took the view that on its assessment of all the facts of the case, including the presence of various aggravating factors, such as:
- The fact that there was a high degree of planning and premeditation;
- The intrusion into the privacy of some victims was grave and occurred at the home of the victims;
- There were multiple victims and young victims;
- A miniature recording device was used,
and in light of advancements in technology that enabled the commission of voyeurism offences, there was a heightened need to deter others from committing similar offences in the future. The offender was therefore sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment per charge for the insult of modesty offences and 4 weeks’ imprisonment for the possession of obscene films (16 weeks in total).
In another voyeurism case involving the filming of upskirt videos and recording of the victims showering, the offender, a university student, was sentenced to 12 weeks’ jail and a fine of $1,500. In this case, a psychiatric assessment found that the offender suffered from “transient voyeuristic sexual interest”, but he was not diagnosed with any psychiatric or paraphilic disorder at the time. In sentencing the offender, the District Court stressed that the need for deterrence took precedence on the facts of the case.
In light of the 2020 review of sentencing frameworks for sexual and hurt offences, the AGC has further stated that it will generally object to rehabilitative or community sentences for adult offenders who commit certain sexual and hurt offences, such as voyeurism.
Community sentences are sentences where instead of being sentenced to imprisonment, the offender can be ordered to, for example, do community service or report to a centre for counselling and rehabilitation. The offender is therefore able to remain out in society and carry on their daily activities while serving the sentence.
Rehabilitative sentences may be considered only if there are exceptional facts, for example, if the offender has an intellectual disability.
Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K. Shanmugam, has also stressed the need for proportionate punishment and deterrence to take precedence over rehabilitation when sentencing such offenders.
In a January 2021 case, the offender had trespassed into a condominium, exposed himself in public view and performed an obscene act by the swimming pool. His defence lawyer submitted that the offender was not to be jailed as he had an exhibitionistic disorder, which drove him to want to expose himself.
On the other hand, the Prosecution submitted a report that clarified that exhibitionistic disorder is considered a deviant sexual preference, rather than a psychiatric disorder. It was further highlighted that the offender had previously been fined for committing the offences of molestation and criminal trespass. He was therefore sentenced to four weeks’ jail and fined S$2,500.
While each case would need to be looked at based on the facts presented, other factors might need to be present to show that a person’s condition of exhibitionism had existed for a considerable period of time, as opposed to being displayed in a few isolated incidents, for the condition to be clinically or medically diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder that might help reduce their culpability for offences committed.
What Can You Do If You Think You are Suffering From a Paraphilic Disorder?
If you think you might be suffering from a paraphilic disorder, it is important to seek help from a trained medical professional (e.g., a psychiatrist) who will be able to diagnose your condition and provide the appropriate treatment.
On the other hand, if you have been charged with committing an offence as a result of a sexual disorder in Singapore and require legal advice on your situation, you may wish to consult a criminal lawyer.
Sexual disorder-related offences may be quite complicated and might require submitting certain evidence to show that you have been diagnosed with a sexual disorder. In this regard, a criminal lawyer can advise you on the stages involved in criminal proceedings and how to obtain the necessary evidence, as well as represent you in court to help obtain a fair outcome for your case.