On 28 March 2019, the Straits Times reported the case of Bryan Fang Zhongquan: Fang was jailed for 12 weeks for “[filming] 14 women relieving themselves”. Earlier in the month, an SMU student was arrested for “aggravated outrage of modesty”; in a separate incident, a construction worker was jailed for molesting a boy on the train. Furthermore, outrage of modesty cases has increased by 11.6% in 2018 to 1,747.
Two things are clear from these reports:
First, that the outrage of modesty incidents are on the rise; and
Second, that the acts of outrage of modesty can come in many forms.
What is an Outrage of Modesty
Section 354 of the Penal Code defines an outrage of modesty as the “[use of] criminal force to any person, intending to outrage or knowing it is likely that he will thereby outrage the modesty of that person”. Intention here refers to the offender acting without the consent of the victim, and with the awareness that his actions have the aim of outraging someone’s modesty.
The Act does not further define what an “outrage of modesty” specifically refers to– likely to allow flexible judicial interpretation in the face of changing societal values and technology. The gender-neutral wording also shows that an outrage of modesty can occur to both males and females.
Those who outrage the modesty of others are punishable for up to 2 years of jail and/or a fine.
Lighter or Harsher Punishments?
Further to this definition, the Act lays out more conditions that may weaken or intensify the severity of the crime:
“Insult to Modesty” and Up-Skirt Photos
Section 509 of the Penal Code provides that anyone “intending to insult the modesty of a woman” through verbal communication or the “[exhibition of] any object”, for the objective of intruding on her privacy, is liable to a year of imprisonment and/or a fine.
Previously, Section 509 had been referenced when charging someone for taking an up-skirt photo. However, under the new Criminal Law Reform Bill, a specific section on voyeurism will be introduced to the Penal Code. As illustrated in Section 120, Section 377BD will render liable those who have “possession” or were “gaining access” to “voyeuristic or intimate image/recording”.
As the Bill is still being debated in Parliament, it has yet come into operation.
Failed attempts at outrage
Under Section 511 of the Penal Code, attempts to break any law in the Act– including those related to the outrage of modesty– would itself be considered an offence. In the case of an outrage of modesty, the punishment here shall not exceed 1 year of jail and/or a fine.
Use of violence and outrage in a lift
Under Section 354A of the Penal Code, the use of violence during the outrage of modesty warrants a heavier penalty of 2-10 years of jail with caning.
Those who resort to violence when outraging the modesty of their victims in an elevator are dealt an even harsher punishment of 3-10 years with caning.
Outrage against a child
At present, Section 354 of the Penal Code also attributes a harsher punishment to those who outrage the modesty of any person below the age of 14. Here, they are liable for 3-10 years of jail with caning.
However, enhanced protections for minors have been introduced in the new Criminal Law Reform Bill as well. Specifically, “sexual activity or [images] in the presence of a minor below 16 years of age” will be governed by Section 376ED, and Section 376EE for minors between the ages 16 and 18.
Under the Bill, such offences against minors below the age of 16 will warrant jail time of up to 3 years and/or a fine. Similar offences against minors between ages 16 to 18 will warrant jail time of up to a year and/or a fine.
Outrage against a domestic helper
Outrage of modesty against a domestic helper is governed by Section 73 of the Penal Code, where the offender is liable to 1.5 times the punishment in Section 354 and 354A.
If you are a victim of an act of outrage of modesty, you should seek help from security personnel, station/shop managers or those around you where possible. The police advice for victims to shout for help immediately to apprehend the culprit earlier. Those at risk can also carry a shrill alarm to “scare off the culprit or alert others nearby” when in a secluded area.
A police report should also be made as soon possible. As the matter is a criminal one, a Deputy Public Prosecutor will be assigned to the case if the police determines that a criminal offence had occurred.
If you are unsure of what your legal rights, or what further recourse you might have when victim to an outrage of modesty, it would be useful to speak to a lawyer to get the assurance you need.
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This article is written by Pratap Kishan from Ho Wong Law Practice and edited by Justin Lim from Asia Law Network.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.