Outrage of Modesty – Molestation

Outrage of Modesty – Molestation

Outrage of modesty is a serious crime in Singapore, and conviction can lead offenders up to three years in prison, a fine, or caning, or any combination of the three options. The penalties can be even higher if the victim is a minor or the accused is a repeat offender.

Yet, outrage of modesty remains a crime of concern, and according to the police crime statistics for mid-2023, the number of cases increased compared to the same period the previous year.

Most cases occurred in residential premises, public transport areas, and nightspots.

This article will discuss the crime of outrage of modesty. We will look at section 354 of the Penal Code, the punishment if convicted, and what the court considers aggravating circumstances when imposing a sentence.

What is outrage of modesty?

In simple terms, outrage of modesty refers to conduct that is considered offensive and violates someone’s dignity in a sexual manner. It is also loosely referred to as “molestation”.

Although most reported cases involve male perpetrators, females can also be convicted of an outrage of modesty against a male person. It is a gender-neutral offence regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim.

Section 354 of the Penal Code

Section 354 describes outrage of modesty as an assault or use of criminal force to a person with intent to outrage or knowing that it would likely outrage the modesty of that person.

The description is not very specific and allows the court to assess each case on its own merits.

What factors will the court consider when deciding if a person’s modesty was outraged?

The Penal Code does not define modesty, and the courts will consider a wide range of factors to assess if the action would outrage the victim’s modesty. The court also considers the circumstances and society’s values at the time.

Factors will depend on the circumstances of each case and could include the following:

  • The victim’s religion or cultural beliefs.
  • The victim’s race.
  • The victim’s age.

Elements of the crime of outrage of modesty

Assault or criminal use of force

To be convicted of outrage of modesty, there must be an assault or use of criminal force.

Assault is defined as follows:

A person is said to commit an assault if “the person makes any gesture or any preparation, intending or knowing it to be likely that such gesture or preparation will cause any person present to understand that he who makes that gesture or preparation is about to use criminal force to that person”.

You cannot be guilty of outrage of modesty by merely staring at someone.

You can, however, be guilty of attempting to commit outrage of modesty. Section 511 of the Penal Code provides that anyone can be guilty of attempting to commit a criminal offence if the person takes substantial steps to commit the crime but, for some reason, fails to commit the actual offence.

Suppose a man follows a woman into the female changing rooms at the gym, hoping to touch her inappropriately. As he approaches her, her friend enters and shouts at him.

He could be convicted of attempted outrage of modesty, even though there was no actual assault or use of force yet.

Intention

The Penal Code requires that there must be an intention to outrage modesty or at least knowledge that the action would cause an outrage of modesty.

The Penal Code defines acting “intentionally” as acting deliberately, i.e. the person acts with the purpose of causing outrage of modesty or knowing that outrage of modesty would undoubtedly happen if they proceed with their planned action.

It should be noted that outrage of modesty will not occur if the victim consents to the behaviour. Suppose a couple sensually touches each other and consents to the behaviour. In that case, it will not constitute an outrage of modesty. Likewise, if a doctor examines a patient or a fitness instructor corrects an athlete with their consent, it cannot be an outrage of modesty.

So, to be convicted of outrage of modesty, four elements must be established.

  1. The outrage of modesty.
  2. Assault or use of criminal force.
  3. Lack of consent.

Examples of outrage of modesty

Since the Penal Code definition is unclear and non-specific, it might be easier to explain outrage of modesty through examples.

  • A man repeatedly touches a woman’s thigh whilst she is sleeping next to him on the train.
  • A driving instructor puts his hand on a female student’s leg during a lesson.
  • A man touches a young boy’s buttocks in the queue at a fast-food chain.
  • A tutor rubs her thigh against her student several times.
  • An executive molests a co-worker in the lift.
  • An employer exposes himself to the domestic worker regularly.

Penalties for outrage of modesty

Section 354 prescribes punishment to a maximum term of 3 years imprisonment, or a fine, or caning, or any combination of the three options. There is no minimum, and the penalty will depend on the circumstances of the case.

Firstly, the court will apply the general sentencing principles and consider factors such as:

The offence itself

  • How was the offence committed?
  • The severity of the offence - where on the body was the person touched, how was the person touched, how long did it last?
  • Was it planned?
  • The extent of the force used.
  • The degree of sexual exploitation of the victim.
  • The harm to the victim - physically and psychologically.

Are there any aggravating factors?

  • The offender has previous convictions.
  • Not showing remorse.
  • Multiple charges against the offender.
  • Refusing to cooperate with the police.

Are there any mitigating factors?

  • The offender is showing remorse.
  • Admission of guilt and pleading guilty.
  • The offender suffers from mental or intellectual disability.
  • The offender is very young.

After considering the above, the court will consider the framework formulated in Kunasekaran s/o Kalimuthu Somasundara v Public Prosecutor [2018] 4 SLR 580.

This framework consists of 3 sentencing bands.

  • Band 1 applies to less severe cases, with no more than one aggravating factor.
  • Band 2 applies when there are two or more aggravating factors.
  • Band 3 applies when there are three or more aggravating factors, and the circumstances call for a more severe sentence.

More severe penalties under the Penal Code

Some instances of outrage of modesty carry a more severe penalty under the Penal Code.

Outrage of modesty against a person younger than 14 years old

Section 354(2) provides that if the offence is committed against a person below 14 years old, the penalty is imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years, or with a fine, or with caning, or with any combination of such punishments.

Outrage of modesty against a domestic helper

Section 73 of the Penal Code provides that when an employer of a domestic worker, a member of the employer’s household, or an employment agent is convicted of an offence under the Penal Code against that domestic worker, the court may sentence the convicted person to twice the maximum punishment for that offence.

This means that for outrage of modesty against a domestic worker, the court can impose a maximum of six years imprisonment, a fine, caning, or any combination of the three.

Causing death, hurt or wrongful restraint or fear of instant death, hurt or wrongful constraint

Section 354A provides that if the victim died, or if a person attempts to cause death, or hurt or wrongfully constraints a person to commit outrage of modesty, the penalty is a minimum term of imprisonment of 2 years and up to 10 years, and caning. The same applies if the person causes the fear of instant death, instant hurt, or instant wrongful restraint.

  • If the victim in sec 354A case is younger than 14 years, the punishment is imprisonment for not less than three years and not more than ten years, and with caning.
  • The same punishment applies if the outrage is committed in a lift in any building.

Outrage of modesty is an arrestable offence

The police can arrest a person suspected of outrage of modesty without a warrant. Depending on the circumstances, it is up to the police or the court to decide if the accused is released on bail.

If it is a less severe case of outrage of modesty, the accused can choose between bail and being released on a personal bond.

Seek legal advice

Whatever the circumstances, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Being convicted of outrage of modesty is serious. Penalties can be severe, and your criminal record cannot be treated as “spent”. However, there are circumstances where the Commissioner of Police has the discretion not to register a criminal record.

An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the best possible outcome for your circumstances.

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