Woman acquitted of sexual penetration charges as law does not cover women as offenders

Biologically female Zunika Ahmad, 39, who pleaded guilty to six charges under the Penal Code for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, was acquitted of all six charges on 12 April. The High Court ruled that according to the law, only a man can be guilty of the sexual offences.

Zunika lived and identified as a man since her teenage years and even posed as an Indonesian man to marry two women. While three psychiatrists had separately diagnosed Zunika with gender dysphoria, Zunika is still biologically female.

She had sexually assaulted the 13-year-old girl, who was her neighbour, for close to two years beginning in February 2012, with the acts taking place in Zunika’s home. It was only in 2014 that the assaults on the girl came to light when she reported the incidents to her family members. Subsequently, they filed a police report which led to the arrest of Zunika.

In December 2015, Zunika pleaded guilty to the sexual penetration charges under Section 376A(1)(b) of the Penal Code as well as one count of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act. She had admitted to sexually penetrating the girl using external aids.

Despite pleading guilty, Justice Kan Ting Chiu cleared Zunika of all six sexual penetration charges.

Section 376A(1)(b) states that “any person (A) who sexually penetrates, with a part of A’s body (other than A’s penis) or anything else,” a person under 16 is guilty of a crime.

Justice Kan stood by the decision and stated that A could not be interpreted to be a woman. “The reference to a person who has a penis cannot be construed to include a woman without doing violence to common sense and anatomy,” he said. To interpret A as a woman would be rewriting the law, which the court does not have the power to do, he added.

Zunika was sentenced instead to eight months jail for the one count of sexual exploitation under the Children and Young Persons Act and will start her sentence in six weeks’ time. Her lawyer, Ms N. Sudha Nair, said her client was relieved and was sorry for the acts done to the girl. If charged for the sexual penetration of a minor, the maximum penalty for Zunika would have been 10 years’ jail and/or a fine.

In response to the High Court’s decision, non-profit organisation for women’s rights and gender equality, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), stated in a Facebook post on 12 April that clearing Zunika of all sexual penetration charges was simply “not right”.

“The assault should be taken seriously no matter the gender or body of the perpetrator,” the post read. In a second update on 14 April, AWARE also expressed concern for the victim of the assault, stating that regardless of the gender of the perpetrator, sexual assault is not “any less traumatising for the victim”. AWARE condemned the acquittal as a denial of justice to the young victim.