Following the high-profile sexual harassment case involving voyeur Nicholas Lim Jun Kai, who was merely given a 12-month conditional warning and an instruction to write an apology letter to Monica Baey – a fellow National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate student – for filming her whilst she was showering in her hall’s bathroom last year, a list of sexual misconduct cases recorded by the NUS Board of Discipline from 2016 to 2018 was released online for public viewing.
While most of the cases involved outrage of modesty, including trespassing into the rooms of female students and filming female students while showering such as in Ms Baey’s case, in addition to filming male students in showers and uploading the videos to pornographic sites, one case in particular involved an NUS undergraduate committing the offence of filming children whilst they were in the toilet.
The student was given a 24-month conditional warning by the police instead of being prosecuted by the authorities.
The document read that the undergraduate had “entered a children’s toilet and filmed children in the adjacent cubicle on multiple occasions” between 2015 and 2016.
As a result, he was given a temporary suspension from the University for two semesters, in addition to mandatory counselling and psychological assessment, a S$1,000 fine, and an official reprimand – all in addition to the conditional warning.
Lawyer Cheryl Ng from Intelleigen Legal told CNA: “The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) usually takes a very firm stance when children are victims in such situations. It is also more aggravated that children were the prime target. However, one factor that we know the AGC considers in whether to prosecute or not is the strength of the evidence.”
“If there is no evidence, then it can be difficult to successfully prosecute the alleged accused. As such, the AGC or police will choose to issue a warning instead,” she added.
Head of AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre Anisha Joseph told CNA: “There may be a belief that filming a child in a bathroom, because it’s not physical violence, is not abuse or is a lesser form of abuse.
“However, without even going into what the perpetrator planned to do with the footage, filming somebody without their knowledge or permission is a clear violation of privacy and respect,” she said.
“It is the responsibility of institutions to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment on their spaces, via strong policies, procedures and training.”
Ms Joseph added: “We expect institutions to keep their communities safe, more than we expect individuals to be able to protect themselves or their children from harm.”
Lawyer Gloria-James Civetta from Gloria James-Civetta & Co, however, said NUS had “the right to discipline or refer the case to the police”, as the offence took place within its grounds.
She added that the decision made by the Board of Discipline “fits the crime”, given that the offender himself was a student and did not circulate the videos.
The student, added Ms James-Civetta, could face charges under the Films Act or the Children and Young Persons Act.
Lawyer Che Wei Chin of Covenant Chambers told CNA that while AGC has the right to require the police to issue a conditional warning should it has reason to believe that the offender’s case is an isolated incident and that he is unlikely to reoffend, if he films children “several times over different time periods”, each occasion of filming may make up one charge and consequently, the offender may technically face multiple charges as a result.
Many netizens expressed their outrage against what they have deemed to be a lenient form of punishment inflicted against the NUS undergraduate who had filmed children, given that children are – as Mr Che had mentioned – “vulnerable victims” of such crimes, more so than adults:
Several netizens have also criticised the failure of the authorities and the NUS administration to adequately and appropriately handle cases involving sexual harassment in general, and worry that such failure may lead to the proliferation of such cases over time in the absence of proper sanctions against known perpetrators:
One commenter in particular was criticised for nitpicking on the specifics of cases involving sexual misconduct at NUS, and was called out for missing the underlying message behind exposing such cases, which is to reveal the seriousness of the offences and the authorities’ seemingly lenient responses: