Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament on Monday (6 May) that Mr Nicholas Lim, the National University of Singapore (NUS) student who secretly filmed a fellow student, Monica Baey, while showering in the hostel, is “on thin ice” after he was given a 12-month conditional warning by the police.
Last month, Ms Baey took to her Instragram account to call out to NUS for trying to protect Mr Lim after he conducted such a horrible act. This is because Mr Lim was only given conditional warning from the police, and one-month suspension from NUS along with an apology letter addressed to Ms Baey.
Speaking on this case. Mr Shanmugam agrees that there were factors which could have justified in charging the offender – the main one being he had committed something “very wrong”.
However, after these factors were weighed against other factors, it was justified giving Mr Lim another chance. “Police weighed both sets of factors, and decided that a conditional warning was appropriate,” said the Law Minister.
He added, “It was one of those cases, quite usual for the police, where the decision was based on judgment. Police accessed him to be remorseful and likely to reform. He confessed voluntarily, within minutes of the offence being committed, and well before any police report was made. He was cooperative with the police. He had not circulated the video. It had been deleted. Other factors have also been mentioned in the police statement”.
However, Mr Shanmugam noted that if Mr Lim re-offend in the next 12 months, he will then be “charged for the offence related to Ms Baey, as well as the new offence”.
No free passes for anyone
The Ministry of Education (MOE) had mentioned in Parliament that between the academic years of 2015/2016 and 2017/2019, a total of 56 sexual misconduct cases were reported to the autonomous universities. Out of these 56 cases, 37 were forwarded to the police, said Mr Shanmugam.
The Minister added that in the 31 cases that had been brought up to the police, 16 were prosecuted in court, with a jail sentence for 10 of them. As for the remaining 15 cases, 13 perpetrators were handed a conditional warning, while two were given stern warnings.
But, for one NUS student, he was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and fined S$2,000, after he re-offended in 2017. He had earlier, in 2015, been given a conditional warning for a voyeurism offence.
Therefore, the Minister said that there were no “free passes” for anyone.
“So these numbers show that some have been prosecuted depending on the facts, others have been given a second chance, and there are no ‘free passes’ to university students, or anyone else,” said Mr Shanmugam.
He added, “All of this, being tough, taking a no nonsense approach – does not mean that every offender must be or will be automatically charged in court. Police and (the) AGC must look at the facts of each case and exercise discretion”.
Handling sexual misconduct cases
Mr Shanmugam noted that assessment of future conduct and the probability of rehabilitation were important considerations when it comes to sexual misconduct offences.
“The police will look at all the factors, including the level of remorse, whether he owned up voluntarily, and the likelihood of reform, and the likelihood of re-offending. They will also of course consider the circumstances of the victim, the impact of the offence on the victim, and the need for deterrence,” explained the Law Minister.
But generally, he noted that the police will show no leniency if there are other aggravating factors like previous conviction or being warned for similar offences.
“We take a very stern view of sexual misconduct. Several perpetrators have been prosecuted and put behind bars. But the rigid meting out of uniform penalties will not serve the wider public interest,” said Mr Shanmugam.
Hearing his explanation, many netizens were not at all convinced on why Mr Lim was slapped with just a 12-month conditional warning. Given that Mr Lim was not a minor, some questioned why the sentence was so light as there should not be any pardoning when it comes to sexual misconduct. As such, there wonder if the government has two ways of handing such cases? If that is not all, they also said that the next generation “needs to be taught right, not light”.
Penning down their comments on the Facebook pages of Channel NewsAsia and Mothership, online users said that giving such leniency for the act can cause female students to feel unsafe, and probably encourage “potential first offenders”. Some said that the laws are being twisted and bent as certain less serious offences were given harsher punishments, while serious crimes were given mere conditional warning.