Singapore Should Not Let Sexual Abusers Who Are Older Or Charged Late Escape Caning
In December 2022, President Halimah raised concerns about the alarming number of rape cases involving sexual abusers who are older relatives of vulnerable children.
As some cases come to light only when the perpetrators are 50 and older, they are able to evade caning and receive only a jail sentence.
The nature and severity of such crimes beg the question: Why are these offenders allowed to ‘escape’ harsher punishment?
Letting older abusers off the hook may send the message that they receive more lenient sentences for the same crime that a younger person commits.
Caning age limit is a loophole for older sexual abusers
Section 325 of Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code exempts the following groups of people from caning:
- Men above the age of 50
- Men on death row
Instead of caning, the court may sentence them to an extra 12 months’ jail.
In recent months, Singapore has been seeing a worrying spike in cases involving the second group — offenders above 50 years old.
These sexual abuse cases follow a pattern, with perpetrators in positions of power and trust exploiting the vulnerability of their victims.
Most of the time, the victims don’t know the acts committed against them are unlawful, until much later in life. At this point, their abusers can no longer receive the maximum punishment including caning and just face jail terms.
One such case was a 50-year-old man who sexually abused his stepdaughter over a period of six years.
The abuse started when she was 11 and he was 41 and lasted till the victim was 17. It was only when she reached that age that the victim began resisting her stepfather’s advances and eventually reported him to the police. Police arrested the man promptly after her report.
But the stepfather was only charged in court after he turned 50, exempting him from caning, which sexual abusers usually face.
Sadly, this case was just one of many of this nature. With many others that have come to the fore, offenders may realise the loophole that allows them to ‘escape’ caning.
Older offenders, especially, can easily get away regardless of the extent or frequency of abuse.
A jail sentence is incomparable to victims’ prolonged trauma
Beyond the mechanics of the punishment, we should consider the victims’ suffering too.
Sexual assault victims, especially children, often suffer prolonged trauma.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia (CNA), Associate Professor Daniel Fung, the CEO of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), shared that child victims of sexual abuse tend to experience the following conditions:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Somatisation disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The last one could extend into adulthood.
The Straits Times (ST) reported the case of a girl who was sexually assaulted by a family friend when she was in Primary 4.
The PTSD she experienced was apparently so severe that her school had to arrange for her to miss Science lessons about human reproduction.
TODAY, meanwhile, reported about a man whose father sexually abused him as a child. The trauma he experienced caused him to be wary around strangers. He also struggled with images of violence in his mind.
With such detrimental effects on the victims’ lives, it’s thus mind-boggling how some abusers are simply slapped with a jail term.
Yes, the time behind bars shaves away their freedom for several years. But that’s incomparable to the years of innocence the victims lost. Not to mention the trauma persisting into adulthood.
The physical pain from the sexual assault is probably unimaginable too. Yet, their abusers get no inkling of such torment.
Little evidence that caning reduces the number of rape cases
Despite the condemnation of such disturbing abuse cases and the call for harsher punishments by President Halimah herself, there are arguments to be made for going down a totally different route.
Responding to the President’s statement, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) proposed opposing the caning law altogether.
On Reddit, a user also pointed out how violent physical punishments are ineffective for society as a whole.
Another said that caning is a colonial-era law, and its implementation is not strongly justified.
Indeed, there isn’t much evidence indicating that caning reduces the number of sexual abuse cases. In fact, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) reported an increase in the number of child sexual abuse cases from 2012 to 2021.
Unfortunately, these appalling statistics fail to show the age of the abusers.
If a large number proves to be older, this only highlights the issue that older individuals are emboldened to commit such crimes due to lighter punishments.
Even if that’s not the case, the high overall numbers show that more action needs to be taken to deter offenders.
A harsh punishment sends the message that justice will be served
Ultimately, all actions have consequences. Regardless of age, sexual abusers need to face up to their repulsive actions.
Like how many online have stated, “If you are fit to rape, you are fit to be caned”.
The above sentiment on Reddit is echoed on Facebook.
While harsh punishments always divide public opinion, they are sometimes necessary for the pursuit of justice.
It’s not purely a matter of “an eye for an eye”, but to provide victims with some sense of closure. Surely, nothing can make up for the psychological turmoil they endure.
However, knowing the justice system, change, if any, will take time. Till then, we have to try to educate the public on the gravity of sexual assault and find ways to encourage victims to speak up against such crimes.
Note: The views expressed within this article are the author’s own.
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Featured image adapted from Etsy, for illustration purposes only.
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