SINGAPORE — A general practitioner was on Wednesday (10 June) acquitted of sexually assaulting and molesting a 23-year-old patient over two separate occasions at his clinic in Bedok five years ago.
Dr Wee Teong Boo, 69, had been prosecuted for allegedly stroking the patient’s vagina with his fingers in his clinic on the afternoon of 25 November 2015, when she visited him for gastric discomfort. One month later, on 30 December, he was alleged to have raped her in his clinic at night, when she visited him for frequent urination and an itch on her private parts.
In February last year, a High Court judge acquitted Dr Wee, who owns Wee’s Clinic and Surgery in Bedok North Avenue 2, of the rape charge. But the judge convicted the doctor, who has been practicing for nearly four decades, on an amended charge of sexual assault for the 30 December incident, along with molestation for the 25 November incident. The doctor was sentenced to 10 years’ jail in total.
Dr Wee, who suffers from erectile dysfunction among other health issues, then appealed against the conviction and sentence, while the prosecution cross-appealed against the rape acquittal.
On Wednesday, the apex court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Steven Chong and Justice Belinda Ang, said they found various aspects of the victim’s evidence troubling. She was identified as “V” in judgment grounds.
Reasonable doubt about alleged rape
“We agree with the judge that there was a reasonable doubt as to whether penile penetration could have taken place as alleged in this case. According to V, she had been raped while Dr Wee stood between her legs and held on to her legs throughout the incident,” said CJ Menon, who delivered the judgment of the court.
He added, “We find it implausible that Dr Wee could have penetrated V’s vagina in the manner she described. At the trial, Dr Lim (a urologist) explained that even with an EHS (erectile hardness score) of three...it would have entailed ‘great difficulty’ for the penis to enter the vagina unaided, especially if such penetration was of a virginal partner.”
CJ Menon said the implausibility of the rape was exacerbated by V being an unwilling partner in the alleged penetration. There was, the chief justice said, “ample reason to doubt that Dr Wee, who had ED (erectile dysfunction) at the material time, would have been able to sustain sufficient tumescence to be able to penetrate a virginal partner, whilst using both his hands only to support her body weight in what must have been an uncomfortable position for her.”
At trial, Dr Wee’s wife had described her husband’s penis as “soft as a noodle”. The prosecution had sought to discredit this evidence as false and exaggerated, and given to aid him. In its decision grounds, the apex court noted that the trial judge had accepted the evidence, “because he plainly saw this as a hyperbole put forward to make the broader point that sexual intercourse was not a straightforward matter for Dr Wee. This is borne out by the fact that Mrs Wee accepted that they did have periodic penetrative sex, though on these occasions, Dr Wee had to use his hand to aid and guide his penis.”
“Plainly, the allusion to ‘a noodle’ could not be and was not taken literally, contrary to the prosecution’s suggestion,” said CJ Menon.
Victim’s puzzling conduct
The apex court also analysed the victim’s conduct during the alleged rape. She had claimed that Dr Wee removed her shorts and panties, positioned himself between her legs and pushed “something horizontal” into her vagina. She was only able to see his head and chest, and saw his body moving forward and backward with each penetration. She said his hands were holding onto her knees throughout this period and that she believed his actions were part of a medical exam.
Noting that the victim was 23 and studying at a university, the CJ said, “We find it impossible to understand how V could have thought that the alleged conduct of Dr Wee could ever have been explicable on the basis that it was part of a medical examination. How could he possibly have been examining anything if his head and chest were upright and both his hands were supporting V’s knees? And how could he have been ‘poking’ anything into V that was related to a medical examination when both his hands were being used to hold V up?
“And, finally, when V sat up and allegedly saw Dr Wee’s penis still in her vagina, how could she possibly have imagined that this might be part of the medical examination? To put it bluntly, this would have been a violation of her person at the most horrific and abusive level and we find it difficult to understand how V could have failed to appreciate that,” he said.
The apex court also agreed with the trial judge that it was doubtful Dr Wee would have attempted rape in the clinic. “While we accept that the clinic assistants and patients were unlikely to barge into the examination room, the fact remained that the sliding door leading to the examination room could not be locked, and it would have been the easiest thing for V to have screamed for help,” said CJ Menon.
Added the judge, “To overcome the implausibility of the prosecution’s case and find that Dr Wee had raped V in these audacious circumstances, he must have believed that he could get away with it because V would not even know that she was being raped and would remain completely silent throughout the ordeal. But, this was an improbable scenario to begin with for the reasons we have outlined...and further, the prosecution never put this to Dr Wee or explored this line of inquiry at the trial.”
Inconsistencies in victim’s account
The apex court also said it was troubled by two particular inconsistencies in the victim’s evidence in relation to the molestation charge for the 25 November incident.
She consulted Dr Wee for gastric discomfort and phlegm, but alleged that he slid his right hand under her panties and started stroking her vulva in an up and down motion for a “very long” time until the vagina became “wet”. She also claimed that he was “playing around”.
Said CJ Menon, “Taken together, we find it incredible that V could have thought that this was part of a medical examination.”
He added, “We also find it unusual that after the alleged rape, V asked her mother about the circumstances in which a doctor could ‘check a patient’s private parts’ even though on that occasion she had complained of itching in her genital area. Yet, she evidently did not do so after Dr Wee had allegedly done just that on 25 November 2015, when her only complaints had been of gastric pain and phlegm. This is especially improbable considering the fact that Dr Wee had allegedly stroked her vagina for a considerable period of time to the point that she felt that he was ‘playing around’ with her vagina.”
The apex court also said it was “troubled by the significant delay of 36 days between the alleged event and it being reported”, without any persuasive or credible explanations for the delay.
CJ Menon said “the alleged sexual assaults were in fact so dissimilar that the events of the alleged rape could not possibly have coloured her perception of what had transpired on 25 November 2015. In particular, we fail to see how Dr Wee’s alleged act of inserting his penis into V’s vagina while holding onto her legs could possibly have caused V to change her mind about the quality of whatever act Dr Wee had allegedly done on the earlier occasion.”
The victim’s credibility in relation to the rape charge inevitably also had an impact on her credibility in relation to the molestation charge, the apex court ruled.
Prejudicial to convict doctor
The Court of Appeal also overturned Dr Wee’s conviction for sexual assault, finding that the trial judge had erred in law.
The prosecution’s case at trial had always been that Dr Wee penetrated the victim with his penis, not his fingers or anything else, noted the apex court.
“On the case that the prosecution ran in respect of the rape charge, the digital penetration offence was simply not within the range of possible offences that Dr Wee could have been convicted of,” said CJ Menon.
Contrary to the prosecution’s arguments as to why Dr Wee’s conviction for sexual assault by digital penetration should stand, the chief justice said there were a number of reasons why conviction was “highly prejudicial”.
CJ Menon said, “First and most fundamentally, according to V and the case ran by the prosecution, digital penetration did not take place. Indeed, on V’s account of the events, digital penetration could not have taken place, since at all times, Dr Wee was using both his hands to support different parts of V’s legs.
“Having taken and maintained this position, we are unable to see how the prosecution could possibly say there was no prejudice to Dr Wee in being convicted on a case that according to the prosecution and its principal witness, the complainant V, had never happened.”
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