The judge presiding over a case where a man abducted and raped an intoxicated woman in his home has criticised irresponsible online comments on the case, saying that they could potentially deter victims from coming forward to report their cases.
During the sentencing and mitigation hearing of 40-year-old Ong Soon Heng, who was convicted of rape and abduction in July this year, Judicial Commissioner (JC) Aedit Abdullah said in the High Court on Wednesday (13 September) that the online comments were disrespectful to the victim and the court process. The JC did not specify the comments he was referring to, nor where they were made.
Said JC Aedit, “Such comments were probably made as the makers were emboldened by the anonymity enabled by the internet.” These comments “serve no greater purpose than to allow them to mouth off and feed off their prejudices,” he added.
“Beyond distress to the victim, such comments discourage victims of sexual offences from coming forward, and cause difficulties in the administration of justice.”
Whether action should be taken against those who made the comments would be left to the relevant authorities to decide, JC Aedit said. The same applies to comments made against accused persons while a trial is ongoing, as they are innocent until proven guilty, he added.
“I strongly urge those who comment to think twice as there is a real impact on people in the process, and comments of such nature are very unhelpful,” he said.
JC Aedit had found Ong guilty in July after ruling that the 22-year-old woman, whom Ong brought to his home in Hume Heights from Zouk, was in no condition to give consent given her intoxicated state.
The incident occurred after the two had partied into the wee hours of 24 July 2014 at Zouk with a group of colleagues. After the woman, whose name cannot be revealed due to a gag order, became intoxicated, Ong offered to take her home but instead drove her to his landed house where he raped her.
Closed-circuit television footage from the club showed Ong carrying the woman into his car at about 4am. Evidence given by an Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist showed that the woman was unconscious between 4am and 6.30am, based on her blood alcohol level. Tests conducted on the woman at 12.45pm that day showed that she had 62mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
The woman was traced to Ong’s house by her boyfriend, who used a phone application to track the location of her mobile phone. The boyfriend found her lying in a stupor next to Ong in the accused’s house. She was wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt that were not hers.
The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Sellakumaran, sought a jail sentence of at least 14 years and 12 strokes of the cane, citing several aggravating factors including the woman’s inebriated state.
“The accused intentionally exploited the victim’s highly intoxicated state to abduct and rape her. Her level of inebriation was such that she was completely unconscious at the material time. The victim’s capacity not to consent was not merely compromised but completely absent,” said the DPP.
He added that Ong had exploited the trust that the woman had placed in her colleague, who had become her good friend and advisor in the three months of her internship at a food and beverage company.
Another aggravating factor was how Ong had a “considerable amount of time” after abducting the woman from Zouk to “realise the errors of his ways” and convey her home. The journey was some 35 to 45 minutes by Ong’s own admission, said the DPP.
Instead, Ong had brought the woman to his house, which was a secluded private estate. The DPP noted that Ong could have brought her to his other home in Kallang Bahru, which was closer to the woman’s home. The Kallang Bahru home was in an HDB estate and his actions might have been noticed by others, the DPP added.
Ong’s lawyer Sunil Sudheesan asked for 10 years’ jail and six strokes of the cane for his client, describing the prosecution’s proposed sentence as “manifestly excessive”.
He disagreed that Ong bringing the woman to his house was a calculated move as Ong had been living at Hume Heights at the time of the offence. Ong had also wanted to avoid road blocks and Hume Heights was the safer option, said the lawyer.
The case has been adjourned to Friday for a pre-trial conference. For the rape charge, Ong could be jailed up to 20 years and caned. For abduction, he could be jailed up to seven years and fined.