SINGAPORE — A stepfather who sexually abused his stepdaughter, who has a learning disability, for over a year was jailed 20 years and sentenced to 24 strokes of the cane on Monday (21 September).
The 41-year-old Nigerian targetted the girl – then between 12 and 13 – when most of the family members were away from home.
He pleaded guilty to two charges of aggravated sexual assault by penetration, with five other charges relating to sexual assault taken into consideration for his sentencing. All the parties in this case cannot be named due to a gag order.
The man, who owned a business in computer and automobile parts back in Nigeria, married the victim’s mother in 2012 and came to Singapore afterward. He had a daughter before his current marriage, while his wife had two daughters from a previous marriage.
When the victim was first introduced to her stepfather after her mother married him, the victim feared him but grew closer to him over time. She addressed him as “uncle” and would ask him for help in schoolwork.
The victim was diagnosed with dyslexia and has low cognitive abilities. She was found to have an IQ of 64, which placed her in the mild intellectual disability range of intelligence. She failed her Primary School Leaving Examinations in 2017 and had to repeat a year in Primary 6 in 2018.
She shared the master bedroom with her mother, stepfather, and younger sister, who was about five at the time of the offences. She would usually sleep on a mattress on the floor.
When the victim’s elder sister came over to stay, the victim would sleep on the bed, with her stepfather in between her and her mother. Her elder sister would then take her mattress. It was during these periods that the man began to harbour sexual thoughts towards his stepdaughter.
He began sexually assaulting the victim in July or August 2017, when the victim was 12. When the other family members were sleeping, he would molest the victim over her clothes.
The acts became more intrusive over the next 15 months, until 2 November 2018. The man would usually prey on his stepdaughter while they were in the master bedroom alone or when the others slept.
The girl did not confide in her other family members about the incidents as she did not want to burden her mother, who was sickly and was in and out of the hospital. She was also afraid her mother or grandmother would not believe her.
She was aware that the stepfather’s actions were wrong and would occasionally resist him by pushing his hands away. Her efforts were futile as the man was stronger.
She also turned to her phone during the sexual acts, to distract herself and avoid seeing what was being done.
Sometime in 2018, the victim confided in two close friends that her stepfather had been touching her inappropriately. They advised her to tell her mother or the school counsellor but the victim was afraid to do so. In that same year, the girl had been seeing her school counsellor once a month to discuss how she was coping with school.
On 31 October 2018, the girl confided in her school counsellor and the matter was reported to the vice principal, who escalated it to the the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
Following the last incident of sexual assault on 2 November 2018, the matter was referred to MSF’s Child Protective Services.
The victim, now 15, filed a police report that day and the man was arrested.
According to a report dated 21 January 2019 from the Institute of Mental Health, the victim was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. She said that she was troubled by the offences and felt that life was not worth living at times. She experienced weight loss and sleep difficulties. She has also engaged in self-harm a few times in 2018.
Mitigating for his client, lawyer Jonathan Wong from Tembusu Law said that his client had shared a close relationship with his family and treated his step-daughters as his own family.
“We are instructed that the victim shared a close relationship with (the man). She is always affectionate towards him and she has the habit of sitting on (his) thighs or jumps on him while he is lying on the bed.”
“(He) constantly showed care and support for (his family). He would...send them to school and help them with their school work,” he added.
After the man was incarcerated, his wife could not maintain his business in Nigeria as the man’s business partners did not want to engage with a non-Nigerian. The 43-year-old woman has had to make ends meet by working as a part-time promoter.
She has forgiven her husband and continues to stand by him, visiting him in prison once a week.
Wong asked for a sentence of up to 12 to 15 years’ jail and not more than 24 strokes of the cane.
Citing the man’s abuse of trust in his role as stepfather and the degree of premeditation he demonstrated, the prosecution sought a sentence of at least 20 years’ jail and the mandatory 24 strokes of the cane.
The man had also taken advantage of the girl’s exceptional vulnerability, the prosecution said. He was aware that she was of low IQ and exploited her inability to seek help. Severe harm was caused to the girl, who resorted to self harm in the wake of the offences.
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