SINGAPORE — The probation sentence imposed on a 23-year-old undergraduate for molesting an MRT commuter was not a “soft option” as he has to do 150 hours of community service, observe a curfew and seek treatment to address any risk of reoffending, said the presiding judge in the case.
In her grounds of decision on the case dated 8 November and made available on Wednesday (20 November), District Judge Jasvender Kaur outlined the reasons for sentencing National University of Singapore (NUS) student Terence Siow to 21 months’ probation on 25 September.
DJ Kaur said Siow has strong potential for reform. She noted his close relationship with his parents, “excellent” conduct in junior college, “very good” performance in National Service, volunteer work while in NUS, and the probation suitability report issued by the NUS University Counselling Services (UCS).
Siow has been in the public spotlight after he pleaded guilty to one charge of molesting a 28-year-old woman, with two similar charges considered in sentencing as part of his plea bargain.
In September last year, Siow touched the victim’s thigh twice on board a North East Line train, before tailing her and touching her buttock once while on an escalator at Serangoon MRT station.
The prosecution had sought six weeks’ jail, arguing that as Siow was 22 at the time of the incident, he was an adult offender. It also submitted that he has not shown to have an “extremely strong” propensity for reform as he had touched other females while taking public transportation since he began his university education in 2016.
DJ Kaur reiterated the points raised in the report by UCS in her grounds of decision. Among them were that his “good academic performance in school highlights his potential to excel in life” and that he had received “positive reports” from the school and camp authorities.
The judge noted that for the proceeded charge against Siow, there was “no skin-to-skin contact” and “no intrusion of the private parts”. During mitigation, the defence described the touch on the victim’s buttock as “light and brief” and the prosecution did not object to the description, she added.
As such, the degree of sexual exploitation in the case was “low”, DJ Kaur said.
In addition, there was no victim statement tendered and statement of facts did not indicate the victim suffered from psychological trauma due to the incident. Hence, there was no severe harm caused to the victim, the judge said.
In the wake of the court’s ruling, a Change.org petition “Say NO to Favourable Sentences for ‘Educated’Sex Offenders” was started two months ago and quickly gained traction. It has since received over 86,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam also reacted to the case on 27 September, saying that he was “surprised” by the verdict. He urged members of the public to avoid casting aspersions on the presiding judge.
Siow’s probation sentence was suspended after a successful application by the prosecution against the sentence.
NUS has said that Siow was given disciplinary sanctions including the suspension of candidature and mandatory counselling after a Board of Discipline hearing last October.
A spokesman said the university takes a serious view of misconduct and that disciplinary sanctions will enter a student's formal educational record.