Starting 1 January 2020, Singapore’s Penal Code will recognise voyeurism as a crime in Singapore.
In the past, voyeuristic offences were considered “insult to modesty of women”, “making or possessing an obscene film”, or electronic transmission of obscene material.
The new change sees the modification of the Penal Code to include punishments, penalties, and offences for voyeurism offences.
These developments come in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a rise in voyeurism incidents.
Offenders can now easily access mobile devices and security cameras. It has become easier for them to invade someone’s privacy by capturing footage of people engaging in ordinary activities.
Police waited no time to enforce these changes. Perpetrators caught secretly taping or capturing intimate images of women without consent were punished with fines or imprisonment.
The introduction of these changes, as outlined under section 377BB of the Penal Code, warrants understanding. We delve into voyeurism in Singapore, punishments against voyeuristic crimes, and other related offences.
1. What Acts Are Considered Voyeurism In Singapore?
Section 377BB of the Penal Code states that a person can be criminalised for voyeuristic offences such as:
- Intentionally observing someone doing an intimate/private act without their express consent, even if they know the victim does not consent to be secretly observed.
- Using binoculars or other visual equipment to observe a victim doing an intimate/private act (Ex: secretly peeping on someone while changing clothes) without their consent.
- Intentionally recording the victim performing private acts without their knowledge.
- Using visual equipment, such as a smartphone, to observe a victim’s private parts, such as breasts (for females), buttocks, or genitalia, that wouldn’t have otherwise been visible. This is regardless of whether or not any footage is being recorded/captured.
- Capturing images of a victim’s private parts. (Ex: taking upskirt photos of women while in public/private areas, like food courts, escalators, MRT stations, residential property, etc.)
- Secretly installing cameras or other visual equipment or modifying a structure or parts of it, allowing the offender to commit any of the above acts.
While not directly punishable under section 377BB, you can be criminalised for the following acts:
- Distributing recordings or images of another person without their consent.
- Being intentionally in possession of voyeuristic material for distribution online, in print, or in other media.
- Possessing obscene films (Ex: recordings of victims while nude, images of private parts, etc.)
2. What Is The Punishment For Voyeurism In Singapore?
If someone is convicted of voyeurism, they can face up to two years in jail, fines, caning, or a combination of one or more. Voyeuristic crimes involving victims younger than 14 years old will mean mandatory imprisonment, plus fines and caning.
If the offender is under 21 years old, they may qualify for probation instead of jail time. Though it is improbable, the Court may order probation for offenders over 21 years old (only if they deem them as having a high inclination for reform.
Committing a voyeurism offence will land in your criminal record. But meeting specific criteria can make it possible for you to wipe the crime off your record:
- Your prison sentence should not be more than three months;
- You should not have been fined more than $2,000;
- You must not have a previous record on the register.
Satisfying the criteria above can wipe your criminal record for at least five years, beginning from the date of your sentencing.
But since section 377BB of the Penal Code is still in its early stages, there’s still much to be observed on how the Courts will sentence convicted offenders.
3. How The Courts Handle Voyeurism Cases In Singapore
Singapore Courts indicated how they would handle voyeurism offences just before the introduction of the change.
For example, premeditation and pre-planning of voyeuristic crimes are aggravating factors and may result in heavier punishments than impulsive acts.
The Courts may also consider the following factors:
- Period and frequency of the crime: There has been a case of an offender who committed voyeuristic offences on multiple occasions over four years. He was charged with 127 counts of filming or attempting to film upskirt videos.
- The number of victims involved: The more victims involved, the likelier the offender will receive heavier sentencing.
- Presence of underaged victims: The punishment can be heavier for crimes against underaged victims/minors or abetting minors into committing crimes.
- Location of the crime: There are places wherein voyeuristic acts are not expected, such as schools, offices, churches, etc.
- Relation to the victim: Targeting colleagues, friends, or family members constitutes a breach of trust.
- Use of technology and equipment: Abusing modern technology by using spy cameras or other equipment that makes it easier to spy on a private individual illegally can increase the gravity of sentencing.
- Online circulation of the obscene film or material: Knowingly capturing and circulating voyeuristic material can aggravate the crime.
However, there are mitigating factors that the Court also considers during sentencing. Pleading guilty, being mentally incapacitated, or showing total and genuine remorse can reduce the gravity of sentencing for the voyeuristic offence committed.
4. What Are Possible Defences Against Voyeuristic Claims?
The Court may accept the following defences if you are charged with voyeurism:
- You had no intention of accessing the voyeuristic images or recordings: To use this defence successfully, you must prove that you’ve immediately taken the necessary steps to prevent the proliferation of voyeuristic materials.
- You engaged in voyeurism with reasonable cause and without meaning to harm or injure the alleged victim.
For example, you are investigating someone who recorded upskirt footage and would need evidence of the voyeuristic act.
In such cases, you did not commit an offence. You must prove to the Courts that you took due diligence in confiscating the recorded material and handing it over to the authorities.
- You have a clean criminal record showing what you did was out of character. But this holds very little value in mitigating a sentence, particularly if you’ve committed a string of offences over a certain period.
5. Can You Be Arrested For Voyeurism?
All instances of voyeurism under section 377BB are arrestable offences. This means police can arrest a suspect even without securing a warrant.
For instance, police can arrest you if caught observing a victim in a public toilet. The Courts or police will decide whether or not to release you on bail.
6. What To Do If You’ve Been Charged With Voyeurism
Engaging with a criminal defence lawyer is not required if you’ve been charged, but if you need representation in Court, consulting with a criminal lawyer is a wise decision.
7. What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Voyeurism
If you’re a victim, it’s in your best interests to file a police report immediately. Hand over any collected evidence to the police for proper investigation.
Should the police decide not to pursue your case, consider consulting with a criminal lawyer to help you initiate private prosecution against the perpetrator. Doing this allows you to take criminal action against them.
Conclusion About The Crime Of Voyeurism In Singapore
Voyeurism remains prevalent in Singapore, and taking decisive legal action against offenders is crucial to protect an individual’s safety and privacy.
Likewise, it’s crucial for individuals to understand the legal implications of voyeurism and to take necessary precautions to prevent such violations.
The Singapore Lawyer is a law firm with extensive experience in handling cases related to voyeurism. Call us for a free 30-minute consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Crime Of Voyeurism In Singapore
Is Peeping Tom An Offence In Singapore?
Peeping Tom is a colloquial term for someone who commits voyeuristic acts. It is punishable in Singapore, and alleged offenders can face 2-year imprisonment, fines, caning, or a combination of the three.
Can Women Be Arrested For Voyeurism In Singapore?
Yes. The law does not discriminate in arresting individuals for committing voyeuristic offences based on gender. An example is a recent case of a 39-year-old woman being charged in Court for taking voyeuristic images of an older man while bathing him (she served as his caregiver).
What To Do If I Catch Someone Committing Voyeurism In Singapore?
If you suspect someone is committing voyeurism, immediately call the police. It will help if you have a camera or equipment to capture the incident. Present the recorded footage/image to the police as evidence.
Has Someone Been Jailed For Committing Voyeurism In Singapore?
Yes. According to recent reports from January 2023, a “Peeping Tom” in Singapore was jailed for secretly filming a female student at a university campus toilet.