Outrage of modesty is also known as the crime of molestation in Singapore.

There is no legal definition of modesty, so each case must be considered on its own merits. However, certain defined elements must be present for a successful prosecution, and lots of precedents exist in the courts.

There are also sentencing guidelines which reflect specific elements regarding the offence of outrage of modesty, plus any aggravating factors. Offenders can expect a prison sentence, caning, a fine, or a mixture of all three.

What is the definition of outrage of modesty?

Enshrined in Section 354 of the Penal Code in Singapore, outrage of modesty is essentially the assault of a person or the use of criminal force towards a person. But how does this differ from simply striking a blow or trying to hurt someone? These are the essential elements of this offence.

Intention to outrage or the likely outcome of an action

As well as committing an act, the perpetrator must have also intended to outrage the modesty of that person or know that this was likely to happen as a consequence of their behaviour.

Not gender specific

The offence does not stipulate that the offender is, for example, male and the victim female. There are no prerequisites on the gender of either the victim or the perpetrator.

The presence of criminal force

Criminal force is an essential element of the offence. Force can be evident, or it can simply be a question of physical contact with the victim without their consent.

How much of an issue is outrage of modesty in Singapore?

Each year the Singapore Police Force publish the prior years crime statistics. In the case of selected major offences, the crime of outrage of modesty remains a significant concern in Singapore. There was 1,610 confirmed cases of outrage of modesty in Singapore according to the official statistics in 2022. It is the most prevalent serious crime in Singapore by quite some margin, with cases of serious hurt the next closest with 458 cases in 2022.

The challenge in the Penal Code

The Penal Code does not define modesty; this has both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages are that different scenarios are arguable depending on the specific circumstances of an individual event. As trends develop and societal views change, the legislation does not need to be updated to remain in line with these developments.

The disadvantage of a lack of definition is that each case must be proven on its merits.

There are many examples where an outrage of modesty has occurred, and there are common elements that can be relied on. These include:

  • Intimate physical contact without that person’s consent.
  • Intimate and inappropriate physical contact by a perpetrator who is in a position of trust and responsibility over the victim.
  • Intimate physical contact towards a stranger.
  • Intimate physical contact between employees in the workplace.
  • The exploitation of a professional relationship where physical contact has been permitted, such as a doctor, a chiropractor or a physiotherapist, and that professional exploits their role and initiates inappropriate and intimate physical contact.

Penalties and punishments for the offence of outrage of modesty

The offence of outrage of modesty carries a possible jail term of up to three years, a fine, caning, or any combination of the three. The maximum jail term increased from two to three years in March 2022.

Offence-specific factors

Sentencing guidelines steer the court, and the first thing to consider will be the offence-specific factors. This will examine how the offence was committed and its seriousness when considering the sentence.

Specific things the court will consider include:

  • The degree of sexual exploitation.
  • The circumstances surrounding the offence, whether there was force or violence, and if the incident was premeditated or opportunist.
  • The manner of the offence.
  • Which parts of the victim’s body were touched by the offender?
  • How long did the incident last?
  • The level of distress and harm to the victim.
  • The relationship (if any) between the victim and the offender.

Aggravating factors

Aggravating factors affect which sentencing band the offence is placed in, and include:

  • A lack of remorse.
  • The number of charges to be taken into consideration, which may be higher than the current offence that is charged.
  • Any previous offending that is relevant.

The bands of punishment

The bands of punishment are easy to understand as they follow the number of aggravating factors:

Band 1: with one aggravating factor, is the lightest sentence, with less than five months in jail and usually no penalty involving caning.

Band 2: has two aggravating factors. Lighter punishments in this band are for offences that don’t involve skin-to-skin contact, with higher-end offences encompassing contact with the victim’s private parts, or sexual organs, or deception of the victim.

Band 2: sentences range from five to fifteen months in jail and usually include caning.

Band 3: includes the most severe offences with three or more aggravating factors, including serious abuse of a position of trust – teacher/pupil or doctor/patient, for example – the use of force or violence towards a victim, or exploitation of a vulnerable victim.

Band 3: sentences include caning and prison terms ranging from fifteen to twenty-four months. These can now be higher as the sentencing bands pre-date the change in the maximum prison term introduced for outrage to modesty in 2022.

Mitigating factors

Mitigating factors that can reduce a sentence include a plea of guilty. If the offender has low intelligence, an intellectual disability, impairment, or a mental disorder which could impact their ability to understand what they were doing, this may also reduce the court’s sentence.

Aggravated outrage of modesty

In cases involving victims under fourteen, perpetrators are charged with the more serious offence of aggravated outrage of modesty.

Punishments include a prison term of up to five years, a fine, caning, or any combination of these three penalties. When passing sentence, the court will follow the same scale in the three bands of punishment, but each level is scaled up to reflect the more serious nature of this offence.

Other offences

Even if unsuccessful, an attempt to outrage someone’s modesty can still result in an offence, in this case, the attempted outrage of modesty.

This offence is contained in Section 511 of the Penal Code, and offenders may face the same penalty as someone convicted of the actual crime of outrage of modesty.

Section 73 of the Penal Code also stipulates harsher punishments for offences against domestic workers or helpers. If the perpetrator employs the victim in a domestic role, then expect the sentencing levels to double.

Offences that take place in lifts or involve causing hurt, wrongful restraint, or death, are detailed in Section 354A of the Penal Code and carry higher sentences with a maximum prison term of ten years for offenders.

Final thoughts on the crime of outrage of modesty

The number of outrage of modesty cases in Singapore is on the rise. The police reveal that in around two-thirds of offences, the offender is someone known to the victim, which is also a higher statistic than in previous years.

The police view outrage of modesty offences with the utmost seriousness and have a zero-tolerance policy towards offenders. Professional advice can help someone charged with outrage of modesty even if they are guilty and plead guilty. A lawyer can represent the accused in court and may be able to convincingly argue for a lesser sentence and, in other cases, attempt to reduce the charge or mount a convincing defence if the accused pleads not guilty.

This content was written and reviewed by a lawyer but it does not constitute legal advice. We always recommend engaging a lawyer before taking any legal action.

Frequently asked questions

Do upskirt offences fall within outrage of modesty?

Upskirting is when someone uses equipment such as a mobile phone or camera to take an image or video underneath someone’s clothes without their consent.

In Singapore, upskirt offences were initially prosecuted as an outrage of modesty offence. However, recent legislation has moved them to the offence of voyeurism under Section 377B of the Penal Code. This is a criminal offence defined as using equipment to film someone else’s private parts without their consent. For this offence, there is no stipulation about the gender of either party.

Is the offence of outrage of modesty restricted to men only?

Men and women can commit the offence of outraging modesty. However, statistics reveal that the majority of perpetrators are male.

What role does consent play in the offence of outrage of modesty?

Consent is a complete defence to this offence and removes one of the key elements to prove the offence: the accused party must have known or intended for their actions to outrage that person’s modesty.

Is outrage of modesty an arrestable offence?

Outrage of modesty is an arrestable offence, so the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant. Those accused of this offence can be released on bail or a personal bond, unless the charge is for the offence of aggravated outrage of modesty.

Does the offence of outrage of modesty result in a criminal record for life?

The Commissioner of Police has discretion on whether to register a criminal record following a successful prosecution for this offence. If a criminal record is registered, then the offender will never have the opportunity to have this wiped clean or treated as ‘spent’.