Voyeurism in Singapore is a multi-faceted offence involving men and women, both as perpetrators and as victims. However, the Penal Code has only recently changed in Singapore to make the offence non-gender specific.
Because of the ability of the internet to spread information, voyeurism has become a much more far-reaching offence.
What is voyeurism?
Voyeurism is a perverse behaviour involving deliberate and wilful intrusion of someone’s privacy.
Recent changes have extended the definition of the offence to include male and female victims.
The concept of voyeurism is very broad, but helpfully, Section 377BB of the Penal Code criminalises specific acts as follows:
Intentional observation of a private act
A person intentionally and deliberately observing the victim in a private act without their consent is committing the offence of voyeurism if they also knew or believed the victim would not consent to this.
An example is spying on someone as they take a shower.
Operating equipment for the observation of a private act
Operating equipment to allow you or another person to view someone in a private act without their consent is voyeurism. It must be with the belief or knowledge that the person would not consent to being observed.
The equipment may record the act, but this is not a prerequisite for the offence. The equipment could be binoculars used to watch someone showering or changing.
Recording a private act
Intentionally recording someone doing a private act without their consent and knowing or believing they would not consent to the recording is voyeurism. This is commonly seen with a mobile phone, but the recording method is irrelevant.
A private act includes changing clothes, showering, or going to the toilet.
Operating equipment to view a person’s private parts
Using equipment such as a mobile phone to observe someone’s private parts that would not otherwise be visible is voyeurism, and easily explained by the offence of up-skirting. This must be in the belief or knowledge that the victim would not consent.
It is not necessary for a recording to be made for the offence to be committed.
Recording an image of a person’s private parts
Recording an image of someone’s private parts that would not usually be visible without the victim’s consent, and in the knowledge or belief the victim would not consent to the recording is an offence of voyeurism.
This offence involves taking actual images of the victim’s private parts rather than just observing them.
Installing equipment to commit any of the acts listed
Installing equipment, making, or adapting a structure so that any of the acts listed can be committed.
The changes to Singapore’s Penal Code
Until recently, Section 509 of the Penal Code only concerned women, specifically, insulting the modesty of a woman. The problem was that if the victim was male, a charge of voyeurism could not be brought.
The Penal Code was amended with effect from 1 January 2020, so that a specific offence of voyeurism was created that is not gender specific. Found in Section 377B of the Code, it brings the law in line with another crime, that being outrage of modesty.
Possible defences to a charge of voyeurism
There are defences to a charge of voyeurism, including the following.
A person didn’t intend to have possession of or access to voyeuristic images or recordings
To avoid a charge of voyeurism, an accused person must have taken demonstrable steps to stop coming into possession or having access to the images or recording.
That person must have taken prompt action to show clear evidence this was accidental.
The alleged act was carried out without intent to cause injury to the victim and with evidence or reasonable cause
An example that would fall within this defence is handling images or recordings for detection or investigation purposes carried out for court proceedings, or in connection with national security.
The accused must not have kept the voyeuristic images or recordings longer than is reasonably necessary for the specified purposes.
What are the punishments for voyeurism?
A conviction for voyeurism under the Penal Code can result in a jail term of up to two years in length, a fine or caning, or any combination of these three penalties.
If the victim of the voyeurism is under the age of fourteen, imprisonment of up to two years is mandatory, with the addition of a fine and/or caning.
Probation can be an option for offenders convicted of voyeurism, but this tends to be reserved for young offenders; people convicted of voyeurism over the age of 21 are unlikely to be awarded probation.
Deciding on an appropriate sentence
The Penal Code does not give any guidance on sentencing for offenders convicted of an act of voyeurism.
However, there was a court case, the decision of PP v Ang Zhu Ci Joshua, heard before the enactment of Section 377B of the Penal Code, which outlines both aggravating and mitigating factors which can be taken into account when making a sentencing decision in upskirting cases.
The mental health of the offender
If the offender has a mental disorder, then the relevance of this to the offence committed is something the court will consider.
An offender likely to re-offend because of a mental or psychological condition may not be an appropriate candidate for a standard punishment of jail or a fine.
In these situations, an offender may receive a Mandatory Treatment Order and undergo psychiatric treatment at a designated institution like the Institute for Mental Health. This can be for up to 36 months.
A guilty plea can be a powerful indicator of remorse and an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and regret. However, this is weakened if the accused is a repeat offender.
A clean criminal record
A clean criminal record can support a claim the offending was acting out of character and a one-off, potentially justifying a more lenient sentence.
However, if there’s evidence of earlier offending, but without conviction, the benefit of a clean record will diminish.
Certain behaviours or circumstances can mean a voyeurism offence is awarded a more severe sentence.
Pre-meditation and planning
Pre-meditation (as opposed to spontaneity) indicates a more planned and deliberate type of offending. This might involve a systematic approach to carrying out the offence, or an organised approach to storing recorded data.
Length of time
The length of time the offence took place also demonstrates a level of pre-meditation, deliberation, and possibly efforts to avoid detection. Sometimes, an offender is arrested for a sole crime only for police to discover records indicating a much-extended period of offending.
Number of victims
The number of victims and/or times a victim is targeted will result in a stiffer sentence.
Location of the offences
Location can indicate a more serious crime. If the offence took place in a school or religious institution, these are locations where people expect to be safe from criminal activity compared to a public location, such as a train station or shop.
A relationship with the victim
Targeting friends or work colleagues is a more significant invasion of privacy compared to selecting a random stranger. It shows the exploitation of pre-existing relationships and is treated as a more serious offence.
The exploitation of modern technology
Using mobile devices to offend, record, and keep data is an aggravating factor. Modern technology makes offending easier, allowing for replaying data or sharing with a broader audience online, increasing the crime’s gravity.
Final thoughts on voyeurism
Due to the ability of offenders to disseminate information online, viewing images or recordings not made by the viewer will still amount to an offence of voyeurism.
As far as a victim of voyeurism is concerned, if the police decide not to charge a perpetrator, it’s possible to start a private prosecution to pursue the offender.
Frequently asked questions
Has the law changed on upskirt offences?
Upskirt cases were previously prosecuted under the offence of outrage of modesty. They now fall within the criteria of voyeurism under Section 377B of the Penal Code, which has criminalised the use of equipment to film someone else’s private parts without their consent.
Is voyeurism an arrestable offence?
Any voyeurism under Section 377BB of the Penal Code is an arrestable offence. This means the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence of voyeurism has taken place.
What are TIC charges?
TIC means ‘taken into consideration’ charges. More offending may come to light if data has been recorded and stored.
A person accused of voyeurism can only be tried for offences they are charged with. However, TIC offences can increase the final sentence.
What are voyeurism-related offences?
Section 377BC of the Penal Code makes being in possession of or distributing voyeuristic content without the victim’s consent a crime.
Under Section 377BD, it is also an offence to have access to, or be in possession of intimate or voyeuristic images or recordings of a victim. Even if a person is uncertain about the identity of the pictures, if they have reason to believe they are intimate and captured without the victim’s consent, this will also be an offence.
Access to electronic data is sufficient; a person does not need physical possession of the original images or recording.