"TAKING a swipe at what he considered anachronistic differentiations between the sexes in the Penal Code, MP Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said the law seems to consider men 'less modest' than women.For example, if a man enters the ladies' changing room at a public swimming pool, strips himself naked, peeks into a cubicle where a woman is changing and then masturbates himself in front of her, this would be an offence under section 509:
Arguing for gender neutrality in the way statutes are framed, he noted that under criminal law, a woman's modesty can be insulted by words, sounds, gestures or objects, but a man does not seem to have modesty enough to be outraged, he said in a speech peppered with the glib humour that has become his trademark."
Word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman.However, the victim must always be a woman. If the victim is a man, then there is no offence under Section 509.
509. Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
Today, it so happens that the Straits Times reports such an incident - except that it takes place in the men's changing room and the victim is a man. Therefore Section 509 cannot apply:
ST Oct 26, 2007The ST article says that Chur was fined, but it does not specify which specific provision of the law was used. From the wording of the first sentence of the article - "fined for exposing himself to a swimming instructor at a male changing room" - my guess would be that the prosecution used section 27A of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act:
Man fined for exposing himself in changing room
A 39-YEAR-OLD man was fined $500 on Friday for exposing himself to a swimming instructor at a male changing room.
Chur Kim Guan, unemployed, admitted to the obscene act in the changing room of the public swimming pool on April 23.
The 27-year-old instructor was whistling while changing into his swimming trunks when Chur peeped out of the cubicle he was in.
Shortly later, Chur stepped out and used his right hand to masturbate himself in front of the victim, who shouted at him and threatened to call the police.
Chur dashed out and was detained by a lifeguard who heard the commotion.
His lawyer said he committed the offence due to his mental illness. Since 2000, Chur had been in and out of the Institute of Mental Health after a relapse.
Appearing nude in public or private placeThe men's changing room of a public swimming pool is still a public place (any man can walk in, and in fact as far as I'm aware, it wouldn't be illegal for a woman to walk in either). In our case, section 27A does get the job done, in the sense that Chur the offender still gets convicted and receives a punishment.
27A. —(1) Any person who appears nude —
(a) in a public place; ....
shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to both.
However, the section 27A charge is conceptually unsatisfactory given the facts of the case. In fact it would be quite displeasing to those lawyers who desire as a general principle that the law reflects clearly what a person is being punished for.
After all, men are always walking around nude in men's changing rooms, in full view of one another, and no one ordinarily gets prosecuted for that.
In Chur's case, the offence really lies in the masturbatory display. The section 27A charge would have failed to reflect that, for section 27A merely talks about appearing nude in a public place. Section 509 of the Penal Code would have worked very well to capture the essence of the crime, except that section 509 doesn't work where the victim, as in our present case, is a man.
One significant point is that while the same act may theoretically be prosecuted as different offences, the sentencing options available differ from offence to offence. For example, all robbery is theft (but not all theft is robbery); and all rape is also outrage of modesty (but not all outrage of modesty is rape). Yet we wouldn't expect robbers to be punished merely as thieves, or rapists to be punished merely as molesters.
Of course, Chur is mentally ill, and a regular IMH patient - another important factor in the overall sentencing considerations.