SINGAPORE — A man from a top university in the UK pleaded guilty on Thursday (29 July) to charges of illicitly filming women mostly in Singapore as the prosecution and defence argued over whether the court should lift the gag order on the man’s name.
After arguments were heard, including how all 11 identified victims had pushed for the 23-year-old Singaporean man's name to be revealed, a State Courts judge decided to lift the gag order. However, the order was stayed after the defence said it would be appealing to the High Court.
The gag order remains on the names of all involved and their schools.
The man, an undergraduate since 2018, was ordered to be assessed for a probation suitability report by District Judge Tan Jen Tse.
He pleaded guilty to seven out of 14 charges of insulting a woman’s modesty between 2015 and 2018, and one count of possessing five obscene films. These relate to 12 female victims, 11 of whom were known to the man. He had filmed them mostly during gatherings at his residence.
The remaining charges will be taken into consideration for his sentencing when he returns to court.
Filmed victims during social gatherings
Among the victims was an 18-year-old woman whom he filmed after their junior college’s prom night on 2 December 2015. The man suggested that the woman and four classmates use the same hotel room to rest after the prom and she agreed.
At about 1.30am, the man placed a recording device in the toilet of the hotel room and filmed her showering.
In early 2016, the principal of the junior college informed the woman that a nude video of her showering was circulating online. She lodged a police report.
As of August 2020, the video of the woman showering was still circulating on three porn websites. One of the videos included a photograph of the woman in her prom night dress and has been viewed more than 170,000 times.
In her victim impact statement, dated 12 March last year, the victim said she received messages about the video from friends and strangers and felt embarrassed and betrayed.
Another victim, 19, was invited to the man’s residence for a Christmas gathering on 20 December 2016. She was accompanied by other former students of the junior college.
The man filmed the victim in the toilet while she was relieving herself. She found out about the videos when she received an Instagram message from an unknown person on 3 October 2018. The message included two pictures of herself in the toilet. The woman lodged a police report the same day.
She searched the internet and discovered the video of herself urinating on a porn site. It had been viewed at least 38,439 times as of 17 August 2020. She said in her victim impact statement that she felt “betrayed and shocked”.
The man filmed another woman, 20, in a similar manner when she visited his residence in 2018. He set up a recording device under the sink to capture her urinating.
He filmed another victim, 20, on 26 July 2018 after chancing upon her at an MRT station. They began chatting and the man filmed up her skirt while he was behind her on an upward riding escalator. He then pretended to take a call on his phone in order to capture the woman’s face.
The man also filmed two women in his home toilet during a Christmas gathering on 23 December 2018.
He filmed one victim, 21, in the UK, after offering to give her a tour of his university. On 18 November 2018, the woman met him at his university and went to his residence to use his toilet. However, the man used his toilet first to set up a recording device and filmed the victim relieving herself.
The man filmed an unknown woman changing in a bedroom on 12 June 2017, while hiding behind a set of window blinds.
Between 2016 to June 2019, the police received several reports alleging that two obscene videos featuring the victims or their friends had been circulating online. One victim said that she discovered the man’s phone in the toilet of his former residence and confronted him about it.
On 3 July 2019, the police raided his residence and seized seven of his personal devices. Forensic analysis uncovered 16 offending videos and 124 upskirt photographs in the devices.
The two videos circulating online and the 16 videos found in his devices were recorded by the man, and involved 11 identified victims and one unknown victim. A total of 14 of the 18 videos were taken at his residence.
In his first statement, the man admitted to taking the videos, saying stress motivated him.
He gave three further statements in which he claimed he could not remember where they could have been recorded and claimed not to recognise the victims.
Victims want accused's name to be revealed
After the plea was taken, the prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPP) Foo Shi Hao and Tan Zhi Hao, applied to have the gag order lifted only on the man’s name.
DPP Foo told the court that all the victims had been “unanimous” in their call to remove the gag order from the perpetrator’s name, with many expressing the view that the gag order was “more harmful than helpful”. All had accepted the increased possibility of them being identified.
“The fourth victim stated that the gag order was worrying and infuriating as it prevents her from warning female friends…or help a former schoolmate (whom she) suspected could also be a victim, (and this) left her feeling very guilty,” said DPP Foo.
The 11th victim said that more people could be “hurt” by the perpetrator if his identity were masked, he added.
“The victims themselves have spoken. It is clear from their statement that the gag order does not serve its intended purposes. Far from preventing trauma, it has added to their misery,” said DPP Foo, who pointed out that the gag order was meant to protect victims.
The man’s lawyer, Ashvin Hariharan, who was against the lifting of the gag order, pointed out that the prosecution had once tried unsuccessfully to lift the gag order, after 10 out of the 12 victims had consented to it. Ashvin said that since the application had been rejected once, the proper procedure for the prosecution would be to apply to the High Court through a criminal motion.
Ashvin further argued that victim impact statements could only be used for sentencing purposes and was not relevant to the application to lift the gag order. He said that lifting the gag order would serve a dangerous precedent on victims having a say in whether they wanted to be protected.
Victims may not be in the best position to consider for themselves and the decision should be a judicial one, said Ashvin.
DJ Tan allowed the gag order to be lifted, but stayed the lift pending the defence’s appeal to the High Court. The defence is expected to file the appeal within a week.
The man will return to court for sentencing on 26 August.
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