SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) – A year on, she still vividly remembers the events of last Sept 12.
She was heading home on a train around 11.30pm when a man sat next to her and touched her thigh twice.
She made clear that his attention was unwanted by moving to another seat.
But when she alighted at Serangoon MRT station, he followed her onto an escalator and used his finger to touch her buttocks over her shorts.
As she alerted a station officer that she had been molested, the man left quickly. She made a police report an hour and a half later.
The culprit, Terence Siow Kai Yuan, was arrested three days later.
On Wednesday, the 23-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) student was given 21 months of supervised probation after pleading guilty to outraging her modesty.
In rejecting the prosecution’s call for Siow to be jailed for six weeks, District Judge Jasvender Kaur described Siow’s offences as “minor intrusions”.
She noted that he was found to be suitable for probation as his academic results show he has “potential to excel in life”.
Yesterday, Siow’s victim told The New Paper she was disappointed her molester had been given probation instead of jail time.
Revealing her name as Ms Karmen Siew despite it being protected by a court order, she said that while his actions may seem minor, the impact on her was not minor.
The 28-year-old said: “I don’t think about what happened all the time. But when I take the train, I am mildly paranoid and aware of my position relative to other passengers.
“I actively try to sit or stand near other women where possible. I now feel uncomfortable wearing shorts in public and prefer using the lift than the escalator.”
She added that sexual misconduct will remain a problem until such incidents, even if they are perceived as minor, are taken seriously.
Ms Siew also wondered whether the outcome of her case would send a signal to would-be perpetrators that as long as they have good grades, they might be able to get a lighter sentence.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Lawyers told TNP that education is just one of many factors that are considered when deciding whether probation is suitable for an offender.
TNP’s report of the court case yesterday has sparked a vigorous discussion of crime and punishment, with many raising similar points as Ms Siew and observers.
As of last evening, the report on TNP’s Facebook page had more 400 shares and more than 300 comments.
Ms Anisha Joseph, who heads Aware’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, said: “A misconception does persist that the impact of sexual harassment on a survivor is tied only to the degree of physical injury suffered.
“However, molest, like sexual violence of any nature, can have real psychological or emotional effects on someone.”
Psychologist Evonne Lek said molest victims often bear the effects of the trauma for years.
She told TNP: “It takes away their ability to trust and feel safe. It makes them feel that they have lost control of their own bodies. Molest is never minor to the victim.”
Nominated MP Anthea Ong told TNP that while restorative justice and ensuring the offender receives the necessary help is important, acknowledgement of the victim’s pain and trauma is of primary importance.
“For the victim, suffering is absolute, and the decision of whether an act committed without consent is major or minor should take into account the trauma of the victim, not the background, academic ability or future of the perpetrator.”
Ms Joseph said some reactions stem from pervasive myths about sexual violence.
“An incident of harassment being minimised or dismissed as ‘minor’ in court is yet another obstacle to a survivor seeking resolution,” she said, adding that such factors lead to victims choosing to remain silent.
“Close to seven in 10 (Aware) clients do not report their experiences to the authorities.”
MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Alex Yam said in a Facebook post yesterday that he was disturbed by Siow’s sentence and the argument of “potential to excel in life” as the basis for a non-custodial sentence.
He also noted that the police had said earlier this year that “committing outrage of modesty on board public transport is an aggravating factor that may result in a higher sentence”.
The police said in their most recent annual crime statistics release that cases of sexual harassment on public transport remain a concern, with 202 incidents last year.
Commenting on the strong online reactions to the apparent bias towards academic abilities, sociologist Tan Ern Ser said it could be that the case signals to the public a lack of equality in the eyes of the law.
The NUS associate professor added: “It may have touched a raw nerve because they are opposed to class-based privileges that have no bearing on the offence.
“If anything, they expect an educated person to know how to behave, if not exemplarily.”
Ms Siew hopes that the prosecution will appeal against Siow’s sentence.
“He acted intentionally by following me so he could molest me for a third time.
“It was not a spur of the moment decision,” she said.