The man was released from prison in 2016 after serving his sentence of 24 years’ jail and 24 strokes of the cane for the statutory rape of his 11-year-old niece. But about a year after his release, he sexually abused his stepdaughter and her best friend who were aged between 12 and 13. At the High Court on 12 March 2020. the then 58-year-old recalcitrant sex offender pleaded guilty to one charge of sexual penetration of a minor and two counts of aggravated molestation.
Former student at a top British university Colin Chua Yi Jin, 23, voyeuristically filmed several women in Singapore and Britain between 2015 and 2018, targeting women he was close to.
When Chua was first summoned to court in 2019, there was a gag order that prevented him from being identified. But in 2021, the gag order was lifted.
While the man in the first case “got away” with being identified, Chua did not. He was even put on Singapore Registry for Sexual Offenders’, a Facebook page @SGHallofShame. It posted his name and photo, which had already made the rounds in The Straits Times. A netizen even commented scathingly for the site to, “make sure we let England know”.
Understandably, there are some who do not want a public sex offender registry in Singapore as such a database goes against the spirit of the Yellow Ribbon Project, which seeks to rehabilitate ex-convicts and get employers to give them a second chance.
In Singapore, corrective training is usually imposed on repeat offenders, without the usual one-third remission for good behaviour. Yet between 2017 and 2019, almost 3,000 victims below the age of 16 and 1,000 from ages 16 to 20 years were sexually assaulted, some of which are by repeat offenders.
In the United States (US), it has been found that a public sex offender registry is effective in reducing crimes by providing general deterrence. This is because of the enhanced monitoring of existing sex offenders.
Why sex offender registries were set up in the US
Perhaps it is important to understand why sex offender registries are created in the US. In 1994, seven-year-old Megan Kanka was sexually assaulted and brutally killed by a twice-convicted sex offender who was recently released from prison and was living down the street from her family.
Megan’s parents were never informed that a convicted sex offender was living about 27 metres from their home and as the crime shook the community, parents in the country demanded action to be taken. Many believed that the public needs to be informed about those who pose risks within the community.
Months after the little girl’s death, Megan’s Law was enacted in New Jersey, which made information about those convicted of sex crimes available to the public. Several years later, the US government passed the Wetterling Act, named after Jacob Wetterling who was abducted in 1989 and was missing for 27 years until his death was confirmed until his remains were found in 2016. The Act requires all states to notify the public of the addresses of convicted sex offenders.
It was in 2006 that the the Sex Offender and Notification Act (SORNA) was signed into law as part of the Adam Walsh Act. Six-year-old Adam Walsh was kidnapped from inside a Sears department store at the Hollywood Mall in 1981. His severed head was found two weeks later in a canal along Florida’s Turnpike and it was only in 2008, 27 years after Adam’s death that the police announced Ottis Toole, a drifter and serial killer, as the murderer.
Under SORNA, all states are required to maintain an online, searchable database of convicted sex offenders that provides their picture, home address, work address, and crime.
Law Minister K Shanmugam: Sex offenders public data goes against the grain of rehabilitation
But Singapore does not, and perhaps, will not have an official public registry.
In a Written Parliamentary Reply Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that a public registry would hurt rehabilitation efforts of ex-offenders. He said that under the Registration of Criminal Acts, the Police maintains a non-public record of those who were convicted of major crimes, including those of a sexual nature.
To strike a balance between safeguarding the vulnerable in society, Mr Shanmugam said that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) are working together to ensure that ex-offenders are not put in positions where they might potentially harm children.
In his written reply, Mr Shanmugam also referred to the example of a public sex offender registry in the US, the only one in the world of which his ministry is aware. He said a study had shown offenders on the list are more likely to reoffend as a result of being excluded from their neighbourhood and suffering job loss. The study also highlighted that registered sex offenders and their families experienced stigmatisation, harassment and abuse.
As such, Mr Shanmugam said, “We will need to consider the consequences and see if we should provide for further pathways for checking a person’s criminal antecedents, beyond the current approach.”
Yet, a group of women feel it is necessary to have such a data and they have set up an unofficial public sex offender registry on Facebook. Called the Singapore Registry for Sex Offenders, @/SGHallOfShame, the page is run by three women and it has over 2,000 likes.
The Facebook page publicly compiles a list of sex offenders in Singapore, the cases of which have been reported by mainstream media. Sex offenders on the site are shamed, their names, faces and occupations detailed.
Is Singapore Registry for Sex Offenders on Facebook flouting the law?
Nineteen-year-old Linda, is one of three women who run the Singapore Registry for Sex Offenders, @/SGHallOfShame page. Ms Linda declines to give her full name for fear of retaliation, especially when many of the sex offenders named have asked for the women to take down the page. She tells TheHomeGround Asia that the three of them had started this project “back in secondary school in 2015”. “This page simply serves as a compilation of sex offenders, based on credible sources that have been published. We do not create any content,” she says.
“We do not understand how any laws have been flouted from the sharing of these articles about sex offenders in Singapore,” she adds.
Confirming this, Mr Mohamed Iskandar, a Quality Service Manager at MHA, says “There is no offence for reposting such publicly available information related to sex offenders.”
But he says that if these repostings include “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or information that has not been made public, then these may constitute offences under the Protection from Harassment Act”.
The Protection from Harassment Act is enacted to make cyberbullying and online harassment a criminal offence. The Singapore Registry for Sex Offenders does not threaten or harass sex offenders in their posts but it inserts captions or summaries of the cases.
Should Singapore have an official public sex offender registry?
Ms Linda says, “These sex offenders, whose names have been published in local newspapers, have hurt women and children. They are fully responsible for the shame they have brought on themselves; which is nothing near the shame and hurt they have inflicted on their victims.The victims carry the hurt inflicted on them for life. Sex offenders must be deterred from re-offending, through the knowledge that their names will be smeared for life too.”
While publicly shaming sex offenders is “no consolation to their victims”, Ms Linda believes that whatever shame brought onto sex offenders can solely be attributed to their “own sick acts”.
“No one else is responsible for their shame,” she adds.
But Mr Iskandar stresses the need for a “balance” in dealing with sex offenders. “We try to balance between ensuring that persons who have committed serious sexual crimes are not employed in positions which may put children at risk. At the same time, we do not want to add to the stigmatisation of ex-offenders which hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration.”
Echoing what the Minister has said in the House, Mr Iskandar says, “To strike this balance, the Registration of Criminals Act allows the Police to maintain a record of persons convicted of serious offences, including sexual offences.”