Nine other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing. The man and the teenage victim cannot be identified due to a court order to protect her identity.
This was the first prosecution for an offence under a clause in the Penal Code that criminalises the exploitative sexual penetration of a minor between 16 and 18 years old.
Victim from ‘vulnerable background’
The court heard that the victim was placed in the shelter by MSF in September 2018, after she was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as suffering from an adjustment disorder, depressed mood and post-traumatic stress disorder.
She had been subject to sexual abuse from her biological father and had also witnessed her biological mother take her own life when she was 13.
It was at the shelter where she first met the man, who worked for a company that conducts youth camps for children in secondary school and young adults at the time.
In June 2019, during such a camp, the man learned that the girl hoped to enter foster care or to get adopted because she could not return to her biological family.
He then thought it would be “a good thing if he can offer her a family, adopt her and protect her from her biological father”. His wife agreed with the suggestion. The couple has two sons.
As they started the process to adopt her, he and his wife were assessed to be suitable “kith caregivers” by MSF, which meant they could care for her before her discharge from the shelter and while the adoption process was under way.
The court heard that the teenage girl expressed excitement over the chance to have a “real family”, after she interacted with the man and his wife at “befriender outings” from September 2019.
The man and his wife were also made aware of the girl’s past trauma and several mental conditions by her psychologist two months after that.
By December 2019, the teenager would stay overnight at the man’s home over the weekend for “home leave”. She would go on to have extended leave, staying at his home from January to March in 2020, and an extended continuous home leave from September 15 in 2020.
Told victim sexual acts were therapy
On one occasion before the extended home leave started in September 2020, the man blindfolded himself and asked the victim to remove her top at his home. He then asked her to describe what she saw of her body in a mirror and rest her chest against his body.
On multiple occasions, he had inappropriately touched her chest, which he said would help her body release “love chemicals”.
During a period when the teenager stayed at the man’s home, she slept in the same bed as the man and his wife because she frequently suffered from panic attacks, court documents stated.
The court heard that on one of the nights, the man used her mobile phone while touching her inappropriately to type the message “touch need not be sexual it could be for healing” and engaged in a sex act with her.
The next day, the teenager confronted him about the previous night, to which the man told her that he was willing to do anything to make her feel better, despite knowing that touching her this way was “risky” since he could go to jail.
The court heard that these sex acts would occur almost daily for close to two months until the middle of November 2020. In some instances, the man would film the acts with her knowledge, which he said would enhance the enjoyment of the acts.
Soon after the couple were appointed as caregivers of the girl in October 2020, the man asked the girl if she wanted to have sex with him.
As the teenager felt the urge to comply with whatever he wanted, she nodded, but later regretted it because she did not want to have sex with him but did not know how to reject him.
He later had sex with her on two occasions when his wife and two sons were not at home.
In early November 2020, the teenager asked to stop the sexual activities because she felt guilty about them, to which the man agreed. However, on November 15, he again asked her to engage in a sex act with him while she was lying in bed next to him and his wife.
The court also heard that the next day, while his wife was in the shower, the man removed his underwear and looked at the teenage girl, which she understood from previous times to mean that he wanted her to engage in a sex act with him.
Following this, she asked the man if he still considered her to be his daughter. After the man said yes, she asked why he did not treat her like a daughter, and he then admitted that the sex acts were no longer to “help” her but for his own pleasure.
‘Sick and depraved predator’
In court, Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Khoo, Janice See and Ng Shao Yan argued that the teenager was particularly vulnerable given her family background and previous trauma, which the man was aware of and exploited.
The court also heard that because the victim had no good paternal relationship with which to compare the man’s actions, she initially trusted that the sex acts were some form of therapy to help her overcome her aversion to touch from past trauma.
Khoo called the man a “sick and depraved predator” who had preyed on the vulnerability of a 16-year-old girl looking for a family to be with for the long term.
He added that there was severe harm done to the victim, who had shown signs of emotional trauma and said that she felt “worthless” and had experienced suicidal tendencies as a result of the sexual abuse.
The prosecution sought a sentence of 12 to 15 years’ jail and caning, grounding it on the man’s abuse of position of responsibility as the girl’s guardian and de facto father.
The man’s defence counsel Andre Jumabhoy said although the man’s involvement with the victim had “spiralled out of control”, the relationship began with a genuine desire from him and his wife to help the victim.
Since the man no longer worked with the company that organised youth camps and now worked in a different industry, any risk going forward would be “effectively dealt with”, Jumabhoy said.
To this, Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun agreed with the prosecution that the man had exploited the victim’s vulnerability and caused “tremendous emotional trauma” to her.
For each charge of engaging in a sexually exploitative relationship with someone between the ages of 16 and 18, he could have been sentenced to up to 15 years’ jail term and be fined or caned.