As part of our ongoing explainer series on sexual offences in Singapore and how the Act 15 of 2019 amendments to the laws will better protect the vulnerable, we have covered consent, definition of minors and commercial sex. In this article, we will explain the interpretations of various sexual offences that involve ‘child abuse material’, and identify the signs of an exploitative relationship. 

What is Child Abuse Material

The Act 15 of 2019 amendments to the law that took effect in 2020 highlight very clearly, the definition of child abuse material, in their various formats and possibilities, with certain related keywords from Sections 375 to 377BO that we will highlight and explain below.

According to the law, child abuse material refers to any material that depicts, or implies an image of a minor below the age of 16 as:

  • Victim of torture, cruelty or physical abuse;
  • Victim of sexual abuse;
  • Engaged in a sexual pose or activity, alone or with another person;
  • In the presence of another person who is engaging in sexual activity.

This material can also include offensive depictions or images of the genital or anal regions, and breasts if female, of someone who may appear to any reasonable observer to be below the age of 16.

The Important Keywords

There are several keywords and actions that are mentioned within these sections that we will select and simplify as they will provide us with a better understanding of how these new laws will work.  

  • Material: a film, video, photograph, printed matter, electronic record, computer game or just about any other depiction or image;
  • Image (visual): a still or moving, recorded or unrecorded visual produced by any means, and where the context requires, may also include three-dimensional images;
  • Image (person): an image that resembles an actual person so closely that an observer may not be able to tell the difference.
  • Structure: a temporary or movable structure such as a tent, vehicle or vessel;
  • Touching: includes touching another person using any other part of the body besides the hand, or using an object, or even through something else, eg. through fabric or a curtain;
  • Distribute: whether done electronically, digitally or in person, distribute refers to sending, publishing, supplying, showing, exhibiting, transmitting, communicating, making available for viewing, or access by another person, any child abuse material;

According to the law, a person will be committing an offence by simply distributing the material, even if the recipient never gains access to it. 

Exploitative Relationships

An exploitative relationship will be determined by the court based on certain factors and the circumstances of the case if the victim is a minor below the age of 18. These factors include:

  • The age of the minor;
  • The age difference between the minor and the accused;
  • The nature of their relationship;
  • The degree of control or influence the accused has over the minor.

The court will also presume their relationship was exploitative, unless proven otherwise, if the accused is a:

  • Parent, step-parent, guardian or foster parent of the minor;
  • De facto partner of the parent, guardian or foster parent;
  • Member of the teaching or management staff in the minor’s school;
  • Person the minor knew from a religious, sporting, musical group or class;
  • Custodial officer of the institution where the minor is detained; 
  • Registered medical practitioner to whom the minor is a patient;
  • Advocate, solicitor or counsellor where the minor is a client;

Consent Under Misconception 

For exploitative relationships involving non-minors, the main factor is consent, as well as the identity of the accused. In a situation where the victim provides consent for a non-sexual activity, without realising that the accused was planning a sex act instead, or the accused was not the person the victim was expecting, eg. husband imposter, etc. In this instance, the consent given earlier is no longer valid.

However, in another example, if person A tells person B that he is the CEO of a large company, although he is only the CEO’s clerk, and person B consents to sexual intercourse with person A, only to find out later who A really is, the court may determine that B’s misconception was as to the person’s attributes and not his identity and therefore, the consent may be considered valid.

Engaging a Lawyer

If you are currently in a situation that requires mediation or legal advice, it’s best to consult a lawyer who will be able to guide you through your options.

Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years from traffic offences, high-profile criminal cases – to family and divorce matters. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and a wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.