August 24th, 2010

Singapore Gang Rape Case

Do we judge a victim of rape more harshly than the victim of any other crime? A look at reactions to a local gang rape case that suggest we do.

The judge said it was factually rape.

Five young men aged 17-19 versus one young woman aged 17.

… a gang sexual assault of a grave nature which the accused persons had perpetrated without her consent.

Despite this fairly clear-cut assessment, the charges were reduced and the five accused were found guilty of the lesser charge of “aggravated outrage of modesty.”

Why did the public prosecutor* agree to reduced charges? We may never know but the favoured theory of the rumour mill was echoed in recent TNP coverage:

Blame: Exhibit 1

“…she […] was not completely blameless.”
– The New Paper (14 August)

In other words, it was partly her fault.

If this reasoning sounds familiar or even sensible it is because we believe it to be true in almost every case of rape. You don’t even have to know the facts of a case to know this will be suggested.

So what are the facts in this particular case?

According to various news sources the story goes like this (some details omitted for brevity):

WARNING: This account is graphic. Skip to the next section if you are disturbed by stories of violence.

The boys wanted female company. The group leader got the girl’s number from one of the others and called her claiming to be a schoolmate. The victim accepted the invitation for supper and was surprised when she arrived at the apartment to find a group of guys she didn’t know (only one of the five was known to her). After some reluctance, she agreed to enter the flat. There they played drinking games and she consumed more than five shots of vodka. Her head was spinning and her vision impaired. In this state, after some pressure, she became aroused by the boy who kept hitting on her. She agreed to sex with him alone in the bedroom. When the two later emerged, she went to sleep off her stupor on a bench in the common area. While she rested, she was carried back into the bedroom and stripped naked. Someone said “let’s start.” Then, over the course of the next two hours, each took their turn as they held her down. Some penetrated her vaginally, others orally. When they were done, she was left bleeding from vaginal trauma. They helped her wash up then gave her $10 for cab fare home.

So how can she be blamed in such a hideous scenario?

One lawyer explained it as follows:

It’s like driving while intoxicated. You have to take some responsibility for your actions.

It seems the victim was guilty of drunk driving a vulva.

Let’s look at a very similar situation.

If a man were to get completely drunk and wander into a dark ally, is he responsible when he gets beaten up and robbed? We acknowledge that his behaviour was risky and the outcome foreseeable. But would his risky behaviour be grounds for reducing the sentences of the perpetrators? Do we say, “Well yes that was wrong of them but he did tempt them so it’s not totally their fault. He’s partly to blame.”

In this scenario, we do not mistake foolishness with provoking attack. The attacker doesn’t receive leniency just for finding easy prey.

Then why, in the case of rape, does the same failure result in blame?

As a society we generally hold the belief that women must always be on guard to protect their virtue because men cannot always control their natural urges.

To be raped is to fail at this duty of care. It is thus a matter of shame to be a victim. What other crime causes the victim to feel such shame?

And when we blame the victim, the inference is “so it’s not totally his fault.”

A rapist is not a victim of opportunity. His youth or mental capacity may provide reasons for leniency but we should feel no sympathy simply because he found an easy victim who failed to expect violence and failed to exercise caution.

Now before anyone gets bent out of shape because of situations where there may be a genuine misunderstanding about consent, let’s remember where we started this discussion. This is a clear-cut case of gang rape. Any guy finding himself with four friends holding down and penetrating a drunk girl is under no doubt he is engaged in a violent criminal act.

So why, even in this very shocking scenario, do we still ask, “How may she have brought this on to herself?”

It seems we just can’t help ourselves. It’s illogical, indefensible and certainly not just or compassionate. Yet the idea of female culpability is deeply entrenched in our psyche.

Stop blaming the victim.

A woman may expose herself to risk for many reasons: youthful innocence, a trusting nature, a carefree attitude, lack of cynicism and suspicion, thrill seeking behaviour, desire for acceptance, and so on.  Whatever the reason, it is not an invitation to rape.

The failure of a woman to adequately assess the risk of attack does not mean that she caused what happens and should take blame for it.

Yes, we should educate and encourage women to limit their risks, but this should not in any way imply that the victim is responsible for being violated.  We need to stop blaming the victims of rape.

*The public prosecutor acts on behalf of the state, not the victim. The prosecutor is NOT the victim’s lawyer. Rape carries a sentence of up to 20 years in jail. Aggravated outrage of modesty carries a sentence of up to 10 years however the public prosecutor only asked for 3-5 years in this case.



Note: AWARE is concerned about this case and has written to the Attorney General’s Chambers to seek clarification as to why such unusual leniency was shown in this serious gang sex assault case.



  1. I do believe a more prominent trigger warning at the top of the article might be helpful. This point aside, however – yes. Thank you so much for continuing to advocate against victim-blaming, which is so pervasive and prevalent that sometimes we don’t even register it because we can’t take it any more and have to shut it out.

  2. Ling

    I hope this opinion gets more press, we really should band together to protect the rights of victims.
    The victim should not be judged on perceived moral failings.

  3. Phlebas

    I agree with the perspective of this article.

    it is shocking and horrifying that ‘blaming the victim’ is still a valid tactic in the legal system, especially with regards to rape cases.

  4. Cher

    Yes please stop the “victim”-blaming! This results in a lot of self-blame on top of the trauma that is already experienced. This also results in a lot of rape cases being unreported, as the survivor* fears that it might be perceived as their fault.

    *I prefer to use the word “survivor” for all sexual assault cases.

  5. Just a Man

    Personally i would kick a rapist between the legs to the end of the world and have his organ taken off permanently. But in the above case, i think the victim voluntarily place herself in a very precarious environment. Not that she deserves to be raped but she could have avoided it. As for “…she […] was not completely blameless.” I do think she inadvertently played a part in creating the environment for the tragedy to happen.

    • bloodymary

      If a man means to rape a woman, then he should tell her straight out if she’d like to be raped, rather than ask her out to play card games or for drinks. I do not know how you could come to the conclusion that all men who desire female company or who buy women drinks only want to rape them. The men are clearly at fault because they lied about their identities and did not make their intentions of rape clear. I’m sure you wouldn’t say that your female friends or colleagues are “stupid” for agreeing to have a drink with you so why is this any different?

  6. Stupidity

    Rape should never be condoned. However it is shocking that a girl is stupid enough to enter a house with 4 other male strangers and become totally intoxicated, she voluntarily put herself in the precarious position. Plus the fact that she voluntarily engaged in a sexual act with a stranger, she was misleading the group of guys to think that she is a loose woman. The guys deserved to be caned and jailed for their acts but the judge is right to say that she is not totally blameless. She entered the Lion’s den voluntarily (she was sober at that time). Haven’t we seen enough news on similar incidents to learn from them? Just recently, a girl in HK was gang-raped after boarding a yacht with complete strangers.

    • Wake Up

      By “loose woman” presumably you mean a woman with the sexual morals of a man.

      Even if she signaled she was sexually liberated enough to have sex with a stranger, there is no way anyone could conclude she consented to sex with 5 men or there was any confusion on that point.

      They set a trap, found a victim and executed it to precision. Of course the weak get picked off – not the strong. But just because there are predators who can spot easy prey, it doesn’t make the prey responsible or in any way to blame.

    • buiqes

      Dear Stupidity,

      a) a girl meeting a group of boys while intoxicated does NOT make it ok to rape her.

      b)sleeping with ONE boy does not mean she is open to a gang bang.

      this girl is young and naive and was BADLY taken advantage of.
      she is blameless.
      no means no.

  7. Tania De Rozario

    Dear Stupidity: I am glad you picked a pseudonym that adequately reflects your opinions. I am waiting for the day when a man is characterised by public opinion as being “a loose man” for having sex with a stranger.

    Saying that a woman who has been raped is not completely blameless because she entered a space with 4 male strangers and because she subsequently got intoxicated, is just plain misogynistic and not to mention, very insulting towards men in general. Your comments assume that men are ill-intentioned and violent, which is an unfortunate opinion that renders half the human population no better than animals.

    • I am waiting for the day when a man is characterised by public opinion as being “a loose man” for having sex with a stranger.

      Are you kidding? Such a productive member of (male) society is to be rightly feted! /snark

      I’ve always enjoyed your blistering approach to misogyny, Ms de Rozario. Thank you, and keep going. :)

    • Jabir

      just because it might be insulting to men to assume that they might be ill-intentioned and violent doesn’t mean that they aren’t actually ill-intentioned or violent. the woman might not be blameworthy for being raped, but it seems fair to say that she is blameworthy for her risky behavior. risky behavior isn’t criminal and is maybe just a function of one of many reasons mentioned in the article: “youthful innocence, a trusting nature, a carefree attitude, lack of cynicism and suspicion, thrill seeking behaviour, desire for acceptance, and so on.” But then couldn’t one argue that rape is also a function of factors similar to these?

      • Whether or not a rapist is characterised by “youthful innocence, a trusting nature, a carefree attitude, lack of cynicism and suspicion, thrill seeking behaviour, desire for acceptance, and so on”, there is a tremendous difference between exercising one’s right to dressing freely, and violating the bodily autonomy of another human being. A very, very stark difference.

      • M

        To assume all man are ill intentioned and violent is an assumption that is hard to practice in real life and easily disprove of, for all I need is one that is not ill intentioned or violent and I am glad to tell you that there is at least one that I know of one that do not believe in violence. By the way, he is also a leader of a country.

        By the same problem, the law in general assumes innocence until proven guilty (please forgive me for my ignorance for common law and by this concept, I would prefer assume that one is acting in bona fide and then try to disprove it. It will be easier to go around with that than to assume everyone is ill intentioned and thus I should be wary of them. I find it exceedingly unimaginable that a person actually believes everyone around him as ill intentioned and then try to filter those good people out. I must admit that no degree of goodness can actually make a person less ill intentioned than the assumed one.

        I find hardly any reasons to say that the lady is in the wrong or even blameworthy to begin with. I see many ladies going around and fooling around with a bunch of guys. But does it mean that she should be beware of them even though they are acquaintences? In this case, I think the guy who invites her has a duty to provide her protection since she is in his residences (by rules of TORT I believe, apologies if I am abusing my pathetic knowledge of law.). She is there as a visitor, a visitor to keep her school mate company and have drinks with them, not a sex toy. Maybe afterwards, she decided to have some pleasure with one of the young chaps. But that is not necessarily an invitations to others. The same rule applies to guys. You might be interested in one girl in a group but not all the girls (for whatever reasons such as looks and attitudes, they might not interest you.).

        The only reason that I can fault her on is that she did not attempt to extricate herself after she got drunk. But I would give her the benefit of doubt that with sufficient amount of alcohol, she has been rendered incapable of sane thinking ( there are some signs of that in the graphical description of the incident. ).

        Another thing to note is that the rule of warranty (as in the article) seems to indicate that the woman has to do all she can to protect her modesty. She relies on herself. Yet man has to rely on the woman protecting her modesty to prevent man from turning into a beast. By that, are we not implying that man are inferior beings requiring the help of another being to prevent us from reducing ourselves into beast.

      • sureesh

        Jabir, as a man myself, I find your attittude to be disgusting.

  8. Bella

    If rape was due to factors similar to these it would imply that it was all good innocent fun which is a serious trivialization of a violent premeditated crime.

    People seem to not understand that there is a difference to criminal responsibility and personal responsibility.

  9. Izzy

    Risky behaviour by a woman is not an invitation for men to have access to her body without her consent. If one comes across an unlocked house with a pile of cash lying on a table in plain sight, only a person with no integrity would proceed to steal the money. Decent folks would not even think about taking what is rightfully not theirs. As much as I hate to say this, there will always be double standards applicable to men and women, and here we are thinking we have come a long way from the jurassic ages.

  10. J

    volenti non fit injuria

  11. Foongyee

    Having poor judgement, failure to exercise due caution, and/or being too trusting do not equate an invitation to be raped, or have your privacy or space invaded in any manner. And in this case, with the limited information we have but given we know she accepted the advances of only one man while she was conscious, I’m even hesitant to say she had poor judgement. Who knows what may have been said to gain her trust and get her into the house in the first place? Regardless, this is not a case where a girl deliberately took a step onto the road and stared as a bus came right at her.  Oh and a drunk man who is sodomized under similar circumstances would never find himself facing such a lack of justice because anal sex, with or without consent, is still illegal in Singapore. Whereas, Ladies, silence may be taken to mean legal consent when it comes to heterosexual intercourse. Sometimes in situations where struggling is involved and help has to be enlisted to hold you down, may apparently also be taken as consent.  

  12. arsenal_84

    it was a poor verdict for this case.