Mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson was sent to four years’ imprisonment for having sex with two minors and filming them, as well as possessing the largest amount of child porn ever in Singapore.
Since then, a petition with over 27,000 signatories has called for a tougher jail sentence but the Attorney-General Chambers is not appealing and has stood by its sentence based on precedents of earlier cases before the court. Law minister K Shanmugam said he has asked his ministries to relook at the sentences Robinson received and how they can receive higher penalties.
A Singaporean breaks down the charge and why the sentence was given as such, and why Robinson did not receive caning. This comment on a Channel NewsAsia post has been republished with permission from Samuel Ling.
By Samuel Ling
TL;DR: I can understand the knee-jerk reaction to this case, but if you look at comparable cases, it can be seen why the sentence was “only” 4 years, without caning. Sadly it seems people lose their minds when they hear “foreigner”, “underage” and “child porn” mentioned in the same sentence.
We need to look at the case objectively, and the only way to do that is by referring to similar cases. And I must also say, we should be very disturbed if the petition had succeeded. The AGC is supposed to be seen to operate independently of political pressure, so you should be very concerned indeed if the law minister could order an increase in sentence willy-nilly, or if the AGC was seen to sway to public opinion (a balance must be struck though, the AGC’s actions need to be seen as just as well).
First, was his sentence really that light? Let’s look at some similar cases.
This dude got 12 months for sex with a 15 year old girl: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/man-jailed-12-months-for/1911298.html
This guy got 18 months for sex with a 15 year old girl: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/former-journalist-jailed-18-months-for-having-underage-sex-with-15-year-old
This guy got 4.5 years, but he had sex with his 13 year old student: http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/ex-teacher-jailed-45-years-sex-underage-student
This guy got 20 years, but his victims were 11-13 years old, so the charge was different (Section 376A(3)): http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/man-gets-20-years-jail-24/2014820.html
The present offender had sex with two 15 year old girls. How long should his sentence be? But note that he possessed copious amounts of child porn and showed an obscene vid to a 6 year old. This isn’t straight up math, but 4 years doesn’t seem out of the pale.
If I’m not wrong, he was convicted and sentenced under Penal Code Section 376A, for sex with a minor. I think what contributed to the seemingly light sentence was the relatively mature age of the victims (15+, only a couple months shy of being legal), and also because on the facts, it looks pretty consensual in the layman sense of the word. It is technically illegal, however, because the law recognises that minors below a certain age are incapable of giving valid consent for sex.
Was there consent though, in the layman sense? It seems doubtful there wasn’t. The first victim had sex with him on multiple occasions, and the second one showed up at his place in uniform without underwear, per his request. Both incidents were recorded on video. If there was any protest captured in the video, I’m pretty sure he’d have been charged with rape. So I shall state at this point that I think his seemingly light sentence seems likely to be due to the fact that his acts don’t appear to be non-consensual. That’s why he didn’t receive caning. (Editor’s note: AGC confirmed that both girls provided consent.)
Yes, I’m sure there’s going to be this whole debate again about how it’s rape if the girl doesn’t give verbal, continuing consent, but in the circumstances, I think it would be hard to prove in court. Furthermore, would we want to subject the victims to cross examination on the stand? Section 376A is a slam dunk: as long as he had sex, he’ll go to jail. The other charges may not be so easy to prove.
Now, why wasn’t he given caning? Caning is usually (besides vandalism and illegal immigration) reserved for crimes involving violence or use of criminal force. Here is a list of possible charges I could think of, as well as the maximum sentences (correct me if i’m wrong):
For the underage sex:
PC s376A sex with a minor between 14-16: No caning, 10 years
PC s375 rape: Has caning, 20 years but must be nonconsensual
PC s354 molest: Has caning, 5 years but must be nonconsensual*
PC s376E sexual grooming: No caning, 3 years
CYPA s7 sexual exploitation of young persons: No caning, 5 yrs
(*This one is a bit iffy. I haven’t done in-depth research, but from what I’ve found, it seems that a 15 year old can give valid consent except for sex. So that’s probably a dead end.)
For showing the obscene video to the 6 year old:
CYPA s7 sexual exploitation of young person: No caning, 5 years
PC s376E sexual grooming: No caning, 2 years
PC s293 sale of obscene objects to young person: No caning, 1 year
Undesirable Publications Act s6/11/12: No caning, 2 years
For filming his sex acts:
Films Act s29 dealings in obscene films: 2 years
For possession of child porn:
Undesirable Publications Act s6/11/12: No caning, 2 years
Films Act s30 possession of obscene films: No caning, 6 months
I hope I haven’t missed out any possible offences, but it seems that none of the possible charges that could be applied carries caning, except rape and molest, but those two will hinge on consent, or lack thereof (which, as explained above, seems iffy at best).
In terms of number of years of the sentence (i.e. why didn’t they give him 2×10 years, the maximum?) generally sentencing guidelines take a global approach, i.e. the totality of the crime is considered. You don’t want to send a guy to jail for 20 years because he shoplifted 100 items, for instance. referring to the cases above, where it seems sex with one 15 year old gets around 12-18 months, it seems not out of the pale that two 15 year olds, plus the child porn plus showing the obscene video added up to a total of 4 years.
I understand that this opinion may appear cold and calculating, in that I don’t seem to have considered the impact to the victims in coming to my conclusions. I wish to state at this point my disgust for his actions, particularly with regard to the 6-year old.
I apologise if this sounds very clinical, but vengeance is not justice. Deterrence on public policy grounds is another matter altogether, but only within legislated limits, and according to sentencing guidelines.
If the currently-legislated penalties are insufficient, Parliament, not the courts, is the forum to make changes. Retrospective sentencing (which is what some people are essentially asking for) goes against the fundamental principles of justice.
Is it time for a review of the seemingly lax laws on possession of child porn and statutory rape (at least in cases where there is a large age difference)? Perhaps. But that is up to Parliament to decide, not the AGC. If they can retrospectively increase the sentences for crimes, or be seen to cave to public pressure, that should worry us all.
While research on the area is understandably preliminary and insufficient, there are indications that pedophilia shares common characteristics with sexual orientation, in that it is immutable and innate. It is unfortunate for those thus afflicted that it must be criminalised because unlike even gay sex, consent is not possible. And paedophiles can’t legally satisfy their urges or seek help either.
While the crimes they commit against our society’s most vulnerable are abhorrent, it is impossible to tackle the problem head-on unless society has some frank, open discussions about the nature of paedophilia, and how to prevent paedophiles from acting on their urges. Currently, the problem is only addressed from an enforcement perspective, with no resources devoted to prevention.
By which time, it is too late for the victims.
Editor’s Note: The post was edited on March 9 to include the actual charges that the Attorney-General Chambers used, which were released after this comment was published
Photo: YouTube screengrab