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Cyber-sexual harassment – a shocking story

June 19, 2011 1 comment

This post is actually somewhat personal, but it actually happened to a friend of mine in Singapore.  It is a shocking story about how a man hijacked a woman’s identity, abused it, and how the Singaporean legal system appears to be utterly impotent in protecting its own citizen.

Cyber Harassment and Women’s Rights

[Excerpt]

My life has not quite been the same since 2nd Nov 2010. A person whom I helped in real life decided to destroy my life by posting my personal details bearing my name, age, ethnic group, work and mobile phone numbers, workplace and home address in an online ad as a teacher in Singapore advertising for sexual services.

This person (for the sake of convenience, I shall call him the impersonator) also stole pictures of me from a friend’s Facebook photo album and posted it along with my personal particulars these online ads which were placed in local classified online ad websites as well as on international pornographic sites. He also created a fake Facebook profile on me bearing my name.

He impersonated me online and chatted with men and had them to call and visit my school where I teach and my residence to “indulge in rape fantasies in my school toilets.” He also incited men “catch me by surprise at my home and school.”

What has been rather shocking is the attitude of the Singaporean law enforcement authorities to her complaints.

From my experience with cyber harassment, it is very frustrating when ever I articulated my fears to the authorities about me (or my female pupils) being sexually attacked as these fears were dismissed as “just talk by cowards hiding behind the cloak of the internet” , or when they dismissed the perpetrator as “ a juvenile delinquent or mischief-maker”. I was made to feel that I was making a mountain out of a molehill despite receiving numerous rape threats bordering on the hundreds and visitation by men at my home for “sexual services’ who wanted to “catch me by surprise” by either “hid[ing] in my school toilet to rape me and my female students as instructed by [me]” or “wait[ing] at my flat’s void deck to rape me.”

So the cavalier attitude adopted by the law enforcement agencies in regards to my case of cyber harassment only demonstrated to me this: Cyber harassment is gender discrimination as women in my country need to tolerate these cyber “pranks”. Despite the identity of the perpetrator known to the authorities and the fact that he admitted to creating the ad and impersonating me, he is still out there and free to send even more men to my home and workplace to “indulge in [my] rape fantasies.”

I get the impression that the authorities will only take action when I do eventually get raped by one of these men sent by the perpetrator or when one of my female pupils gets raped. Even then, the perpetrator might walk free as the rape might be committed by the “minions of sexually frustrated men or perverts” whom he incited to visit me.

The law enforcement officer in charge of cybercrime have also advised her that “law in Singapore has not evolved to deal with cases like this.”  This turns out to be a rather strange statement, because as my friend found out, there are actually quite a few laws in Singapore that appear to deal with cyber-sexual harassment, such as the Indian Penal Code and the Computer Misuse Act.  Infringement of the latter legislation in Singapore carries a maximum of two years imprisonment.

Perhaps it is closer to the truth to suggest that law enforcement authorities in Singapore have not quite caught up with the law.  Not an unusual situation in many developing countries, but one would have expected better from Singapore.  If this has happened in Australia, the media would have pounced on it, and the relevant minster would front out to the camera and face some tough questions.  I am not familiar with the role of the Singaporean media in Singaporean society, but this is where a robust media can play a vital role in a civil society.

Neuroscience, neurolaw?

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This is from a popular Canadian talk show, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, screen on TVO (TV Ontario).  Normally I would focus on media reports from Australia and the US, but the topic of this discussion is very relevant to the whole question of mens rea and the use of ‘insanity’ as a defence against criminal charge, especially in the light of advances in neuroscience.

I will comment further about this, because this might not be easy to comprehend for senior Legal Studies students.  I will also post a paragraph illustrating how to integrate this kind of media report discussion into a crime essay.

Where is the burden of proof? (‘Calls for law reform after girl sold for sex’)

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This is not a pleasant case, but it raises important legal issues worthy of critical reflection.  Read the media report and then ask yourself whether there are certain circumstances where the onus of proof should be on the defendant rather than the prosecutor.

‘Calls for law reform after girl sold for sex’ (ABC News, 29 September 2010)

The case involved the girl whose mother and a man named Gary Devine advertised her in the local paper as being an 18-year-old prostitute.

They have been jailed for 10 years for their crimes.

More than 100 people raped the girl in Hobart last year but the Director of Public Prosecutions has told police he does not have enough admissible evidence to take all of the men to court.

Convicting the two adult guardians is straight forward.  But there are also more than 100 people who could be convicted of statutory rape of this under-aged girl.  Convicting them has proven to be a lot harder.  This is because many of them proclaimed ignorance of the girl’s actual age and the prosecution has found it hard to prove otherwise.  This has lead to calls for legal reform whereby in statutory rape case, the onus would be on the defendants to show that they are ignorant of the victim’s actual age.  Professor Caroline Taylor from Edith Cowan University is one of those who call for reform.

Professor Taylor says in underage sex cases the onus of proof must be identified by the Crown.  This means that in rape cases in which age is an issue, perpetrators can claim ignorance…

“What it means is we have unworkable laws that fail to protect children. We have a legal system that acknowledges that it traumatises children and therefore the loser in every case is children.”

Professor Taylor says the law should be reformed so the onus is on the defendant to prove he or she believed the child was older.

Categories: Criminal Justice

SuperMax inmates ‘uses’ facebook and the government is exploring ways to stop it

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Some of our most notorious prisoners, such as Ivan Milat and Bassem Hamzy, have apparently set up Facebook profiles.  Obviously they don’t really have access to computers inside prisons, but they are probably set up by relatives and friends.  There are security-related concerns and the NSW Minister for Corrective Services, Phil Costa is exploring ways to stop it.

Costa looks at new law to stop inmates having Facebook profiles (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 September 2010)

The state government has refused to rule out introducing legislation that would ban Facebook profiles being created on behalf of NSW prisoners.  The Corrective Services Minister, Phil Costa, said he would seek to have prisoners’ profiles removed from Facebook after revelations in the Herald that inmates of SuperMax, where the worst criminals are kept, have a presence on the social media website.

Family and friends are believed to manage the profiles, helping inmates to stay in touch with the outside world.

However, this is perhaps where legal means of addressing legal issues arising from cyberspace might falter.  A more effective approach might be non-legal, involving establishing a cooperative relationship between facebook and governmental authorities.

David Vaile, the executive director of the cyberspace law and policy centre at the University of NSW, said the government should establish a working relationship with online services such as Facebook.

Such relationships would be more effective than a new law in removing offensive or inappropriate material. ”The way you put pressure on companies that you don’t have direct legal power over is by having a good relationship … and by being seen as measured and reasonable and only asking them to deal with the most extreme matters,” he said.

Population will drive gun crime (ABC News, 18 August 2010)

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

There seems to be a consensus that Howard’s gun buy-back scheme was tremendously successful in reducing gun related deaths in Australia.  This view has been backed by previous research by law reform agencies as well as academic research from US (see previous post).  However, as this media report suggests, other social factors will have a negative impact on the effectiveness of our gun-control legal mechanisms.

Population will drive gun crime (ABC News, 18 August 2010)

The Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland says he expects a rise in gun crime and shootings as Melbourne’s population continues to increase.

Mr Overland says he believes the state’s gun control measures are adequate.  But he says a swelling population is largely to blame for events such as those seen in recent days.

“Obviously we don’t want these things to occur, but we live in a very big city nowadays,” he said.

“Unfortunately as population increases, we know that these sorts of issues will increase, as we have bigger and bigger populations living here in Melbourne.”

So, despite our best effort, increase in gun related deaths, particularly gun crimes, will probably increase due to pressure from population growth in urban areas.

Categories: Case Study, Criminal Justice Tags:

‘Law plan would remove juries from more trials’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2010)

This might have profound implication for the nature of criminal justice system in the state of New South Wales.

Law plan would remove juries from more trials‘ (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2010)

The media report centres on a parliamentary inquiry ordered by the NSW Attorney-General, John Hazistegoras, to investigate the possibility of removing juries from many types of criminal trials.  Since this is still in the realm of parliamentary inquiry, we are really swimming in the realm of speculation.  What is clear from this media report is that the current jury system needs reform.

Jury system has been an integral part of the our adversarial criminal justice system for centuries.  It is based on the long established notion that crimes are offences against the community and therefore defendants in a criminal trial should tried by a jury panel who represents the community.  Trial by jury has been regarded as a legal right that protects defendants.

However, it is becoming apparent that the current system is not working too well.

Critics say juries are overwhelmed by complex cases where there is extensive technical or scientific evidence. There are also concerns that jurors may let emotion cloud their judgment or be intimidated or bullied into a decision.

Several-high-profile trials have been aborted because jurors fell ill, looked up the case on the internet or went on their own illicit fact-finding missions.

In some circumstances, particularly if a case centres on an issue that requires the application of objective community standards, it may be more appropriate to have the trial before a jury rather than a judge alone,” Mr Hatzistergos said.

“But it may be less essential where cases are particularly long and complex and place a heavy burden on the jury.’

Jurors after all, are humans.  In fact they are mere mortals who often have no legal training apart from this provided by the court.  I am inclined to agree with some of these criticisms levelled at the current jury system in NSW.

‘Legal issues over Hey Dad! media frenzy’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 2010)

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Those who read Australian newspapers will not be able to ignore the recent case surrounding the allegation of sexual abuse by the retired actor, Robert Hughes, in the long running television comedy series, Hey Dad!.  The media all seems to be giving the impression that Robert Hughes is quite possibly guilty of sexual abuse of several female cast members.  What is interesting is whether the media attention to this case would jeopardise the subsequent court hearing.

ACTOR Robert Hughes could have a potential criminal case against him thrown out of court because of the media frenzy surrounding the Hey Dad! sex scandal, a legal expert has warned.

Greg Barns, a director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said it was possible a judge might find Hughes unable to receive a fair trial…

Mr Barns said that the people calling for Hughes to be charged could be hindering the legal process.

”The difficulty I had with what A Current Affair has done is it has effectively carried out a trial without the safety of a trial,” he said. ”It’s aired very serious allegations on an individual … it has created a feeding frenzy around Mr Hughes.”

He said the attention could make it ”harder” for Hughes to get a fair trial if charges were laid.

”Particularly with someone high profile like that, it can taint a jury pool,” he said.

This raises an interesting question.  What should be the responsibility of the media in dealing with legally sensitive cases, especially those involving public figures?