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SINGAPORE: A 35-year-old man has been sentenced to six months’ jail for groping a junior colleague at their workplace after months of sexually harassing her over text message.

The man pleaded guilty on Monday (Apr 11) to two charges of outrage of modesty, with another charge considered for sentencing.

The identities of the offender and victim, and the location of their workplace where the offences took place are protected by gag order.

The victim left her job shortly after the incidents took place, while the offender has since taken up a new job.

PERSISTENT HARASSMENT

The court heard that the offender developed feelings for the victim and obtained her contact details after she joined his team at work.

The offender was the colleague’s senior at work, although he was not her supervisor.

Between March and December 2020, he sent her sexualised messages over WhatsApp, persisting even though she ignored them.

In March that year, he told the victim: “Swear if I single … we’ll be flirting hard haha”. He also told her she had a “nice bum” and that “bums are actually my weakness”.

On one occasion, he asked her if she ever felt sexually aroused while at work.

Another time, he sent a photo of her as a teenager that he had found on her Instagram profile. He asked her why she had not taken any photos recently as she was “sexier” and “voluptuous” now.

The victim felt very uncomfortable receiving these messages. She would either not reply, or change the topic when she eventually responded.

GROPED TWICE IN AN HOUR

On the evening of Dec 30, 2020, the offender and victim were working together when he told her: “Your butt is big now.” She ignored his remark and continued what she was doing.

The man then moved closer to the victim and used his hand to caress her buttock over her clothing. The victim was uncomfortable and moved away. However, he followed her and groped her buttock.

The woman quickly completed her task and left the office. She returned to her desk about an hour later and was sitting there when the offender approached to tell her he was leaving for home.

The man said he wanted to give her a fist bump to say goodbye. After she gave him a fist bump, he groped her breast.

Shocked, the victim moved backwards and bumped into the chair of another colleague, who was oblivious to what was happening. The offender hurriedly left the office.

The victim told her boyfriend about what had happened later that day, and made a police report the next day.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran sought six months’ jail for the offender, highlighting that his actions involved workplace sexual assault against a background of persistent sexual harassment.

He noted the importance of deterring such offences by senior colleagues, saying: “Colleagues who are junior in terms of seniority may still be wary about speaking out against their senior counterparts for fear that they would not be believed or supported.”

The prosecutor also pointed out that the offender had groped the victim’s breast in the presence of another colleague, which was a brazen act.

The accused, who did not have a lawyer, conducted his own defence. He told the court that “a lot of things have changed” since the offences, in particular the birth of his child.

He said he was facing financial problems as he took a while to find a new job after the offences, and had to accept a lower paying position.

“I understand the gravity of my situation, your honour,” he told the judge, adding: “It was a big mistake on my end. I know I shouldn’t have done it.”

District Judge Lim Wen Juin agreed with the sentence sought by the prosecution, describing the offences as a “substantial intrusion” into the victim’s physical well-being.

He also said that the pattern of sexual harassment meant her distress was not limited to the outrage of modesty offences.

Judge Lim deferred the sentence by one week upon a request by the accused for time to sort out his finances.

For outraging a person’s modesty, the accused could have been jailed up to three years, fined, caned or given any combination of these punishments.