More teens sexually exploited by online predators, many cases unreported: Lawyers and counsellors | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

SINGAPORE – Ostracised and bullied in school, 11-year-old Jane (not her real name) sought refuge in an online karaoke app where she posted videos of herself singing the latest tunes.

She felt validated by the praise she received and was happy she could make friends.

Things took a sinister turn in 2021, when some of the people she was chatting with on the app made lewd comments about her body and asked her to send nude pictures of herself.

Eager to please them, the Primary 5 pupil complied and even met them in places like public carparks.

Some were men in their 30s, who molested her.

Jane’s mother found out what had happened only when she saw a nude photo of her daughter that had been leaked on social media, and made a police report. Jane’s case was subsequently referred to the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Child Protective Service.

Four lawyers and three counsellors told The Sunday Times they have seen more cases of teenagers under the age of 18 being sexually exploited by people they befriended online.

Mr Raphael Louis from Ray Louis Law Corporation said he has seen an estimated 30 to 40 per cent rise in such cases over the last five years, with victims as young as 10 years old.

He said: “These cases broadly fall into two categories. First, those involving victims looking for love or attention online who fall prey to the manipulation of predators lurking on social media and dating apps.

“Second, teens who offer sexual or companionship services, or accept such offers by people they befriend online, in order to make money.”

Court cases

At least three perpetrators were prosecuted earlier in January for sexual penetration of a minor under the age of 16. All three met their victims on social media or dating platforms.

Ethan Yan Weilun, 46, was sentenced to 14 months’ jail after pleading guilty to having sex with a 15-year-old boy he befriended on a dating app. He offered the teen $50 for sex, and they met four times between October 2021 and February 2022.

Lim Kar Heng, 46, was sentenced to 10 months’ jail for a similar offence. He offered a different 15-year-old boy $40 to perform an indecent act on him, and the latter did so in October 2021.

Mr Josephus Tan from Invictus Law Corporation said that in such cases, the onus is on the adult to take all reasonable steps to ensure that he or she is not sexually involved with a minor.

Mr Tan, who saw a 10 to 15 per cent rise in cases involving sexual exploitation of teens by online predators, added: “There are cases where minors lie about being older than 16 and the accused person accepted it at face value.

“But ignorance of a child’s age is no excuse. The adult must check that the youth is at least 16 before having sex, be it oral or penetrative. For commercial sex, the prostitute is required to be at least 18.”

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