SINGAPORE – Former Singapore Environment Council Executive Director Howard Shaw yesterday became the second man, among 51 charged so far, to be sentenced for paying for sex with a minor, as a judge rejected his claims of having made “an honest and reasonable mistake”.
Describing Shaw’s actions as “reckless”, Senior District Judge See Kee Oon sentenced the 41-year-old scion of the prominent Shaw family to 12 weeks in jail.
“It may have been a genuine mistake but not an honest and reasonable one. It was clearly self-induced,” the judge said in his oral grounds of decision.
In April, the judge sentenced former Pei Chun Public School Principal Lee Lip Hong to nine weeks’ jail for engaging the services of the same girl.
Yesterday, the judge noted that unlike Lee, Shaw did not enquire about the girl’s age at all.
Shaw had pleaded guilty last month to paying the 17-year-old girl S$500 for sex in October 2010. He had come across the website touting escort services while surfing the Internet. The website had claimed that the girl was 18.
In “looking for an 18-year-old for his liaison”, Shaw must have implicitly recognised “the risk that she might not actually have been 18”, the judge said.
But by not asking her age, Shaw was prepared to take the risk that she was a minor, he noted.
“He was reckless. He could have guarded against committing a potential offence but he did not take any steps towards this end,” the judge added.
The judge also noted the “significant age gap” between Shaw and the minor. “At the time of the offences, the accused was more than twice her age,” he said.
Earlier, Shaw’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh, argued against a custodial sentence, pointing out that Shaw had no intention to procure the services of a minor.
Given the “collusion and deceit” involved in the case – the minor and her pimp had both overstated her age – Mr Singh contended that a custodial sentence for the offence, which does not come with a mandatory jail sentence or a minimum fine, would be “absolutely draconian”.
Mr Singh also noted that the minor was neither coerced into the trade, nor the victim of trafficking.
However, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) S Sellakumaran pressed for a three-month prison sentence, based on precedents.
Noting the legislative intent of the law to protect minors, the DPP argued that subjective perceptions of a person’s maturity cannot play a part in evaluating culpability.
Mr Sellakumaran also noted that, although Shaw was convicted of one charge compared to Lee, who was convicted of two charges, the latter had “a strong record of service in the education sector” and had questioned the minor’s age.
Concurring, the judge said Shaw’s claims of being convinced the girl was above 18 – based on the website and from her “physical attributes, demeanour, behaviour and level of maturity” – cannot be a legitimate mitigating factor. “In any case, his belief was really conjecture or guesswork at best. He chose not to ask. Even if there was duplicity, he had allowed himself to be deceived,” the judge said.
He also reiterated that deterrent sentences are needed. “(Shaw) was among those whose demand for the flesh trade involving females (some of whom will be underage) ensures that there are still available sources of supply,” the judge said.
Shaw is out on S$10,000 bail. He has 10 days to appeal and, according to his lawyers, he intends to do so.
The maximum penalty for obtaining the sexual services of a person below 18 is imprisonment of up to seven years, or a fine, or both.