June 1999

The pimp and the cabby




Here are two news articles from the Straits Times, one day apart, which I will put side by side.


9 May 1999
Straits Times

He rang for a cab only to be hit by another

Trainee Manager Vittrup Soren Jensen rang for a taxi and ended up being knocked down by another cab -- not once, but twice.

He had dialled for a CityCab but then he opened the door of a Yellow-Top thinking that it was the taxi that he had called. On realising his mistake, he shut the door and started to walk to the CityCab taxi which had stopped some distance ahead.

That was when Hari Ram Tirath Yadav, 41, drove his Yellow-Top into Mr Jensen and hit his back. Hari then reversed, and ran into him again. The impact sent Mr Jensen flying across the road.

The cabby of over nine years admitted committing a rash act that endangered Mr Jensen's life and was jailed for four months in a district court earlier this week.

He was also banned from driving for a year.

Hari, who is married with three children, has also apologised to Mr Jensen and compensated him with $1,000, his lawyer told the court in mitigation.

Mr Jensen, who is Danish, told the Sunday Times last night that he suffered a cut on his head which required 13 stitches, and had bruises on his back. He also had to stay overnight in hospital as a result.

Recalling the night of Jan 21 this year, Mr Jensen, who had been staying in Singapore for about 10 days then, said he had called for a taxi to take him from his workplace at Defu Lane 8 to Emerald Hill off Orchard Road.

As he was waiting on the roadside, a CityCab taxi drove past and stopped some distance away. At the same time, a Yellow-Top taxi which Hari was driving, stopped right in front of him.

Thinking this was the taxi which he had called for, Mr Jensen opened the rear door. But as he was about to get in, his colleague, who was with him, told him that it was the CityCab in front that he should be taking.

"So, I said to the driver, 'I'm very sorry. I guess this is the wrong taxi. I have to take the one in front'. As I was walking in front of the taxi to the other, he hit me in the back. I fell on the road."

Then, as Mr Jensen slowly got up and faced him, "he reversed, and bumped into me again. I flew straight into the air and hit a lorry parked on the other side."

"I didn't know people could be like that," he said.


8 May 1999
Straits Times

Jail for man who ran den for male whores

A 46-year-old man who ran a vice den for male prostitutes was jailed four years yesterday for abetting four Malaysians to commit acts of gross indecency.

This is the third time Tan Keng Soon had committed such offenses.

Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of abetting the four, aged between 16 and 23, to provide sexual services such as oral sex and masturbation to male clients.

He charged the clients $100 each between April 24 and 29.

Anti-Vice officers raided Century Hotel in Geylang on April 30 and arrested eight Malaysians along with Tan, also known as S-B-K or Alvin, and a 46-year-old customer.

Between April 24 and 30, Tan gave free food and lodging to the Malaysian prostitutes, who provided services at either an unknown apartment or at two Geylang hotels: Century Hotel and Happy Star Hotel. He collected $50 from the prostitutes for each introduction.

Tan had been jailed two months in September 1996 and 16 months in July 1997 for similar offenses. Pleading for leniency, the father of two said he was a bankrupt and a divorcee.

He was sentenced to 12 months' jail on each of the eight counts, with four sentences running consecutively.


It struck me as patently disproportionate that the cabby got 4 months in jail while the pimp got 4 years, 12 times as long. The pimp was engaging in a completely consensual activity, willing buyer, willing seller. The cabby, on the other hand, did something which could have killed or paralysed another person.

Yet when I raised this subject with people, quite often the reaction was that we should look at the details of the cases. The actual facts of each case mattered a lot, which might not have been fully reported by the press. One had to consider too that it was the third offence for the pimp, the first offence for the cabby. We should also see whether the sentences were consistent with sentences in other cases for the same charge.

I must admit I was disappointed with those replies. It seemed to me that it was tantamount to not being able to see the forest for the trees. While it is true that the details of the cases mattered, the glaring issue was not whether the sentences were consistent each within its own class, but whether they were proportionate to each other when compared. 

Whatever the pimp did, was it so terrible that it justified a sentence 12 times more severe than the taxi-driver who deliberately drove his vehicle into Vittrup Jensen?

A pimp does not really hurt people, unless one can show coercion on his part when engaging in his business. Male prostitutes tend to be free agents, free to get into the business, free to get out. In any case, there was no evidence in his case that his guys were under any coercion. His clients, far from being coerced, were happy to get the service, otherwise they wouldn't be paying money. Now, some pimps go out to solicit business, and this may cause annoyance to uninterested people. There was no mention in this case that this was so, but even if it were so, how much annoyance is that? Especially when compared to someone driving his vehicle into you, sending you flying across the road.

There were eight counts in the pimp's case, one might say, and it added up. Which only begs another question. Why, with 4 prostitutes, he faced eight counts, and why when the taxi-driver hit Jensen twice, there was no mention of two counts. He didn't hit Mr Jensen twice in a single pass. He hit the man twice in two discrete movements of the vehicle, driving forward in the first instance, and reversing into him the next.

Furthermore, consider this: Hari Yadav, the taxi-driver was charged with committing a "rash act". That struck me as overly lenient in itself. He should have been charged with causing grievous hurt. A rash act is a stupid, foolish, careless and negligent act which is potentially dangerous. But Hari Yadav deliberately drove into Jensen, knocked him down, and to compound it, then reversed into him, throwing him against a lorry across the road. The taxi-driver was not being foolish or rash, he was being deliberately vengeful!

Singapore law on pimping

I also noticed that the pimp was, strictly speaking, not charged with pimping. He was charged with abetting gross indecency between men, one of the anti-homosexual clauses in our law. In other words, his crime was of furthering homosexuality, not one of furthering prostitution, 

I decided to enquire into this area of the law by asking a lawyer friend for some details. This is what he said:

The law on offences relating to prostitution of women and girls is found in the Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1997 Ed). Prostitution is defined in the Women's Charter as "the act of a female offering her body for promiscuous sexual intercourse for hire, whether in money or in kind."

There are various provisions on offences relating to prostitution. But briefly, any person who procures any woman or girl to have either within or without Singapore, carnal connection except by way of marriage with any male person or for the purpose of prostitution either within or without Singapore, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years and shall also be liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000. Any MALE person who is convicted of a second or subsequent offence shall be in addition to any term of imprisonment, be liable to caning.

Another "pimping" section in the Women's Charter reads like this : Any person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution of another person shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000. Again, any male person who is convicted of a 2nd or subsequent offence shall in addition to any term of imprisonment, be liable to caning.

It is obvious that the offence of procurement and/or pimping carries a mandatory imprisonment sentence.

Another section in the Women's Charter which reads : any person who keeps, manages or assists in the management of a brothel shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $3,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both and, in the case of a 2nd or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both.

Here, the section does not impose a mandatory imprisonment term for managing a brothel.

The immediate problem, as you can see, is that prostitution in Singapore law must involve a woman having sex with a client. (Which leads me to wonder whether there is any law against supplying a male prostitute to a female client.)

So now we have unearthed another absurdity in our laws. He who goes pimping male prostitutes to men is committing a different crime (with its own schedule of penalties) from he who pimps females to men. Not to mention that if you pimp male prostitutes to women, it appears to be completely legal! Whatever your views about prostitution may be, whether it should be legal or illegal, does this sound like good law? I think it's rather a shambles.

Offences against morals are worse than offences against persons

Coming back to my main point, the totally disproportionate sentencing of  the pimp and the cabby illustrate how lenient we are with violence, and how severe we are with offences against what are perceived as morals, never mind if nobody has been hurt. It shows how less concerned we are about redressing grievances and injuries between persons than imposing archaic ideas of moral order on others.

This kind of absurdity is not merely a curious oddity of no great consequence. When a justice system produces outcomes that fly against common sense and result in a sense of injustice, it undermines people's faith in it. No society can afford that.

Yawning Bread