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Singapore teacher accused of molesting says sex talk was ‘just banter’

The teacher, who joined the co-ed school in 2010, faces three charges of outraging the boy’s modesty on Feb 17, 2016.  ― TODAY file picThe teacher, who joined the co-ed school in 2010, faces three charges of outraging the boy’s modesty on Feb 17, 2016. ― TODAY file picSINGAPORE — Taking the stand in court for the first time, a 38-year-old teacher accused of molesting a male student said yesterday that there was “no way” he could have placed his hands up the then 13-year-old’s thighs through his shorts, as he told the court that “my hands are huge”.

The teacher, who joined the co-ed school in 2010, faces three charges of outraging the boy’s modesty on Feb 17, 2016.

He cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim.

He is alleged to have squeezed the boy’s chest, touched his groin at least twice, and grabbed his left ankle before moving his hand up to the back of the victim’s thighs.

Yesterday, the court heard that on the day of the alleged incident, the boy and his friends were in the school’s art room after school. They, as well as some other students, were there to complete their sculpture project.

The teacher was also in the room, but he was moving from table to table helping students who needed assistance. He later left for a nearby art room to settle some work.

It was then that the boy came into the room to ask for help for his project, which was an animal sculpture that had a spider’s body, a crocodile head, and a scorpion’s tail, the court heard.

Noting that the sculpture’s legs were out of proportion, the teacher explained that they had to be shaped properly.

It was then that he “casually commented” that the boy’s legs were quite hairy, and followed up with questions if he watched, or read adult material, if he masturbated, or had a girlfriend.

The man told the court that it was banter, and that he had “no intentions to make it sexual”.

“It was a spontaneous subject. There was no intention of touching…of molesting him…it was not in my mind at all,” the accused said of the alleged incident, which he claimed lasted less than five minutes.

The teacher had said then after looking at his sculpture: “Look at your legs, there are some parts thick and thin”, before he remarked that the boy’s legs were very hairy.

The accused told the court: “‘I joked with him: ‘You must be very mature (for your age)’, and asked if it was because…he watched adult stuff’”.

He also pointed out that “the masturbation topic was very common (at Secondary 2) as it was part of sexual education syllabus”, as he stressed again that it was “just banter”.

Asked if he had a girlfriend, the boy was observed to have behaved in a bashful manner, and he laughed it off shyly.

The court heard that as the boy tried to move away from the teacher, the latter pulled him by the left side pocket of his school shorts, and jokingly told him not to lie.

When questioned by his lawyer Shashi Nathan if what he did was appropriate as he was a teacher, the accused admitted that while he knew it was not, the exchange was meant in jest.

He said: “To me it was casual banter…one-to-one. In big groups or in front of a class, I won’t talk like this.”

The next day, the teacher was asked to meet the school’s principal and vice-principal to discuss the incident. He said he was “shocked” when he was told the student had complained about being molested.

The boy’s allegations against the teacher were heard in court on Monday, where he stated that he could “feel (the teacher’s) fingers spreading out” in his shorts.

The accused vehemently denied the allegation, as he said that the shorts the students wore were “tight shorts, not loose shorts or bermuda shorts”.

He added: “My hands are huge, there is no way I can put it up his legs.”

The teacher’s report, which he wrote after the incident at the request of the vice-principal, was also read out in court yesterday.

Nathan pointed out to the accused that he had written that he had “touched (the student’s) thighs, saying…there was a lot of hair”.

In response, the teacher said he was rushed into writing the report that day, and in his state of panic, had written it incoherently. He said that his hand could have brushed against the student’s thigh when he pulled him by the pocket. He stressed that he never made skin contact with the boy, and he did not molest him.

The man told the court that he felt “regretful” at the time. “If it blew up, a lot of things would be affected…(like) my career,” he said.

“I love this job.”

The teacher, who was suspended from teaching a week after the alleged incident, saw his salary halved to S$1,500 (RM4,446.02) a month.

The trial continues next month, with the prosecution to cross-examine the teacher. If convicted, he faces up to five years’ jail and caning, or a fine for each charge.

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