Graduate Hall 1, situated on the edges of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) campus, looks like any regular apartment block. But behind the nondescript facade, one of the 476 rooms in the building had allegedly been turned into a secret sex dungeon.
The room belonged to Jack (not his real name), a graduate student at the College of Science. He is accused of luring unwitting students to take part in a fake “body stimulation research project” held in his room, where he would keep them bound and blindfolded on his bed before performing sexual acts on them.
Jack had allegedly put up a research advertisement online on Gumtree, Craigslist and Locanto, which sought male students for a body stimulation research project with an “hourly remuneration”.
A cursory search online for Jack’s faculty supervisor found nothing in his research interests that listed “body stimulation”. Neither had Jack been listed as part of his supervisor’s research group.
When I found what was supposedly Jack’s graduate hall room, all traces of him had vanished. His name was gone from the door, with another PhD candidate living in his place.
I knocked, and an Italian opened the door, his confusion growing into shock and agitation as I explained what the previous occupant may have done.
One of the study’s ‘participants’ was Francis (not his real name), a lanky 17-year-old polytechnic student who spent his first semester break looking for work. Searching for classified advertisements on Gumtree, he chanced upon Jack’s “research project”.
“I needed the money,” Francis told Rice.
“He asked for basic questions, your age, your BMI and stuff,” Francis added. Jack told Francis that he would not get the full $60 unless he was “reactive to the experiment”. Francis also claimed that Jack would deduct the cash reward promised to him for every piece of clothing he had on.
“You’re supposed to be tickled by this guy, and he was supposed to take down your ‘reaction’,” Francis said. “I thought NTU would be official, so I thought, let’s just go for it! So I went for it and I didn’t suspect anything.”
Jack then asked in a Whatsapp chat if he could touch Francis’s genitals.
“I said, no, that’s a private area. And then he asked: ‘How about under the balls?’”
“At the moment, when I was texting him, I was still under the impression that it was going to be a lab, there was going to be official people there, and people with, like, lab coats,” Francis added. “I was super stupid to think that it was going to be like that.”
Francis’ friends believed that something was suspect. “My friends were telling me something was wrong … that no, it was not right, you shouldn’t go for it, it could be a scam.
“And then I was like, I need the money, so I just blocked out everything.”
Francis scheduled to meet Jack one evening in November for two hours, and took an Uber ride to campus.
Graduate Hall 1 sees new academics move in and out of the 10-storey building every semester, with a handful of residents living there long-term.
“We do see people coming and going here, but we never notice which room they’re entering,” said Jain Abhishek, a PhD candidate who lived next door to Jack with his wife, Ragini. Ragini confirmed that Jack was their neighbour.
The only time Jain and Ragini had interacted with Jack was when they had electrical problems in their room. “I was confirming with him if he was facing the same problems,” Ragini told Rice.
According to Ragini, some of the rooms received a lot of visitors; she estimated that there would be at least 12 people who would come in and out of various rooms on their floor daily.
Ali Ozhelvaci, another PhD candidate who lived on the same floor, said that a graduate student staying there had been running an informal shipping service, which may have contributed to the unusual activity. “People come here to find their items, that’s why here’s very crowded.”
Others have also come over to have birthday parties in the common area nearby, he added.
Despite all the activity, Ozhelvaci never once saw Jack — because they didn’t share a common lift lobby.
And like many other researchers and academics on his floor, Jack usually kept to himself, according to friends and former classmates who spoke to Rice.
“From my knowledge, I don’t think he’s the kind of person to [sexually assault people],” said a former Catholic High classmate of Jack’s. “He was a really shy person, but have always kept his hands to himself.”
Edwin, a music director at a community chamber orchestra of which Jack is a member, said that Jack was a “straightforward, honest guy.”
But he wasn’t surprised at the accusations levelled at Jack. “Anything is possible,” he quipped. “Even though he’s my friend, that doesn’t preclude any chance of any crime from him.”
Two of Jack’s junior college classmates also said that he had been known to commit weird acts in school — for example, secretly taking photographs of female schoolmates and saving them on his phone.
“It’s only when I was on my way that I realised that something was very wrong here.”
Francis met Jack at a lift lobby in Graduate Hall 1, and as they went up, Francis slowly realised that he wasn’t headed to a laboratory, but a dormitory.
“For the entire time I was telling myself, trying to keep telling myself, it’s not weird, it’s for a job, it’s okay,” Francis said.
“We walk into this room and I know something is very wrong already, I just didn’t know what.”
“I just keep thinking ‘we need to go through with this, I just want to get the money, we’ve come all the way here, let’s just get over with this.’”
Francis took a shower in the bathroom as instructed, and then returned to the room naked. “I wanted to be entitled to the maximum of $60,” he explained.
He was then blindfolded and restrained on Jack’s bed.
“I just wanted the money, I just wanted to get this over and done with,” Francis said.
He was tickled all over his body for about an hour, which he thought was fine. But suddenly, Francis heard the sound of something vibrating. “Then I felt this sensation where he’s putting something on my … genitals.”
“I’m not trying to victimise myself or anything but, he’s a big guy. I’m tied to the bed, I can’t see and feel this vibration only. It takes me a while to notice what it is,” Francis added. “Because I’m blindfolded, I can only suspect it’s a vibrator. So that’s something I didn’t agree to.”
“At that point in time, I should have said no. I should have said ‘no, this is wrong, I did not consent to this’, but I didn’t say anything,” he added. “I just let it happen.”
But to Jack, Francis was not “reactive” enough.
He said the student was too tense, and offered to give him a handjob.
Francis was reluctant, but wanted to get it done with. “But that handjob didn’t work,” he added. Jack then suggested that Francis masturbate himself in front of him.
“I did it, and then he continued his whole tickle process thing, and in the end he gave me $55 and I was on my way,” he said. “And it’s only when I was on my way that I realised that something was very wrong here.”
Another PhD candidate who lived next to Jack and declined to be named said that he’d never seen him because their working hours were different.
“I come back to my room quite late,” he said, adding that he would hear what sounded like two people having sex next door. “Sometimes I come home early and I hear that noise.”
“In my view, if both partners know what they’re doing, it’s okay; they’re adults anyway,” the PhD candidate added. “But when I heard he [scammed] people like what you said, it’s really [disgusting]. That act of scamming and molesting people is unacceptable.”
Francis said of his ordeal: “Honestly I didn’t know why I didn’t move out, or shout, or scream,”
“I feel like if I were to scream and say ‘no, this is not right’, what was I going to do? I’m tied up to the bed, he’s in his room, am I going to run out naked?”
Francis’s allegations come more than a year after a suspected voyeur was banned from living on campus for allegedly taking videos of other male residents showering in the toilets of Hall 16. There were allegedly 66 videos of male students showering saved in the suspect’s phone.
A 31-year-old man had also been arrested more than a year before for allegedly molesting a female undergraduate student at Hall 1, after reports of a masked man attempting to enter rooms circulated.
“He could be recording the entire incident and I wouldn’t even know,” Francis said.
When Rice first contacted Jack on 12 Jan via text message to enquire about the advertisement, he seemed to be looking for “participants” still.
But in response to a separate email enquiry, he denied the existence of the advertisement, claiming that his number was “used illegally” to post it. He also did not respond to allegations that several sources, including Francis, had identified him as the poster of the advertisement.
Jack told the Nanyang Chronicle, NTU’s campus newspaper, that he had asked an associate chair of his faculty for help in removing the number from the advertisement.
It’s likely that Jack moved out of his room at the end of November. According to his neighbour, he is still with the College of Science and was seen returning to his research on Monday (15 Jan), the first day of the school term.
NTU’s Institutional Review Board, which protects human subjects involved in research projects, told the Chronicle that no study on ‘body stimulation’ was found in their database.
An NTU spokesperson also told the campus newspaper that the university “views academic and research misconduct as serious disciplinary offences”.
“We are aware that the police is investigating this case, and we are assisting them in their investigations.”
Francis chose to make a police report and reach out to the press, on the advice of his sister and church leader.
“I’m more than closed to this already, but I want other people to know about this, otherwise they’re gonna fall for the same shit,” he said.
He added he was told by the police that Jack could defend himself by saying that the encounter was consensual because he did not reject Jack’s advances, even if he did not give him consent to perform sexual acts on him.
“I should have said no, I should have said something else … but, the whole entire thing is wrong. There should be no such thing, there should be papers to sign, it shouldn’t be carried out in the dorm room with restraints on the bed or a blindfold.”
Police confirmed to Rice that a police report about the incident had been made but declined to provide details about the case, citing confidentiality.
“My main concern is that the police have let Jack go with a slap on the wrist,” said Anne, Francis’s sister.
“I just want Francis to get the resolution he deserves, and for him to be as safe as possible. I’ll do anything to make sure he’s okay.”
When I spoke to Jack’s neighbours on the first day of the new term, the building was mostly quiet, the silence punctuated by doors opening and slamming in the lower floors. There were no celebrations, no smokers, no one with coffee.
Two doors down from Jack’s room, Wang, a female Masters candidate, appeared confused when I told her about what happened.
“People do not communicate with their neighbours,” she said, adding that she didn’t see anyone that looked like Francis’ age in the building. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Wang shut her door, and the bolt in the door turned, twice.
IF YOU NEED HELP, PLEASE APPROACH
Sexual Assault Care Centre: 6779 0282 (Monday – Friday, 10am till midnight) / firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800 221 4444 (24 hours)
Institute of Mental Health: 6389 2222 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019 (9am – 1pm, 2pm – 6pm on weekdays except public holidays)
Oogachaga: 6226 2002 (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7pm – 10pm, Saturdays from 2pm – 5pm)
Counselling & Psychological Services, National University of Singapore: 6516 2376
Student Wellbeing Centre, Nanyang Technological University: 6790 4462
Wong Kwok Leong Student Wellness Centre, Singapore Management University: 6828 0786
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