Over the past week 48 men have been charged with having sex with an underage prostitute in Singapore. The ages of the men range from about 21 to 48, and include a police superintendent, a former school principal and a member of one of Singapore’s most prominent families.

Although prostitution is legal in Singapore, solicitation and sex with minors are not. Furthermore, having paid sex with a minor is a strict liability offence in Singapore; arguments that the men did not know she was underage are irrelevant. Those convicted could be sentenced to up to 7 years’ imprisonment, as well as fined.

The names of the men were published in the media, but the identity of the underage prostitute in question has been kept from the press. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from circulating photographs of the girl – or at least, who they think is the girl – online.

The men allegedly paid USD360 to USD680 per session with the girl, who had advertised her services on a website that has since been closed.

Lawyer Subhas Anandan, who is representing 10 of the men, called the girl a “hardcore prostitute”, saying that his clients are the victims in this case.

Others have joined in on the talk. The men have been labelled as “horny” and “desperate”, the girl as a “slut”. Many have also called for the girl’s identity to be revealed to the public.

But what purpose will splashing the girl’s name and photographs all over the press be? The offence was committed at a time when she was a minor, which is why her identity has been protected by the courts. What would public knowledge of her identity add to the whole case?

Very little, I think. All the revealing of the girl’s identity will do is to satisfy the public’s thirst for scandal and gossip, and allow people to put a face to their “slut”.

It may be true that the girl had lied about her age to both her pimp and her clients. It may be true that she knew what she was up to, and was therefore consciously committing a crime. I highly doubt that she’ll be getting away “totally scot-free”; this isn’t a simple case of a rebellious teenager puffing on a cigarette behind the school building.

She may have behaved badly and made a big mistake now, but young as she is, isn’t there still hope that something can be done to help her out of this, and that she’ll still be able to continue on towards a better life? What will our dragging her name through the mud achieve, other than allowing us to feel morally superior?

Similarly, the men who have been charged may not be the “horny pedophile bastards” people may judge them for being. If it is indeed true that they had believed her to be of age, they would have thought themselves to be doing something perfectly legal. There is a possibility that they may not have realised that they were breaking the law by having paid sex with someone who was underage (the fact that this becomes irrelevant under the law is a whole other problem).

It may be fun to have that feeling of schadenfreude, but at the end of the day, we also need to realise that these are real people’s lives we’re picking over.