Bill filed in Senate to punish sexual harassment online

Sen. Grace Poe has filed a measure expanding the definitions of criminal acts against women that would include those committed with the use of technology.

Sen.  Grace Poe

Sen. Grace Poe

Poe filed Senate Bill No. 1254 or the proposed Expanded Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 2016 that seeks to repeal the old law — Republic Act (RA) No. 7877 or the Philippine Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 — which is limited in terms of prosecuting sexual harassment, especially against women.

“The existing law has its limitations that deter victims to report criminal and reprehensible acts. This proposal seeks to correct those limitations and expand the definitions so this form of violence against women is eliminated,” said Poe, who filed the measure as the world observed the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.

The filing of the bill comes after a lady who protested the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani was bullied and sexually harassed online.

Poe lamented that forms of sexual harassment – most commonly in public places — are not covered under RA No. 7877 and are only prosecuted as Acts of Lasciviousness or Unjust Vexation under the Revised Penal Code, where penalties to be meted out are substantially less than the cost of actually filing a case.

Under the proposed legislation, sexual harassment is defined as an unwelcome or unwanted act or series of verbal and non-verbal acts and requests for sexual favors, including those which are committed online or through the use of computers or similar devices such as mobile phones, and tablets.

The measure also provides for internal mechanisms that will address sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions that would investigate and decide on complaints within 10 days, protect victims from retaliation, and guarantee confidentiality.

Local government units are likewise mandated to adopt anti-sexual harassment efforts in their jurisdiction.

Jail time ranging from six months up to nine years and fines of up to P100,000 are imposed upon unlawful acts committed under the proposal.

In 2016, a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations in Quezon City, which has imposed strict penalties against harassment in public places, found that women were the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, with three out of five women having experienced such.

Further, 70 percent of said incidents were committed by total strangers and 58 percent were experienced in public streets, roads, and narrow streets.

Of the sampling population of 400 female and 400 male residents, half of the women surveyed said they had done nothing after the incident, while 20 percent of them were overcome with fear.

“We should empower women to fight sexual harassment on all fronts in protecting the basic human rights of every Filipino citizen,” Poe said.

Poe filed the measure in response to growing concerns that the lack of established mechanisms makes it easier for perverts to commit unlawful and immoral acts against women in public places and with the aid of information and communications technology.

The proposal was patterned after several local ordinances, including those of Quezon City and Davao City, Civil Service Commission rules, and the Model Law on Sexual Harassment drafted jointly by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), JHU-School of Advanced International Studies, and global human security organization The Protection Project.

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