Sunday, April 14, 2024

House passes bill outlawing street, online sexual harassment

The House of Representatives has unanimously approved on third and final reading House Bill 8794 or the proposed ?Safe Street, Public and Online Spaces Act.?

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House Bill 8794, principally authored by Siquijor representative Ramon V.A. Rocamora, seeks to criminalize catcalling and other forms of gender-based harassment as well as provide protective measures for harassment victims.

The bill provides that gender-based street and public spaces harassment includes cat-calling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic and sexist slurs, persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance, relentless requests for personal details, statements of sexual comments or suggestions, or any advances, whether physical or verbal, that is unwanted and has threatened one’s personal space and physical safety.

It further specifies that acts of street harassment are those performed in schools, churches, restaurants, malls, public washrooms, bars, internet shops, public markets, transportation terminals, public utility vehicles, sidewalks, or alleys, among others.

Online sexual harassment, on the other hand, includes the use of information and communications technology to terrorize and intimidate victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats, as well as unwanted sexual and sexists remarks or comments online.

Through this bill, individuals who commit gender-based street and public spaces harassment shall be penalized, depending on the gravity and frequency of the crime, with (a) a community service inclusive of attendance to a Gender Sensitivity Seminar to be conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP), (b) imprisonment, or (c) a fine of P10,000 up to P500,000.

A court of law shall also issue an order directing the violator to distance from the victim, or from the residence, school, place of employment or any place frequented by the offended person.

Aside from these, if the harasser is a juridical person, its license or franchise shall be automatically revoked. Meanwhile, an alien who will violate the proposed law shall be subject to deportation proceedings subsequent to serving sentence and payment of fines.

The measure mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to take the necessary disciplinary measures, if the perpetrator is a minor, as provided for under Republic Act 9344 or the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.”

To help in the recovery of the victims, the bill allows them to avail of appropriate remedies as provided for under the law, as well as psychological counseling services offered by the local government units (LGU) and the DSWD, in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).

HB 8794 directs the Women and Children’s desks in all police stations to attend to all complaints, and to coordinate with Anti-Sexual Harassment Enforcers (A-SHE) on the streets, security guards in privately-owned spaces that are open to the public, anti-sexual harassment officers in government and private offices or schools in the enforcement of the law.

The PCW shall work with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and duly accredited women’s groups to ensure that all LGUs participate in a sustained information campaign, as well as the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to ensure an online campaign that reaches a wide audience of Filipino internet-users. The campaign shall raise awareness among the Filipinos on the provisions of this bill.

LGUs shall be required to conduct safety audits every three years to assess the efficiency and effectivity of the law’s implementation.

The measure shall establish a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee to monitor its implementation and review its promulgated implementing rules and regulations. The Oversight Committee shall be composed of five House Members and five Senators to be appointed by the House Speaker and the Senate President, respectively.


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