The Ministry of Law announced yesterday that a new Protection from Harassment Bill will be read in Parliament on 3 March, next Monday, which aims to legislate harassment, be it in physical or online form, as an offence.
If implemented, the new laws will provide a range of self-help measures, civil remedies and criminal sanctions to better protect people from harassment and related anti-social behaviour.
Activities including cyber harassment, bullying of children, sexual harassment within and outside the workplace, and stalking will be covered under the Bill. Victims of such activities will be able to seek redress through the Courts.
The Bill will also cover public servants and workers who deliver essential services to the general public, such as public healthcare workers and public transport workers. Existing penalties for harassment will also be increased to reflect their seriousness, and could even apply to acts committed outside Singapore.
The Court will also have the right to give a Protection Order requiring the harasser or a third party to remove the offending material which caused harassment to the victim.
In the lead up to this Bill, the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs have earlier consulted civil groups and lawyers. Some of these proposals were discussed at a conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies in November 2013.
Responding to the announcement, gender equality advocacy group AWARE issued a media statement, indicating that it “welcomes the decision to strengthen the civil legal remedies available to (victims), as well as the explicit recognition that stalking and harassment may include online and/or extra- territorial behaviour.”
However, the group expressed disappointment with “the failure to impose any obligation on employers to address workplace sexual harassment.”
AWARE cited a survey they conducted in 2008, which found that workplace sexual harassment affected over 50% of respondents. 79% of victims were women, which they felt raised questions about gender equality in Singapore workplaces.
The group felt that the proposed law would not place any obligation on employers to take sexual harassment seriously, leaving victims at the workplace to either “leave their jobs or suffer in silence”.
AWARE proposed that the government should “expand the proposed legislation or amend the Employment Act to legally require employers to take measures to address workplace sexual harassment.” It also requested for the Ministry of Manpower to mandate and enforce a detailed code of conduct to set out best practice for employers on preventing workplace sexual harassment and processing harassment complaints.
Anyone seeking help for stalking and sexual harassment can contact AWARE’s Sexual Assault Befrienders Service (6779 0282, [email protected]).