Improve laws for better protection

IF someone gets hold of personal photos of you and threatens to publish them, this is a form of cyber harassment. It may also be part of a broader pattern of behaviour constituting stalking, says the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

Under the current legal framework in Malaysia, there is no specific law that deals with cyber harassment and nor is stalking a crime, says WAO head of campaigns Natasha Dandavati.

“Currently, an individual in this situation could file a police report based on the crimes of insulting modesty or extortion under the Penal Code. They could also file a complaint under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, which prohibits obscene, indecent or offensive online content.

“However, if the publishing or threatened publishing of personal photos is part of a broader pattern of stalking behaviour, the survivor has limited avenues for justice and protection under current laws,” she explains.

In Parliament, in July, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun said in a written reply that a Cabinet paper on making stalking an offence is currently being prepared by the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to Dandavati, if the proposed anti-stalking law is tabled and passed in Parliament this year, it would criminalise online and offline behaviours associated with stalking and also provide survivors with the option of obtaining a protection order, which would prohibit ongoing harassing behaviour.

The ministry is also expected to table a proposed Bill on sexual harassment by the end of this year.

The proposed Sexual Harassment Bill is expected to provide a more comprehensive definition of sexual harassment and a more effective mechanism to lodge complaints. It will also propose remedial elements and penalties.

Mitigate risks

There is always a risk once you record, take or send out a sensitive photo, video or any kind of message to someone, especially in digital communication, says Izza Izelan, executive director of female youth empowerment NGO WOMEN:girls.

Then there’s also the situation when relationships turn sour and a former partner or acquaintance may blackmail you. Or someone may hack or steal your mobile device and gain access to your private folders.

“If you put something ‘out there’, there is a chance that it might never be deleted completely, even when you have done so on your end,” she says.

“Understanding this risk can help us think twice before sending someone something, especially when it is compromising information. In this case, prevention is always better,” says Izza.

As social media and Internet users, we may feel curious if we hear of private photos circulating of acquaintances or celebrities.

However, we must refrain from looking for these materials as they can cause immense distress to the affected individual, she points out.

“As a virtual bystander and member of the public who frequents media platforms, it is advisable to not contribute to the situation and further spread embarrassing materials,” says Izza.

“This would cause further trauma to the victims in addition to having to deal with the perpetrators.”

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