Malaysians more likely to report sexual harassment if they are confident of laws

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians would be more likely driven to report incidences of sexual harassment if they are confident that the laws will punish offenders and protect the victims, an Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) study revealed.

At the same time, a fear of their safety, trauma, a complicated grievance procedure as well as disbelief in the system or that the situation would change were among the major factors likely to hold them back from reporting.

"The highest factors that will drive the respondents to report incidences of sexual harassment are the desire to raise awareness (85.9%), the confidence or belief that the laws will punish offenders (85.7%) as well as that these will protect the victims (84.3%).

"Meanwhile, the fear of threat to family safety (42.7%) and personal safety (42%), and trauma (38.4%) were the major internal factors discouraging Malaysians from lodging reports," said the study.

The "Effectiveness of Existing Laws to Prevent and Curb Sexual Harassment" report by Asli was launched on Wednesday (Nov 27) by Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar ahead of the government's plan to table the Sexual Harassment Bill next year.

The study also pointed out that external factors hindering Malaysians from reporting include lengthy and bureaucratic grievance procedure (37.7%), the belief that the situation would not change (36.9%) and the lack of belief or confidence in the grievance procedure (35.6%).

"The respondents' knowledge of the existing laws for handling sexual harassment cases is also low, whereby only 17.4% know about the related provisions under the Penal Code," said the study.

This was followed by the knowledge of the Employment Act (13.9%), the Sarawak Labour Ordinance Chapter 76 (11.8%) and Sabah Labour Ordinance Chapter 67 (10.2%).

A high number of participants also held the view that existing laws, such as the Employment Act and Labour Ordinances, were insufficient to prevent and curb sexual harassment.

The research was carried out via a structured interview with 902 respondents across Malaysia, of whom 56.1% were female and 43.9% were male between 18 to 60 years old.

The 'World Cafe' focus group discussion method was also used in the research, involving 150 participants across various states including Kuala Lumpur, Kelantan, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.

Based on the research, Asli provided key policy recommendations such as the drafting of a specialised and standalone quasi criminal Act to deal with sexual harassment as there is currently no specific law in the country.

"We also hope that the government will consider including offences of stalking, cyberbullying and doxxing to be part of the proposed Sexual Harassment Act, ” said Asli chief executive officer Melissa Ong.

Nurul Izzah said while laws were crucial in preventing and curbing sexual harassment incidences, there was also a need to organise ongoing awareness campaigns to ensure that sensitisation could be improved.

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