Move to rein in harassment

THOSE committing sexual harassment may end up paying their victims a sum of up to RM250,000 in compensation or in default, serve a two-year jail term.

The new penalty will be meted out against future offenders following the tabling of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021 to tackle such incidents.

The Bill was tabled by Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff for its first reading in Dewan Rakyat.

“Apart from being ordered to make restitution for losses suffered by the victim, an offender will also be required to issue an apology.

“If the sexual harassment was done in public, the offender will be required to make a public apology,” the Bill stated.

Under the proposed new law, sexual harassment cases will be dealt with by a 12-member Anti-Sexual Harassment Tribunal, which will be set up.

The tribunal will comprise a president and deputy president, who will be appointed from among members of the judiciary.

Five other members will be made up of former members of the judiciary or experienced practising lawyers with expertise in sexual harassment laws.

The remaining five appointments will be those who have expertise in dealing with sexual harassment.

Among the powers of the tribunal is making an award order within 60 days of the start of a hearing in respect of losses or compensation.

The compensation award to a victim will not exceed RM250,000.

Offenders are required to settle the compensation within 30 days of the order of award or face a fine twice the amount of the award or two years jail.

“If no compensation award is made, the tribunal is empowered to impose a maximum fine of RM10,000 or two years’ jail or both on offenders,” the Bill read.

The tribunal will also be empowered to accept and record settlements reached by parties in sexual harassment proceedings.

Cases deemed to be “frivolous” or a waste of the tribunal’s time can be dismissed by the tribunal.

Hearings of sexual harassment cases by the tribunal will be conducted in camera (non-public hearings) and can proceed in absence of parties to the proceedings if prior notice was given.

Under the new proposal, a victim will still have the rights to lodge a police report over alleged sexual harassment besides seeking redress from the tribunal.

When tabling the Bill, Siti Zailah informed Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said that the Bill would be read for the second time during the Parliament meeting next year.

Later at a press conference, Siti Zailah said the tabling of the Bill was aimed at plugging loopholes in existing laws on sexual harassment while improving the legal process in dealing with such cases.

“The development of the proposed law is important to show that sexual harassment is a violation of human rights and a form of physical violence towards gender,” she said.

Among the main elements of the proposed new law was defining offences of sexual harassment.

“The scope of the law is wide and applies to sexual harassment at the workplace and other locations.

“Also crucial is that the standard of proof of evidence will be based on the balance of probabilities,” said the deputy minister.

The new law, she added, would also provide victims with redress and not merely serve as a deterrent by imposing punitive action against perpetrators.

“The law will contribute towards creating a safe environment for the community, particularly women,” she said.

Siti Zailah added that her ministry would continue to engage with stakeholders and MPs to spell out clearly the structural reforms that would come with the new law.

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