What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?

Last updated on September 24, 2018

Woman in front of a computer looking uncomfortable as a colleague puts his hand on her left shoulder

Sexual harassment refers to the making of unwelcome sexual advancements. It can take many forms, including physical or verbal bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. It can also occur anywhere, whether at home or in the workplace. A combination of general criminal legislations and civil causes of actions offers legal redress against the wrongdoer.

On 13 March 2014, the Singapore Parliament passed the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). The POHA strengthens existing penalties for harassment and also introduces new offences such as stalking. The POHA will also provide a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and criminal sanctions relevant to sexual harassment.

 

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If your words are making someone uncomfortable due to their sexual nature, or if you’re not respecting another’s physical boundaries, that’s a real good indicator that you’ve crossed the line. :// – Sexual harassment comes in many different forms: non-physical forms include verbal abuse, making lewd comments or catcalling; and physical forms range from taking upskirt photos to stalking and molestation. It can happen to anyone regardless of what they’re wearing, their gender, or their age. – It’s unfortunate that such cases pop up every so often, despite how safe Singapore is known to be. It is especially difficult for victims to come forth and file official reports against their harassers, given the emotional trauma that these victims may go through, especially if the harasser is someone they know. – Thankfully, under the Protection from Harassment Act, new penalties have been introduced, and monetary compensation and/or protection orders can be obtained from the harasser as legal remedies. With such laws in place, we can only hope that such offences decrease in number. #SingaporeLegalAdvice

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Criminal Offences

The Penal Code and the POHA prescribe the nature of certain offences and punishments applicable to sexual harassment. Because these offences are criminal in nature, a police report can be made to commence police investigations and prosecutions against the perpetrator.

Non-physical offences

Where sexual harassment takes the non-physical form, such as verbal abuse or lewd remarks, the wrongdoer may be liable for the following offences.

Section 3 of the POHA prescribes the offence of intentionally causing harassment, alarm, or distress.

As an illustration, in the following example, X is guilty of workplace sexual harassment:

X and Y are co-workers. At the workplace, X loudly and graphically describes to other co-workers his desire for a sexual relationship with Y, knowing that Y can hear his comments.

In addition, section 4 of the POHA provides the offence of generally causing harassment, alarm, or distress.

Section 509 of the Penal Code also criminalises words or gestures that can insult a woman’s modesty. Upskirt photo-takers can also be prosecuted under this section.

Physical offences

Where the sexual harassment takes the more egregious form, such as molest or rape, the Penal Code prescribes harsh sanctions to be levied against the offender.

Section 354 of the Penal Code prescribes the offence of the outrage of modesty. It is typically applied to molest cases.

Sections 375 and 376 of the Penal Code prescribe the offence of rape. Both men and women are protected by these sections respectively.

Unlawful stalking

Unlawful stalking is criminalised under section 7 of the POHA. Unlawful stalking generally comprises conduct:

  • Involving acts or omissions associated with stalking;
  • Which causes harassment, alarm or distress to the victim; and
  • The accused person —
    1. intends to cause harassment, alarm or distress to the victim; or
    2. knows or ought reasonably to know is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to the victim.

Some examples of stalking include:

  • Following the victim or a related person;
  • Making or attempting to make communication with the victim, relating to the victim or purporting to originate from the victim;
  • Entering or loitering in any place (whether public or private) outside or near the victim’s residence or place of business or any other place frequented by the victim;
  • Interfering with property in the possession of the victim;
  • Giving or sending material to the victim, or leaving it where it will be found by, given to or brought to the attention of the victim; and
  • Keeping the victim under surveillance.

As illustrations, the followings acts can constitute stalking of X by Y:

  • Y repeatedly sends emails to Y’s subordinate (X) with suggestive comments about X’s body.
  • Y sends flowers to X daily even though X has asked Y to stop doing so.
  • Y repeatedly circulates revealing photographs of a classmate (X) to other classmates.

Obtaining Protection Orders

A victim can apply for protection orders from the court against the perpetrator for the following offences under POHA:

  • Intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress under section 3 of the POHA;
  • Harassment, alarm or distress under section 4 of the POHA;
  • Fear or provocation of violence under section 5 of the POHA;
  • Threatening, abusing or insulting public servant or public service worker under section 6 of the POHA; and
  • Unlawful stalking under section 7 of the POHA.

Protection orders can take the form of prohibiting the wrongdoer from continuing his wrongful conduct or publishing particular communications. The parties involved may also be referred to counselling or mediation.

Obtaining Compensation for Criminal Offences

The court can order a convicted offender to pay monetary compensation to the person injured, under section 359 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). In fact, it is compulsory for the court which convicts an offender to consider whether to order the offender to compensate the victim. These orders are particularly helpful for victims who may have no financial means to commence civil proceedings for damages against the offender.

Nevertheless, compensation orders under the CPC have rarely been given for molest offences. Of the compensation orders made in 2012 and 2013, more than 70% were made in relation to cases involving hurt, mischief and theft. The remaining cases involved other offences, including cheating.

As for the offences of harassment, threats, and stalking under the POHA, Parliament has seen fit to provide the victim with a civil cause of action for statutory torts:

Civil Claims

Under section 11 of the POHA, a victim can still seek legal redress and obtain monetary compensation against the perpetrator for the following offences under the POHA:

  • Intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress under section 3 of the POHA;
  • Harassment, alarm or distress under section 4 of the POHA;
  • Fear or provocation of violence under section 5 of the POHA; and
  • Unlawful stalking under section 7 of the POHA.

To do so, the victim may need to engage a lawyer to sue the wrongdoer.

Arrest and Investigation
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  2. When Can the Police Arrest Someone?: Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  3. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  4. Can a civilian arrest a criminal in Singapore?
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  2. Prosecutorial discretion in Singapore
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  4. Compounding or composition of offences in Singapore
  5. Criminal Records in Singapore
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  2. What Can I Do to Protect Myself in Self-Defence in Singapore?
  3. Claiming trial as an accused
  4. Mitigation Plea
  5. Pleading Guilty
  6. Criminal Appeals in Singapore
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  2. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  3. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
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