What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?

Last updated on January 2, 2020

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 377BB of the Penal Code also criminalises voyeurism, or the using of equipment to film someone else’s private parts without their consent. Up-skirt 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 a protection order 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
  1. How to Write a Letter of Representation to AGC in Singapore
  2. What is Entrapment and is It Legal in Singapore?
  3. Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?
  4. Police Investigation Process in Singapore
  5. Arrest Warrant Issued Against You in Singapore: What to Do
  6. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  7. Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  8. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  9. Can the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
  10. What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
  11. "Right to Remain Silent" to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
  12. Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
  13. Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
  14. Penalties for Lying to the Authorities in Singapore
  15. Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  16. Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
  17. Extradition: What If I Flee After Committing Crime in Singapore
Bail
  1. The Essential Guide to Bail and Personal Bonds in Singapore
Prosecution
  1. What is Private Prosecution?
  2. Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
  3. Prosecutorial Discretion in Singapore
  4. Compounding or Composition of Offences in Singapore
  5. Plea Bargaining in Singapore: All You Need to Know
During Criminal Proceedings
  1. What is Acquittal & How Can One Be Acquitted in Singapore?
  2. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  3. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  4. Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
  5. The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
  6. Gag Orders in Singapore: Whose Identity Can be Protected?
  7. Mitigation Plea: How to Plead for Leniency in Court in Singapore
After Criminal Proceedings
  1. Recidivism: What Happens If You Reoffend in Singapore?
  2. Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
  3. Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
  4. Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore
  5. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  6. Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
  7. Criminal Records in Singapore
  8. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  9. Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
Types of Sentences After Committing an Offence
  1. How Long Is Life Imprisonment in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  2. Corrective Training and Its Consequences in Singapore
  3. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  4. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  5. How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
  6. Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
  7. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  8. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
  9. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?
  10. Day Reporting Order: Eligibility and Offender's Obligations
Being a Victim
  1. Ragging and Bullying: Their Penalties and What Victims Can Do
  2. Laws Protecting Informers/Whistleblowers in Singapore
  3. Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore
  4. Using Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
  5. Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
Offences Against the Human Body
  1. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  2. Murder vs Culpable Homicide in Singapore (and Penalties)
  3. Is Suicide Illegal in Singapore? Will I Be Punished for Trying?
  4. Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text'
Sexual Offences
  1. Rape Laws in Singapore and How Offenders Can Be Punished
  2. Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
  3. Falsely Accused of Rape in Singapore: What to Do
  4. Incest and Family Sexual Abuse: Penalties and Victim Protection
  5. How are Sexual Offenders with Special Needs Penalised?
  6. Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
  7. Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
  8. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  9. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
  10. What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
  11. Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
  12. Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
  13. Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
  14. STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
Vice-Related Offences
  1. Singapore's Legal Smoking Age & Common Smoking Offences
  2. Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
  3. Legal Drinking Age and Drinking-Related Laws in Singapore
  4. Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
  5. Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
  6. Laws on Procuring Sex Workers & Sexual Services in Singapore
  7. Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
  8. Gambling Legally (In Public or Online) in Singapore
  9. The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
Property Offences
  1. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  2. Committing Robbery in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  3. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  4. Vandalism Laws: Penalties for Damaging Property in Singapore
  5. Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?
  6. Penalties for Littering and Killer Litter Offences in Singapore
Cybercrime
  1. Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
  2. Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
  3. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  4. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
White-Collar Crimes
  1. Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?
  2. All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
  3. Anti-Money Laundering Laws and You
  4. 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
  5. Dishonest Assistance and Knowing Receipt: The Case of David Rasif
Road Offences
  1. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  2. DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
  3. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  4. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  5. Penalties for Dangerous Driving for Singapore Drivers
  6. Fatal Traffic Accidents: Are Drivers Always Punished?
  7. Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  8. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
Animal-Related Offences
  1. Is It Illegal to Feed Stray Animals in Singapore?
  2. Singapore Animal Abuse Offences, Penalties & How to Report
Offences Relating to Public Peace and Good Order
  1. Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
  2. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore
  3. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  4. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
  5. Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
  6. Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
Gang and Riot-related Offences
  1. Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore
  2. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  3. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
Marriage-Related Offences
  1. What are Sham Marriages and Are They Illegal in Singapore?
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?
Other Criminal Offences
  1. Here are the Penalties for Committing Forgery in Singapore
  2. Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
  3. Laws on Prohibited, Replica and Self-Defence Weapons
  4. Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
  5. What are the Penalties for Hiring Phantom Workers in Singapore?
  6. Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
  7. Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore