Sexual harassment law urgently needed, says women’s group

An exhibition at the women, family and community development ministry in Putrajaya last December. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Women’s rights organisation Sisters in Islam (SIS) has urged the government to expedite its work on a law against sexual harassment following a molest case in which the perpetrator was fined RM3,000.

SIS communications manager Majidah Hashim told FMT it highlighted the urgency for a sexual harassment act.

She said men too often believed harassing women would cause no harm. “Some even feel entitled to it,” she added.

Last Thursday, a magistrate’s court in Kuala Lumpur found P Naveendran, 39, guilty of outraging the modesty of a 22-year-old woman after their cars collided along the Federal Highway. He grabbed her at the hips and a shoulder while they were engaged in conversation.

He told passers-by who stopped to help her that he was her boyfriend but she said they had never met before.

He was charged under a section of the Penal Code that provides for a jail term of up to 10 years or a fine or whipping or any two of the penalties.

The magistrate, in deciding on a fine, said Naveendran did not touch any sensitive part of the woman’s body and this was his first offence.

“Any and all unwanted touch is a violation,” said Majidah. “The trauma experienced by the survivor is just as intense, and this came on top of the fact that she had been involved in a traffic accident.”

Women’s Aid Organisation spokesman Melissa Mohd Akhir told FMT she believed a jail sentence would not be a complete solution to the problem because it would not address the root cause of the crime.

She said there was a need for intervention programmes for offenders to bring about an understanding of accountability and a change in behaviour.

Last month, senator Mohd Imran Abdul Hamid of PKR sparked outrage after proposing a sexual harassment act to protect men from the actions, words and clothing of women which could seduce them.

After brickbats were thrown at him, he issued an apology and retracted the proposal, which he made in the Dewan Negara.

In February, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh announced that a feasibility study on a sexual harassment bill had been completed but she said the government would consult NGOs and victims of sexual harassment for their feedback before tabling it in the Dewan Rakyat.

She said the bill would, among other things, seek to improve the mechanism used in lodging reports, shorten investigation procedures and punish those who fail to act on sexual harassment complaints.