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The new dimension of sexual harassment

"Some offenders are not threatened by penalties of fines or imprisonment."

 

The phrase “sexual harassment” was coined by a group of women at Cornell University in 1975. This was brought about by a claim for unemployment benefits by a former employee of the university, Carmita Wood, after she resigned from her job due to unwanted touching from her supervisor (https://time.com/4286575/sexual-harassment-before-anita-hill/).

Cornell refused Wood’s request for a transfer, and denied her the benefits on the grounds that she quit for “personal reasons.” In the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, sexual coercion was a fact of life for female slaves in the South, as well as a common experience among free domestic workers in the North (https://time.com/4286575/sexual-harassment-before-anita-hill/).

In the early 20th century, women employed in manufacturing and clerical positions were faced with physical and verbal assaults from male supervisors. In the 1920s, working women were advised to simply quit their jobs if they could not handle the inevitable sexual advances (https://time.com/4286575/sexual-harassment-before-anita-hill/).Around this time in the Philippines, domestics, daughters of farmers, employees and female caretakers are easy prey to hacienderos, landlords, politicians, employers and encargados (managers). Not only were they victims of sexual harassment; some bore the sons and daughters of these individuals.

Sexual harassment, though unspoken, is deeply rooted in our culture. It was only in 1995 when the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act (ASHA) was passed into law recognizing that such acts can be committed in a work-related or employment environment, and in an education and training environment.

Under the ASHA, sexual harassment is committed by the employer, employee, manager, supervisor, teacher, instructor, professor, coach or trainor, or any other person having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or education environment. They demand, request or otherwise require a sexual favor from another regardless of whether it is accepted. (Section 3, Republic Act No. 7877).

The sexual favor in a workplace contemplated under the ASHA is that which makes it a condition to hire, employ, re-employ or continue the employment of an individual. It is a basis to grant favorable compensation, promotions or privileges, while the refusal to grant sexual favor will result in discrimination, deprivation or diminution of employment opportunities (Section 3, Republic Act No. 7877).

In an education environment, the sexual favor is made as a condition to giving a passing grade, granting honors or scholarships, or the payment of a stipend, allowance, or other benefits or consideration. The sexual advances may also result in intimidation, or a hostile or offensive environment to a student, trainee or apprentice (Section 3, Republic Act No. 7877).

It is the duty of the employer or the head of an education or training institution to prevent and deter acts of sexual harassment, and prescribe a procedure for the investigation of sexual harassment cases. The employer or head of education institution shall be solidarily liable for the damages arising from the acts of sexual harassment (Section 5, Republic Act No. 7877).

In 2019, the coverage of sexual harassment was broadened to apply to unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person. This was due to the passage of Republic Act 11313 otherwise known as the Safe Spaces Act (Section 4, Republic Act No. 11313). This gender-based sexual harassment includes catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs.

Even persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance, relentless requests for personal details, sexual comments and suggestions are covered by the Safe Spaces Act. These acts can be committed in alleys, roads, sidewalks and parks including buildings, schools, churches, restaurants, malls, public washrooms, bars, internet shops, public markets, transportation terminals or public utility vehicles (Section 4, Republic Act No. 11313).

Examples of these actions are: shouting “sexy mo”, “payakap naman”, whistling toward a lady when walking in his presence, making statements in front of gay people such as “ayan na ang mga bading or tibo”, insisting on getting the contact details of a person when its disclosure has been repeatedly refused, and cracking offensive green jokes. These acts threaten one’s sense of personal space and physical safety.

Also unlawful is the use of words, gestures or actions that ridicule on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation, the persistent cracking of sexual jokes, use of sexual names, comments and demands (Section 11, Republic Act 11313). Restaurants, bars, cinemas, malls, buildings and other privately-owned places must adopt a zero-tolerance policy against gender-based sexual harassment (Section 5, Republic Act No. 11313).

For gender-based sexual harassment committed in public utility vehicles (PUVs), the Land Transportation Office (LTO) may cancel the license of perpetrators found to have committed acts constituting sexual harassment in public utility vehicles, and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) may suspend or revoke the franchise of the transportation operators (Section 6, Republic Act No. 11313).

In PUVs where the perpetrator is the driver of the vehicle, it shall constitute a breach of contract of carriage without prejudice to the criminal or civil cases to be filed against him. This will raise a presumption of negligence on the part of the owner or operator of the vehicle in the selection and supervision of employees. It will be material in rendering the owner or operator solidarily liable for the offenses of the employee (Section 6, Republic Act No. 11313).

The gender-based sexual harassment can also be committed online, electronically or through social media platforms. It includes terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats, unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist remarks and comments whether posted online or through private messages (Section 12, Republic Act No. 11313).

The sexual acts also include invasion of the victim’s privacy through cyberstalking and incessant messaging, and uploading and sharing, without the consent of the victim, any form of media that contains photos, voice messages, or videos with sexual content. Impersonating identities of victims online or posting lies about victims to harm their reputation are likewise punishable by law (Section 12, Republic Act No. 11313).

In the workplace, gender-based sexual harassment may be committed in the following manners: (a) unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demands for sexual favors that can have a detrimental effect on the conditions of employment or job performance; (b) conduct of sexual nature and other conducts based on sex affecting the dignity of a person; and (c) conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment for the recipient (Section 16, Republic Act No. 11313).

Under the Safe Spaces Act, the crime of gender-based sexual harassment may be committed among peers, and committed by a subordinate to a superior officer, by a student to a teacher, or by a trainee to a trainer (Section 16, Republic Act No. 11313). This broadened the liability for sexual harassment which was traditionally limited to those in positions of authority, or have influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or educational environment.

While laws may deter the commission of acts like sexual harassment , some of these offenders are not threatened by penalties of fines or imprisonment. However, at the end of the day, it is respect towards others, and understanding the value and dignity of human life that should govern the actions and choices that we make. 

Topics: Tranquil G.S. Salvador III , sexual harassment , Cornell University , Anti-Sexual Harassment Act
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