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Dewan Rakyat Finally Passes Sexual Harassment Bill After 10 Years Of Discussions

Under the new bill, those found guilty will have to offer a statement of apology to the victim and may have to fork out up to RM250,000 in compensation.

Cover image via Bernama/Free Malaysia Today

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The Dewan Rakyat has finally passed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill after more than a decade of discussions yesterday, 20 July

According to New Straits Times, the bill that was first proposed in 2011 was only tabled for its first reading in the Dewan Rakyat on 15 December last year.

Numerous stakeholders, including various government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), and members of parliament, have since discussed the bill's passage.

"This bill is important and timely in putting an end to the normalisation of sexual harassment," said Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun in the wrap-up speech in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

"This is the first step for Malaysia to provide protection (for victims) against sexual harassment," she added, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today.

Under the new bill, any uncalled behaviour in any form, be it verbal or non-verbal, visual, signal, or physical, directed towards another person and which offends, disrespects, or harms their well-being is categorised as sexual harassment

The Star reported that those found guilty of committing an act will have to offer a statement of apology to the victim, and fork out up to RM250,000 in compensation, or face imprisonment for two years.

If the act of sexual harassment is done in public, the offender will have to make a public apology.

The bill will also establish a 12-member Anti-Sexual Harassment Tribunal, comprising of former members of the judiciary, police officers, and experienced lawyers, to hear the claims.

Rina said the complainant and the accused would both have the right to be present during the proceedings and, if the case is complex, a right to legal representation.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Jeremy Yap/Unsplash

Any award made by the tribunal would be final, akin to a court order that must be enforced by the parties involved

The parties will only be allowed to challenge the compensation set by the tribunal and appeal to the High Court for a judicial review if there were serious breaches of procedure.

The minister added that the tribunal would have the authority to reject frivolous complaints, and those wrongly accused could lodge a criminal defamation report.

The tribunal must also make a decision within 60 days of the first proceeding, with the ruling meted out with grounds for or against it.

Image via Berita Harian

The bill will now be brought before the Dewan Negara and receive royal assent before being gazetted for enforcement

Under the bill, the penalty for companies that fail to act against incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace has also been increased from RM10,00 to RM50,000.

To raise awareness, workplaces would also be required to display anti-sexual harassment posters.

Rina said her ministry will also be conducting a nationwide campaign and reaching out to the press to educate the public on the Sexual Harassment Act.

"We will not stop at gazetting this bill. We will improve this act based on current needs and situation," she said.

"It will be more practical for improvements to be made after seeing how the law operates."

If you or someone you know may be at risk or has experienced sexual abuse or assault, please reach out to these Malaysian organisations:

1. WOMEN'S AID ORGANISATION (WAO)
Operating hours: 24-hour
Contact: +603-30008858
SMS/WhatsApp: +6018-9888058
Website | Facebook | Twitter

2. ALL WOMEN'S ACTION SOCIETY (AWAM)
Operating hours: Monday to Friday (9.30am - 5.30pm)
Contact: +603-78770224
WhatsApp/Telegram: +6016-2284221 | +6016-2374221
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook | Twitter

3. WOMEN'S CENTRE FOR CHANGE PENANG (WCC PENANG)
Operating hours: Monday to Friday (9am - 5pm)
Contact: +604-2280342 | +604-3988340
WhatsApp: +6011-31084001 | +6016-4180342
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook | Twitter

4. SARAWAK WOMEN FOR WOMEN SOCIETY (SWWS)
Operating hours: Monday (7pm - 9pm), Tuesday to Thursday (9.30am - 11.30am), Saturday (2pm - 4pm)
Contact: +6082-368853
SMS/WhatsApp: +6016-5822660 | +6013-8044285
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook | Twitter

5. SABAH WOMEN'S ACTION-RESOURCE GROUP (SAWO)
Operating hours: Monday to Friday (9am - 5pm)
Contact: +6088-280200 | +6011-27908020
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook | Twitter

6. PROTECT AND SAVE THE CHILDREN (PS THE CHILDREN)
Operating hours: Monday to Friday (3pm - 12am)
WhatsApp: +6016-7213065
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook | Twitter

7. INTERNET WATCH FOUNDATION (IWF)
Anonymously and confidentially report child sexual abuse content and non-photographic child sexual abuse images with IWF's Reporting Portal.

Before the bill, victims only had precedent to sue perpetrators for sexual harassment with a landmark case in 2016:

Last year, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) had questioned Malaysia's need for a specific Sexual Harassment Bill:

Local surveys have found that sexual harassment violations often occur in institutions of learning and workplaces in Malaysia:

However, sexual harassment can happen anywhere and to anyone: