February 26th, 2014

Welcome recognition of harassment, but employers should be involved

justice1The proposed anti-harassment legislation announced today reflects the government’s increased awareness that sexual harassment and stalking are serious problems.  AWARE regularly assists victims who experience severe harm when their lives are disrupted by such conduct.  We welcome the decision to strengthen the civil legal remedies available to them, as well as the explicit recognition that stalking and harassment may include online and/or extra-territorial behaviour.

We particularly welcome the availability of protection orders and expedited protection orders granting victims immediate protection against harassment and stalking.  We hope that the procedure for obtaining protection orders will be easily accessible, as victims should not have to spend large sums on legal fees or navigate complex and intimidating bureaucracy.  The effectiveness of the protection order regime will also depend on the willingness of the police to take action against breaches.

AWARE is also pleased to note the availability of damages for harassment and stalking.  We hope that the courts, in interpreting and applying the law, allow claims for damages for emotional injury, as this is a major component of the harm done by stalking and harassment.

However, we are disappointed by the failure to impose any obligation on employers to address workplace sexual harassment.  Our 2008 survey found that workplace sexual harassment affected over 50% of respondents.  79% of victims were women, raising questions about gender equality in Singapore workplaces.  The most equitable and effective way to handle cases is employer mediation.  However, the proposed law places no obligation on employers to take sexual harassment seriously.  They remain free to ignore or dismiss complaints, leaving victims with little choice but to leave their jobs or suffer in silence.

We call upon the government to expand the proposed legislation or amend the Employment Act to legally require employers to take measures to address workplace sexual harassment.  The Ministry of Manpower should also mandate and enforce a detailed code of conduct specifically setting out best practice for employers on preventing workplace sexual harassment and processing harassment complaints.

Anyone seeking assistance with stalking and sexual harassment can contact our Sexual Assault Befrienders Service (6779 0282, sabs@aware.org.sg).

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