An avalanche of proposed law against sexual harassment—in the workplace, streets and via use of cyberspace—is coming.
Draft pepper spray law is also completed and ready for Cabinet next week, plus a note on regulation of public transport, including PH taxis, went to Cabinet yesterday.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi confirmed this to Guardian Media yesterday as International Women’s Day approaches next Monday.
Proposed pepper spray legislation was being finalised in recent weeks after it was announced on February 11 that its use had been approved. The announcement came hours before the funeral of murdered court clerk Andrea Bharatt.
Calls for tasers, pepper spray and similar protection arose since the murder of teenager Ashanti Riley last November. The issue was being examined by Government, which was concerned such implements could be used by culprits on victims. Police had supported calls for devices. Reinforced calls for such protection, including by independent Senator Paul Richards, arose when Bharatt was murdered on January 29.
Government subsequently stated that pepper spray will be available for trade on a regulated format with a permit.
The “We The People” group and Gerald Aboud subsequently expressed concern that application time might delay protection for people who really need it.
Yesterday, Al-Rawi said there will be a modified permit process. He said he’s also nearing completion on a package of amendments to deal with sexual harassment. These will be issued for public consultation before being finalised for Parliament debate.
Some amendments will become part of the sexual offences law which is currently silent on sexual harassment offences.
Amendments are also proposed for other laws, including the Industrial Relations Act, Bail Act and Computer Misuse Act.
Amendments will also involve a return to attempts to establish a Sexual Offenders Registry and witness protection for people seeking to report matters, including sexual offences. Government had failed with previous attempts on both issues.
While there is national policy against sexual harassment, Al-Rawi said the sexual offences law lacks specific sexual harassment offences.
“The package we propose will curtail the need for people to ‘try their luck’ with such cases in the criminal, civil or Industrial Court – it will consolidate and clarify processes to deal with this,” the Ag said.
Social media harassment covered
New offences being created by the amendments cover sexual harassment in the workplace, on the street, when doing business and via internet sources, including social media and videos. It also covers voyeurism and extends to abuse of confidence in relationships.
Clauses cover categories including domestic and migrant workers
Al-Rawi added, “It’s very far-reaching, revolutionary, cutting edge aw which the UK, for instance, is now getting into. It covers a wide spectrum which people – particularly women and girls – might be subject to in public or private circumstances, including via chance encounter.
“For instance, the aspect of confidence in sexual relationships could include instances where a video of someone having sex with another person (in the confidence of a relationship) is circulated and this is done to embarrass or threaten them, extort something from them or similar damaging situations. Those will be criminal offences. These situations go to the heart of harassment and is linked to sexual harassment.”
On the return to establish a Sexual Offenders’ Registry, Al-Rawi added, “Some stakeholders previously said we were going too far too fast with the Sexual Offenders’ Registry and they wanted to focus on the rehabilitation and recovery of offenders, rather than allowing for transparency for the public of having offenders’ names published in a registry, but we’ll press on.”
And on the witness protection amendment, he said, “We’ve maintained a special place for law to protect the vulnerable but unfortunately, the Opposition opposed many bills. UNC’s Saddam Hosein opposed having anonymity for witnesses who might be afraid to come forward to get protection for themselves and their family and seek justice which this system could have helped facilitate.”
Al-Rawi added, “All of these amendments combined represent things we couldn’t get done as the UNC didn’t support it. We’ve returned to the drawing board and framed the law in a way that we can ass them after seeking stakeholder views – and without UNC just opposing them and depriving the public of the benefit of protection.”
Amendments are projected to be passed by simple majority vote – Government votes alone if necessary.
There’s been consultation on some aspects but the Sexual Offences and Evidence amendments require public input, the AG said. The process should take a couple months from his ministry to Cabinet, then Parliament, depending on extent of stakeholder feedback.
Al-Rawi also said Works Minister Rohan Sinanan brought a note to Cabinet yesterday on legislation to regulate the public transport system, from PH and H cars to the PTSC and other modes. That’s being examined by a Cabinet sub-committee.
Other parts of the package:
• ↓Amendment to the Bail Act regarding bail and sexual offences and offender management.
• ↓Amendment on whistleblowing which will allow threats of sexual harassment to be reported in a safe way without consequences.
• ↓Amendment to the Industrial Relations Act and Equal Opportunity Act to treat with core issue of sexual harassment in workplaces.
• ↓Aspects of the Cyber Crime Bill which can be used in sexual harassment matters will be placed in the Computer Misuse Act.