Mar 18, 2011

Do We Know How to Handle Sexual Harassment?



News came out yesterday about a draft law that has been proposed by the government issuing harsher punishments for those who commit sexual harassment and rape crimes, up to the point of death sentence.

The new law tackles various points: adding telephone and the internet to different media through which harassment can occur; and giving more conditions when rape convicts get harsher punishments such as reconsidering victim's age and cases where the victim has been raped by more than one convicts.

This is a reminder of a similar law which just passed a few days ago for combating thuggery. The news of that law was alarming to me as well as many other human rights activists. The move towards stricter law for thuggery was met with a lot of criticism. Just before this particular law was passed, the military forces cracked down on Tahrir protesters, many were detained and tortured. These protesters were claimed to be thugs which puts us at a dilemma of how to determine who's a thug and who's a protester, especially because we are at a time where military courts (where people do not enjoy their full rights of fair trial) have been handling these cases.

Back to sexual harassment, it is quite obvious there's a problem with the way we're dealing with this issue. The phenomenon which began surfacing rather recently in Egypt is rampant. But is issuing stricter punishments the solution for this multifaceted problem? Here's why I don't think so:

I find the process highly questionable. The ministerial council pushes for more punishments for sexual harassment and the supreme military council is happy to enforce these, because this is the language the military best understands. In normal circumstances the ministerial council can propose draft laws and submit them to the parliament to discuss them further. Either way there need to be more public debate about it.

Photo Credit: Amr Nabil/AP/File

Drafting laws without counseling civil society bodies or human rights experts is pretty concerning. These laws have to be compatible with human rights law, and there need to be clear definition and good consensus on what sexual assault entails.

I am more concerned with how to enforce this law, rather than the punishments themselves. There are big question marks on how to get these cases reported? We have a culture of silence about these crimes. It's hard for people to report them because a huge stigma can be placed upon them. Most women who face sexual harassment or even rape never report it to the police or even to their families because their lives can be devastated.

We have this culture of intimidating criminals by increasing punishments. I don’t really believe it works. To be able to overcome a societal problem, we need to handle its underlying causes. All those handling those crimes need to be sensitized about it and fully aware of its implications. By engaging different people in the process of ending the phenomenon of sexual harassment, real achievement can happen on that front.


5 comments:

  1. I think laws dealing with sexual harassment will always be problematic. Who even defines what SH is? If a guy flirts with me and I like it him it isn't, but if I don't like him then it is? Also what does a law really mean in a country with lack of application of laws in general?
    I think the only hope for Egypt is socialization: men just ened to be brought up to respect women.

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  2. Well, any kind of harassment is the same thing. Think of two best friends. They can call each others names all they want but it wouldn't be harassment. It's only harassment if you don't want it, if it makes you annoyed, worried, or anxious. One dictionary defines the word "harassment" as: The act of tormenting by continued persistent attacks and criticism.
    Of course, socialization is important too. But that takes a long time. If there's a STRICT law in effect, then at least it will hopefully occur less often from police & other state agencies.


    Read more about harassment: http://www.answers.com/topic/harassment#ixzz1KD6684oz

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