A wider anti–harassment law needed

A specific law needs to be legislated in our country in order to prevent all types of harassment, not just sexual harassment.

There are many kinds of harassment out there which can affect people’s lives severely, similar to sexual harassment, and all these types of harassment need to be tackled effectively through comprehensive legislation like the one proposed for sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is only one type of harassment which can severely affect a person.

If we put our focus solely to curbing sexual harassment without addressing other types of harassment, it can affect our efforts to prevent sexual harassment itself and deny people the right to seek suitable remedies for other types of harassment which happens to them.

The proposed sexual harassment bill which been pushed forward by many non–governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country will only address the issue concerning sexual harassment.

This proposed bill will not address other types of harassment which are not sexual in nature. As such, the proposed bill is itself is incomplete.

It is very important for us to realise that harassment covers a wide range of behaviors or even statements which are offensive nature.

Harassment is commonly understood as an rude act that intends to demean, abuse, hurt, insult, torment, humiliate or embarrass an individual.

In the legal sense, these are behaviors that appear to be disturbing, upsetting or even threatening to the victim.

Harassment evolved from discriminatory grounds, and has the effect of nullifying or impairing a person from benefiting from their rights.

We also have other types of harassment which can torment and affect people’s life like physical harassment.

Physical harassment can come in the form of violence, both physically or to property. This can also be threatening behaviour.

Anyone may be subjected to physical abuse, such as pushing, punching or slapping, as well as other kinds of physical abuse.

There is also personal harassment. Personal harassment can also be labeled an act of bullying whereby the victim may be subjected to any unwanted remarks, insults, offensive or derogatory statements. This kind of harassment can also include body shaming and stalking.

Being constantly put down with condescending statements can also be seen as personal harassment or bullying.

There is also discriminatory harassment where this type of harassment is directed at someone’s race, age, skin color, nationality and others.

It can also relate to an act of discrimination based on person’s sexual orientation.

Harassment can be of a psychological nature and can have a negative impact on the victim.

They can be put down, belittled or forced to listen to needless condescending remarks that can affect them.

These negative remarks can be aimed at the victim from both a professional as well as personal level.

We also have cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can also been seen as a form of harassment and it is usually done online. The person doing the harassing can make threatening statements to the victim or spread rumours on any social media platform which can then spread like wildfire and out of control.

If Malaysia is to legislate a specific law addressing sexual harassment only, there is a fear that other types of harassment will continue to be committed.

Due to these reasons, it is very important for our country to consider legislation of a comprehensive law which can adequately prevent all types of harassment, not just sexual harassment.

Though the proposed bill on sexual harassment has been around for nearly 20 years, which was pushed forward by several local non–governmental organisations (NGOs), it should revisited and reassessed again before any final approval is given.

Everybody in the country should understand it can be difficult to control and prevent sexual harassment if we are still unable to control and even prevent other types of harassment.

The issue of sexual harassment and other types of harassment are inter connected, it should not be separated and ignored.

If we genuinely want to address the issue concerning sexual harassment effectively, all types of harassment should be given similar attention and be tackled together under the same proposed bill.

There is nothing wrong with the proposed sexual harassment bill, however the objective of the bill should be extended and widened by inserting all types of harassment and not being limited to just sexual harassment.

The government can consider creating a special committee to analyse the above proposal in detail.

A comparative study can also be done with other countries which have created specific anti–harassment laws as a guide like the Harassment Act, 1997 in New Zealand and Protection from Harassment Act, 1997 in the United Kingdom.

Muzaffar Syah Mallow is a senior lecturer of Faculty of Syariah and Law at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM). Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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