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Sexual Harassment and the Law, Part 1


Sexual harassment takes many forms, from catcalling to solicitation of sexual favors, molestation to attempted rape. Whatever harassment you experienced, you should know not only what constitutes sexual harassment, but also what legal action you can take against the offender. spoke to Maureen Gaddi Dela Cruz, human rights lawyer and gender equality advocate, about what women can do if they have been sexually harassed.

The first and most important thing: take reasonable steps to ensure your own safety. That includes putting distance between yourself and the offender, consulting a doctor regarding your physical well-being, even visiting a psychiatrist to help you cope with any emotional trauma.

Proof positive

After that, Dela Cruz says it’s important to gather evidence. In many cases, victims of abuse and harassment are met with doubt and demands for proof.

“Try to document the incident. Compile whatever evidence is available. Take screenshots, save messages (SMS, email, Viber, etc.). Talk to any witnesses and ask if they’d be willing to testify on your behalf if ever you decide to file a complaint with the proper authorities. Request that they preserve any evidence they may have obtained–videos, photos, etc.–and at the earliest possible opportunity, ask if they would be willing to let you use that if and when you file a case. The type of evidence really depends on what form the harassment took.”

The cooperation and consent of witnesses is very important. “If the incident leads to a legal case and a trial, the person who took the photo/video has to testify in court that they were the one who took it.”

Of course, it’s also important that the witnesses you talk to are on your side. “This assumes that the witness is sympathetic to you; it’s more difficult to obtain and use such evidence, of course, if they are on the side of the offender. If you have a lawyer assisting you, s/he would know what to do in such a scenario.”

What types of case/s can be filed?

Unfortunately, there’s a specific legal definition of sexual harassment, and many of the incidents where women are harassed don’t fit this definition. Dela Cruz explains, “This depends on the particulars of the incident. Not all incidents of what we commonly recognize or understand as ‘sexual harassment’ fall under the LEGAL definition of sexual harassment under Republic Act No. 7877, or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law.”

Another thing to remember about RA 7877 is that it “requires an element of moral ascendancy,” and the incident “should have occurred in a work/training/educ setting (i.e. the offender was a person in authority).”

Depending on the specifics of the incident, you can file:

  • An administrative case within the rules and regulations of the institution where the incident occurred, i.e. work, school, or training institution
  • A civil case for damages
  • A criminal case if the incident does not legally constitute sexual harassment, but amounts to any of a number of other criminal offenses: rape, attempted rape, acts of lasciviousness, slander by deed, or unjust vexation.
  • Libel or violations of the Cybercrime Law if you experienced online harassment, especially those considered grave threats under the Revised Penal Code, like rape or death threats

Administrative cases

Under RA 7877, “sexual harassment proper presupposes that the incident occurred in a work, training, or educational setting.” That means “you should first avail of the administrative remedies under the institution’s rules and regulations.”

Institutions such as places of work, schools and training centers are legally required to have mechanisms in place to address SH-related concerns. Failure to do so makes the institution liable, as does failure to take action.

Want to learn more? Tune in next week to know about legal cases and extralegal remedies. 


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