Have you heard about this news from the Supreme Court?
A senior lawyer was accused of behaving in a sexually suggestive manner towards a junior colleague for a period of two years. The behavior included making dirty jokes, innuendos, asking inappropriate personal questions about the victim's romantic relationships, sharing details of extramarital sexual encounters, and making actual sexual advances. He even admitted that he would have fallen for his junior colleague if they were closer in age. His actions had a negative impact on the victim's emotional well-being, leading her to seek psychotherapy treatment. The Supreme Court punished the senior lawyer with a two-year suspension from practicing law.
It is good to hear that justice was served and the victim won the case. It is a positive development to witness the Supreme Court acknowledging the grievance of a victim of sexual harassment, as it indicates that the protections offered by the Safe Spaces Act are effective in safeguarding our rights!
How can the Safe Spaces Act protect us?
The Republic Act 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act/Bawal Bastos Law signed in 2019 penalizes catcalling, wolf-whistling, misogynistic and homophobic slurs, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual harassment in:
1. Public spaces - Gender-based sexual harassment in streets and public spaces is committed “through any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person regardless of the motive for committing such action or remarks.” The law protects you if you are harassed in any of the following public spaces:
○ Streets and alleys, public parks
○ Schools, buildings, malls, bars, restaurants
○ Transportation terminals, public market
○ Spaces used as evacuation centers
○ Government offices
○ Public utility vehicles as well as private vehicles covered by app-based transport network services
○ Other recreational spaces such as, but not limited to, cinema halls, theaters, and spas
4. Online spaces - Gender-based online sexual harassment includes acts that use information and communications technology to frighten victims through:
○ Physical, psychological, and emotional threats
○ Unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether on public posts or through private messages
○ Invasion of the victim’s privacy through cyber stalking and incessant messaging
○ Recording or sharing any of the victim’s photos, videos, or information without permission
○ Impersonating victims’ identities
○ Posting lies about victims to harm their reputation, and filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims
It is the responsibility of privately-owned public places, employers, schools, local government units (LGUs), and national government agencies (NGAs) to ensure protection against gender-based sexual harassment.
● Private establishments that are open to the public, such as restaurants and stores, are obligated to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards gender-based sexual harassment in public places and to assist victims by coordinating with the police, providing CCTV footage, and encouraging victims to report harassment as soon as possible.
● Workplaces and educational institutions are required to establish an independent internal mechanism or committee to investigate and address complaints of sexual harassment. Schools must investigate potential abusers and resolve the situation, even without a formal complaint, if there is a reasonable knowledge of gender-based sexual harassment or violence.
● LGUs are responsible for passing an ordinance that localizes the law and creating an anti-sexual harassment hotline.
● National government agencies like the DILG, Philippine Commission on Women, and the Department of Information and Communications Technology are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law.
Any victims of sexual harassment are allowed to file a complaint. It is also possible for someone else to file on behalf of the victim if they are hesitant to go through the process again due to the trauma it may cause. However, it is necessary to prove the occurrence of "unwanted and uninvited" sexual harassment based on the definition of the crime, and the victim's testimony is essential in building a strong case. (Source: Rappler.com)
Ensure that your company is a safe space.
The junior lawyer suffered two years of sexual harassment from someone she was supposed to look up to and trusted. We know it took a lot of courage from her to speak up about this since she is fighting against someone with power. Not everyone can do the same thing. Many choose not to speak up out of fear of punishment, not being believed, or damaging their job prospects. They may also blame themselves for unwanted attention. And when they finally come forward, they may face criticism for not speaking out sooner.
Sexual harassment should not be tolerated in the workplace because if it goes unchecked, it will continue. It is not fair for employees to have to find ways to protect themselves from their colleagues or bosses. We all have the right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment and it is everyone's responsibility to help create that kind of workplace.
Companies should implement programs that can provide victims the courage and outlet to come forward and speak out against harassment. Information campaigns on the Safe Spaces Act should be prioritized in all levels of the company. Furthermore, creating accessible avenues where employees can seek out a mental health professional can be beneficial, as sexual harassment can have negative effects on one's emotional and mental health. These are just some of the steps a company can start to take to establish a safe workplace and ensure compliance with the Anti-Bastos Law.
If your company is struggling to implement anti-sexual harassment programs, we at PVP can help you through our services. We can be your ally in promoting mental health and creating a safe work environment! You can contact us at 632 8404-9524 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abad, M. (2019, October 28). FAST FACTS: How does the Safe Spaces Act protect you? Rappler. Retrieved from: https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/243538-things-to-know-about-safe-spaces-act/
SC Suspends Lawyer for Sexual Harassment at Work – Supreme Court of the Philippines. (n.d.). Supreme Court. Retrieved from: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/sc-suspends-lawyer-for-sexual-harassment-at-work/
Sexual Harassment - HR as a Safe Place. (2019, July 23). HR Exchange Network. Retrieved from: https://www.hrexchangenetwork.com/employment-law/articles/sexual-harassment-hr-as-a-safe-place
Witkin, M. (2013, July 20). Workplace should be safe place to work. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved from: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/commentary/sdut-workplace-should-be-safe-place-to-work-2013jul20-story.html