Women vs. Sexual Harassment: Here Are the Laws You Should Know

That cheesy adage we heard a lot as kids rings true when it comes to protecting our rights: Knowledge is power. When it comes to sexual harassment and abuse, a command over the laws that guard us against these crimes come in handy. (So does teaching potential offenders to not do it, period.)

As we all know, there are different forms of sexual abuse and the law has tried its best to be specific about them so that justice will be meted out correctly. We consulted with private practitioner Atty. Marian Kay Yambao about said laws and provisions in our courts. Plus she also shared her insight on what else the courts needs to do in order to minimize rape culture in our country.

What are the laws that protect women against sex crimes? 

There are plenty of laws that protect women against various forms of abuse. Aside from the protection that the Revised Penal Code (RPC) provides, an example of these laws is the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children (VAWC) Act, also known as Republic Act (RA) 9262. RA 9262 categorized these forms of violence into four (4): 1.) Physical; 2.) Sexual; 3.) Psychological; and 4.) Economic. Under Section 3 of RA 9262, sexual harassment is a form of sexual violence against women.

The Philippine laws, nonetheless, provide a specific law that punishes sexual harassment: RA 7877, otherwise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. Section 3 of RA 7877 defines sexual harassment as:

… committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said Act.

Is sexual harasment in the workplace limited to the description above? 

The Supreme Court in the case of Domingo vs. Rayala, G.R. No. 155831, 18 February 2008, held that: “…it is not necessary that the demand, request or requirement of a sexual favor be articulated in a categorical oral or written statement. It may be discerned, with equal certitude, from the acts of the offender.” In the instant case, the offender in—

Holding and squeezing Domingos shoulders, running his fingers across her neck and tickling her ear, having inappropriate conversations with her, giving her money allegedly for school expenses with a promise of future privileges, and making statements with unmistakable sexual overtones all these acts of Rayala resound with deafening clarity the unspoken request for a sexual favor.

The key ingredient in sexual harassment under RA 7877, therefore, is the feelings or effect to the victim as a result of the offender’s act. As long as the offender creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the victim, there could exist sexual harassment.

What are the laws the against sexual harassment outside the workplace? 

RA 7877 limits the definition of sexual harassment as one that occurs in the workplace, educational and/or training environment. Lewd acts beyond the limits provided by RA 7877 can be punished under Article 36 of the RPC as acts of lasciviousness.

Sexual harassment under RA 7877 is malum prohibitum. Intent, therefore, need not be proven. Good faith is not a defense. The offender should also have some form of moral ascendancy, influence, or authority over the offended party.

Acts of lasciviousness, on the other hand, is malum in se. Intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person needs to be proven. Good faith is a defense. The relationship of the offender and the offended party does not matter.

Catcalling is now considered a crime in Quezon City. How can citizens lobby for this to be expanded to other parts of the Philippines?

Arguably, many are aware that that sexual harassment is common. I think the issue is how to make people care or do something about it. I think it would be good to have law schools or law students reach out to organizations that empower women or those that advocate women’s rights. Back in law school, I used to attend an elective class entirely devoted to rights of women and children. This would have been a good project for that class.

Not only do law schools have the resources to lobby for ordinances or laws similar to the instant one, but I think that the academic institution, in particular, law schools, are in more position to educate the society about the importance of law in maintaining a peaceful community.

If the offensive act happened in the workplace or in any educational or training institution, the offended party may opt to report the incident to the human resources or personnel department. After all, RA 7877 mandates the employer or head of office, educational or training institution to immediately take action whenever it receives report that a case of sexual harassment happened in its premises. Otherwise, the employer or head of office, educational or training institution will be solidarily liable for damages.

Should the offended party opt to file a labor case against her employer or head of office, educational or training institution, she could file a case before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). In such a case, there could be a possibility of settlement, as the parties will have the opportunity of mediating.

Should the offended party opt to file a criminal case for sexual harassment, she may file a complaint affidavit to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor will, then, require the offender to answer. If the fiscal or prosecutor finds that there is probable cause, s/he will file a complaint with the court. It is the court who shall, consequently, issue a warrant of arrest against the offender.

An offended party may also choose to directly file a complaint in the women’s desk in police precincts should she need immediate assistance.

Notably, nothing prohibits the offended party to file a case for both sexual harassment under RA 7877 and acts of lasciviousness under the RPC, at the same time.

What are cases or actions that can be deemed as harassment that are still not completely covered in the law? 

As pointed out earlier, RA 7877 only covers all forms of sexual harassment in the employment, education, or training environment. Those cases not covered by RA 7877 are not without remedy. One may file a case for violating Article 36 of the RPC on acts of lasciviousness. Proving that an act falls within the purview of the RPC is, however, more difficult to prove as intent cannot be easily ascertained.

While it might be good to propose that the legislative broaden the scope of sexual harassment as something that may be committed outside the walls of offices, schools, or training facilities, I strongly believe that it is in the execution, not legislation, where the problem lies.

“Women should dress or act in a certain way,” “boys will be boys”—some biases dictate. What every gender should learn is respect. Legislation is one way of keeping things in order but values and principles should start at home, in churches, and/or in school. Values are, after all, what will hone and enforce laws.


Art by Lara Intong 

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