Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is not about sex, it is about power. The harasser or predator is often in a position of power or authority over the victim, due to differences in age, or social, political, educational or employment relationship. The legal definition of sexual harassment varies by jurisdiction, and the legal and social understanding of sexual harassment varies by culture.

The recent string of sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked Hollywood, the media and Capitol Hill, have spurred greater awareness beyond the high-profile predators. Weeks after the first stories broke alleging that Hollywood producer Henry Weinstein engaged in decades-long pattern of sexual harassment (he denies it), the list of men accused of similar acts keeps getting longer (www.cnn.comPeggyDrexler: “Are Men Really Clueless About Sexual Harassment?”)

Why do men generally appear to be clueless about sexual harassment? President Duterte himself was under fire after wolf whistling at a reporter in a Press Conference held in May 2016 and defending himself days later saying that it was “not a sexual thing” (Rappler IQ published June 24, 2016).

The concept of sexual harassment is clear under Philippine Law. In the Philippines, sexual harassment is defined by Republic Act (RA) 7877 or the “Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995.” Section 3 thereof provides:

“SEC. 3. Work, Education or Training-related Sexual Harassment Defined.—Work, education or training-related sexual harassment is committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainer 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.

(a) In a work-related or employment environment, sexual harassment is committed when:

(1.) The sexual favor is made as a condition in the hiring or in the employment, reemployment or continued employment of said individual, or in granting said individual favorable compensation, terms, conditions, promotions or privileges, or if the refusal to grant the sexual favor results in limiting, segregating or classifying the employee, which in any way would discriminate, deprive or diminish employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect said employee: xxx

(b) In an education or training environment, sexual harassment is committed:

(1) Against one who is under the care, custody or supervision of the offender;

(2) Against one whose education, training, apprenticeship or tutorship is entrusted to the offender; and

(3) When the sexual favor is made a condition to the giving of a passing grade, the granting of honors and scholarship or the payment of a stipend, allowance or other benefits, privileges or considerations; xxx

Resolution 956161 of the Civil Service Commission (dated October 10, 1995) enumerates in Rule V, Section 5 thereof the forms of sexual harassment:

(a) Physical.

(i.) Physical contact or malicious touching;

(ii.) Overt sexual advances;

(iii.) Unwelcome, improper or any unnecessary gesture of a sexual nature; or

(iv.) Any other suggestive expression or lewd insinuation.

(b) Verbal, such as request or demands for sexual favors or lurid remarks.

(c) Use of objects, pictures, letters or written notes with bold, persuasive sexual underpinnings and which create a hostile, offensive or intimidating work or training environment that is annoying or disgusting to the victim.

Criminal, civil and administrative sanctions are provided for under the law. These include imprisonment of one month to six months and/or a fine of P10,000 to P20,000 at the discretion of the Court. This is without prejudice to the victim’s filing of a separate and independent action for damages and other affirmative relief (RA 7877, Section 6 to 7) Administrative liabilities under Civil Service regulations include reprimand or fine or suspension, transfer or demotion in rank and salary and suspension or dismissal depending on the gravity of the offense (Rule X, Section 21-23).

It is the duty of the Employer or Head of Office in a Work-related, Education or Training Environment to create a Committee on Decorum and Investigation of cases on sexual harassment. Failure to do so would make such Employer or Head solidarily liable for damages arising from the acts of sexual harassment.

The victim and perpetrator can be any gender, and the perpetrator does not have to be of the opposite sex. However, a 2016 study conducted by the Social Weather Station found that women are most vulnerable to sexual harassment. In Quezon City, Metro Manila’s biggest city with a population of over 3 million, 3 in 5 women were sexually harassed at least once in their lifetime, according to the report. In barangays Payatas and Bagong Silangan, 88 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 experienced street harassment at least once. Across all ages 12 to 55 and above, wolf whistling and catcalling are the most experienced cases. Quezon City is the first city in Metro Manila to impose penalties on street harassment. In the Philippines, 58 percent of incidents of sexual harassment happen on the streets, major roads and eskinitas (alleys). Physical forms of sexual harassment occur mostly in public transport. (

There is some recent discussion of whether recent trends toward more revealing clothing and permissive habits have created a more sexualized general environment, in which some forms of communication are unfairly labeled harassment but are simply a reaction to a greater sexualization in everyday environments. With the advent of the Internet, social interactions, including sexual harassment, increasingly occur online, for example, in video games. I strongly support a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and a zero-tolerance standard of “Must report-Must investigate-Must punish.”

Sometimes, the perpetrator may be completely unaware that his or her behavior is offensive or constitutes sexual harassment or may be completely unaware that his or her actions may be unlawful. The best defense to such offensive behavior is to put a stop to it by saying “No!” And “No” should mean “No!”


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