The law on harassment

Victims of harassment, including that of a non-sexual nature, can turn to the law for help.

The Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) provides civil and criminal recourse for victims of harassment. It was passed in Parliament on March 2014, and enacted that November.

Victims may apply directly to the courts for a protection order (PO), which is used to stop a harasser.

Breaching the PO is a criminal offence, with penalties ranging from fines not exceeding $5,000 to jailtime not exceeding 12 months, or both. For repeat offenders, the penalty increases to $10,000 or jail time not exceeding two years, or both.

"For Poha, the victim usually knows and is familiar with the harasser, and there has been repeated attempts of harassment," said Mr Rajan Supramaniam, managing director of Hilborne Law. "The PO is basically to tell the harasser to refrain from any more of such actions, and to safeguard the victim."

Ms Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research, said victims who file a police report for harassment have two options to take the case to court.

The first is through the Magistrates' Court, which is a criminal court. The second is to take up an application for a PO in the civil court.

Unlike the Personal Protection Order (PPO) under the Women's Charter where a victim can directly file for such an order, a PO generally requires a lawyer to make the application, said Ms Lim.

"It thus may be quite expensive and the processes are more cumbersome than the PPO." Besides cost, the process is more cumbersome too. Ms Lim said the police cannot act when there is a breach of order until the victim goes to court and files a complaint.

"As a victim, you generally just want the police to step in and protect you, which is why most people would go straight for the criminal remedy and file a complaint in the Magistrates' Court."

Besides the law, a Tripartite Advisory on Workplace Harassment was issued in December last year to encourage bosses to take all nature of harassment seriously. It was drafted by the Manpower Ministry, National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation, among others.

Employers have been advised to set up a hotline for victims to report harassment safely, and provide better training for human resource personnel to deal with such cases.

Fabian Koh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'The law on harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe