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The Safe Spaces Act: This Law Punishes Catcalling, Online Sexual Harassment, And More

Here's everything you need to know about the Safe Spaces Act.

On July 15, 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Safe Spaces Act RA 11313. It addresses all forms of sexual harassment, recognizing that both men and women must have equality, security, and safety not only in private, but also on the streets, publc spaces, online, as well as in work places and educational institutions. 

Cosmopolitan spoke to Atty. Hanna Bravo of Barrios & Bravo Law Offices to better understand how this law can protect you. One of the beneficial aspects of RA 11313 is how clearly defined the terms are: Catcalling, for example, "refers to unwanted remarks directed towards a paerson, commonly done in the form of wolf-whistling and misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs." Another prevalent issue, stalking, is described as "conduct directed at a person involving the repeated visual or physical proximity, non-consensual communication, or a combination thereof that cause or will likely cause a person to fear for one's own safety or the safety of others, or to suffer emotional distress." 

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It is also more inclusive. For instance, gender-based online sexual harassment refers to online conduct that's targeted at a particular person. Atty. Bravo added, "Hindi sinabing sa babae lang; hindi sinabing lalaki lang. Covered lahat. Gender-sensitive siya so plus points for that." 

Gender-Based Streets and Public Spaces Sexual Harassment

Crimes under Article 1 are committed through "any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person regardless of the motive for committing such action or remarks." Atty Bravo said, "Hindi na defense yung walang intention. Basically, [this was created] from the perspective of the victim." 

One of the most commendable sections is the inclusion of sexual harassment that happens in privately owned spaces that are open to the public, which includes restaurants, hotels, casinos, cinemas, and more. According to Atty. Bravo, "[Privately owned places] are obliged to provide assistance [when you report an incident]. It's not optional for them. So kung may reklamo ka, puwede mo sila i-reklamo if they’re not providing [assistance]. Kailangan [nilang] mag-coordinate with local authorities kung may na-report na incident sa [kanila] and kailangan hindi nila i-ho-hold yung CCTV footage." Under this law, "kapag nag-report ka, even if wala pang court order, kailangan na nilang i-preserve yung CCTV footage. Hindi nila puwedeng sabihin na natabunan na." 

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This law also covers sexual harassment in public utility vehicles. And it's not just the driver's fault. Atty. Bravo explained, "May provision na magkakaroon ng breach of contract yung operator. 'Pag sinabi mong breach of contract, ibig sabihin hindi porket driver mo yung gumawa, [tapos] ikaw [lang] yung operator, ligtas ka na. Mayroon kang obligation kung hindi maayos yung pagpili mo sa driver mo. Liable ka rin." 

Pressure is also placed on local government units (LGUs) to enforce the provisions under Article 1 of this Act. They are required to "pass an ordinance, which shall localize the applicability of this Act within 60 days of its effectivity." But why is this necessary if the Safe Spaces Act has been made official? Atty. Bravo said that information dissemination is easier this way; plus, LGUs can impose their own fines on top of what the law dictates. 

First degree offenses include: "cursing, catcalling, wolf-whistling, leering and intrusive gazing, taunting, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs, persistent unwanted comments on one's appearance, relentless requests for personal details such as name, contact, and social media details, or destination, the use of words, gestures, or actions that ridicule on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation; identity and/or expression including sexist, homophobic, transphobic statements and slurs, persistent telling of sexual jokes, use of sexual names, comments, and demands, and any statement that has made an invasion on a person's personal space or threatens the person's sense of personal safety." As for the penalties: P1,000-fine (first offense) + two-hour community service with Gender Sensitivity Seminar; P3,000-fine (second offense) or six to 10 days in prison; or P10,000-fine (third offense) + 11 to 30 days in prison. 

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For acts involving offensive body gestures, exposing of private parts, public masturbation, groping, and similar lewd sexual actions, the penalties are: P10,000-fine (first offense) + 12-hour community service with Gender Sensitivity Seminar; P15,000-fine (second offense) or 11 to 30 days in prison; P20,000-fine (third offense) + one month and one day to six months in prison. 

Stalking, "when accompanied by pinching, touching, brushing against the genitalia, face, arms, anus, groin, breasts, inner thighs, face, buttocks, or any part of the victim's body" is also subject to grave penalties: P30,000-fine (first offense) + Gender Sensitivity Seminar or 11 to 30 days in prison; P50,000-fine (second offense) or one month and one day to six months in prison; P100,000-fine (third offense) or prison in its "maximum period."

Gender-Based Online Sexual Harassment

Online sexual harassment covers "acts that use information and communications technology in terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats, unwanted misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist remarks and comments online whether publicly or through direct and private messages." This includes "invasion of the victim's privacy through cyberstalking and incessant messaging, uploading and sharing without the consent of the victim, any form of media that contains unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim's photos, videos, or any information online, impersonating identities of victims online or posting lies about the victims..." The fines for online sexual harassment are bigger, with the minimum being P100,000 and the maximum, P500,000. 

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Gender-Based Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

ICYDK, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 covers sexual harassment committed by authority figures in the schools, training institutions, and workplace. But the Safe Spaces Act has a more modern take on sexual harassment in the workplace. It states, "A conduct that is unwelcome and pervasive and creates an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating environment for the recipient...the crime of gender-based sexual harassment may also be committed between peers and those committed to a superior officer by a subordinate, or to a teacher by a student, or to a trainer by a trainee...Atty. Bravo explained why this detail is so important, "Usually kasi, 'pag sexual harassment, yung may ascendancy or influence ka...usually, you only have that 'pag boss ka, someone na may authority." 

Gender-Based Sexual Harassment In Educational And Training Institutions

Atty. Bravo stressed the importance of this particular part of the law: "Even if an individual does not want to file a complaint or does not request that the school take any action on behalf of a student or faculty member and school authorities have knowledge or reasonably know about a possible or impending act of gender-based sexual harassment or sexual violence, the school should promptly investigate [it]." She explained, "'Pag bata kasi, takot sa ganyan. Ayaw nila kasi nahihiya sila. Kung sino man ang concerned, they can inform the school about it. And the school, hindi siya puwede magbulag-bulagan. Even if the victim doesn't come forward, they have to investigate it. They have to stop it. Kasi most likely, sa school, mga minors 'yan. So tama lang na ganito siya. Kailangan talaga nila ng support."

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What do you think of the Safe Spaces Act?

Atty. Hanna Bravo is the co-founder of Barrios & Bravo Law Offices located at U-2 46 West Avenue, Quezon City.

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