How the new Saudi anti-harassment law will protect us all
The definition of harassment is not restricted to the behavior of a particular type. Those who suffer from it may be children or people with special needs; it may occur in the street, the workplace, or at home. Sexual harassment does not involve only physical harassment; it includes verbal harassment and any affront to human dignity.
Sexual harassment has long been a social taboo that many people avoided talking about. Unfortunately, this fear often forces victims to remain silent, to avoid any further consequences from reporting it.
In September 2017, King Salman ordered the introduction of a system to combat sexual harassment, and the draft legislation was approved this week by the Saudi Shoura Council. Until now, the regulations had not been clearly detailed and the initial proposal focused only on the potential penalties — up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to SR100,000.
If the crime is repeated, the potential prison sentence increases to five years and the fine to SR300,000. These sentences are still under advisement, and more severe penalties are expected.
One of the clauses in the new law that drew my attention excludes the possibility of exempting a perpetrator from punishment, even with the agreement of the victim. This will help to curb the temptation of financial greed, and deter any attempts at intervention to cover up this heinous crime.
The new law also suggests that any case of harassment should be reported immediately, and that the identity of whistleblowers should be protected. In this area, however, it is vague, and there is no strict requirement. I would suggest that there should be explicit penalties for anyone who witnesses a case of harassment but fails to report it, or even conceals it.
In the workplace, I would recommend that the articles of the new law be reflected in the internal regulations of institutions and companies to curb harassment there, and that its requirements and punishments be included in labor law.
I hope the application of the new law will take into account the psychological needs of victims of harassment, and that there are effective mechanisms to deal with them.
Although the approval of the new law has taken some time, it should be implemented within the next month, in conjunction with end of the de facto ban on women driving.
Saudi society is developing and changing, along with lifestyles and the technology that enables them.
The law needs to keep pace to ensure the safety and stability of society’s members, and to protect them from behavior such as harassment — which can affect people of both sexes and all ages.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif