JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s move to criminalize sexual harassment — with offenders facing jail terms of up to five years and fines of SR300,000 ($80,000) — has been welcomed in the Kingdom.
The Shoura Council on Monday passed draft legislation targeting sexual harassers.
Initial offenders face prison terms of up to two years and fines of SR100,000. But in some circumstances, the penalties could be extended to five years in prison, with fines of up to SR300,000 for repeat offenders.
Saudis welcomed the anti-harassment law, which comes at a sensitive time for the Kingdom, with a ban on women driving ending in June and women now allowed to attend sports events.
Nora Al-Rifai, a 26-year-old Saudi woman, told Arab News: “My mother was watching the news and shouted for me and my sisters to join her. She believes the law is a ‘must’ to maintain safety and balance in society.
“It should have been introduced long ago,” Al-Rifai said.
“Developed countries view harassment as a serious matter. Those who break the law need to be punished, and something had to be done to stop people from crossing a line and jeopardizing peaceful society.”
Saudi artist Amani Al-Ghoraibi was in a car with her parents when she relayed the news. “They both startled me when they shouted, ‘it should have happened long ago.’
“I was in shock. I wasn’t expecting such drastic laws to be used to combat harassment. I’m impressed with the steps the council is taking and feel more comfortable about driving knowing that these laws are there to protect me.”
Al-Ghoraibi’s father, Mohammed, said the law was long overdue, but couldn’t come at a better time with women being allowed to drive from June 28.
“It’s better to be safe,” he said.
Her mother, Nejwa Knight, an instructor at a Jeddah university, was overjoyed at the Shoura’s approval of the legislation. “I appreciate that the law covers both sides of the spectrum — real harassment and false accusations,” she said.
A Saudi academic, Dr. Malak Al-Husaini tweeted: “These regulations and punishments will frighten perpetrators and force them to be rehabilitated. Thank you for these laws.”