Sexual harassment is a sensitive topic that many communities avoid talking about, especially in the Middle East. This sensitivity leads to many victims remaining silent, especially since the offense can be difficult to prove. However, in Saudi Arabia sexual harassment has a clear definition in law, there are penalties for offenders, and there are legal efforts to combat it.
Thanks to social media, incidents of sexual harassment in the last two days were immediately forwarded to the public prosecutor’s office, and the necessary measures were taken to arrest the offenders.
In September 2017, King Salman ordered the introduction of a system to combat sexual harassment, and draft legislation was approved by the Shoura Council and the Cabinet in May 2018. Under Saudi law, sexual harassment is any statement, act or sign with a sexual connotation inflicted by one person on another in relation to the victim’s body or their modesty, by any means.
Offenders may be imprisoned for up to two years and / or fined up to SR100,000 ($26,664.5). If the crime is repeated, offenders face five years in prison and / or a fine of SR300,000. Article 7 of the law imposes the same punishment on anyone who incites, agrees with, justifies or supports the harasser in any way, including on social media.
One of the clauses in the law excludes the possibility of exempting a perpetrator from punishment, even with the victim’s agreement. This will help curb financial bargains to waive the complaint, and deter cover-up attempts. The system takes into account women’s privacy by maintaining the confidentiality of their identity and personal data.
• 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.