Jail time, higher fines proposed for new harassment law

File photo shows threatening SMSes sent as part of a scam which harasses innocent people.

STALKERS, cyber bullies and others who engage in antisocial and threatening behaviour will face jail under a proposed new law introduced in Parliament on Monday.

The Protection from Harassment Act 2014 aims to beef up existing penalties and break new ground by introducing new offences such as stalking.

It also gives examples of what constitutes harassment and stalking.

A student who distresses a classmate by posting a vulgar tirade on a website, for example, could be charged with harassment. Someone who sends flowers daily to a person's house despite being told to stop, or who bombards a subordinate at work with sexually suggestive e-mails, could be hauled up for stalking.

Victims of this sort of harassment have few avenues under existing legislation and many offenders face only fines under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

But the proposed law, which aims to protect adults and children in the real world and online, is a step up in terms of harsher penalties and new civil remedies to put a stop to the harassment.

The Bill has stiff penalties for repeat offenders, who can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to two years.

It also lays down factors courts can use to evaluate cases, including the frequency and duration of the incidents, as well as the effect the conduct has on the victim's safety, health, reputation and economic position.

It also protects public service workers, such as those in the transport and health-care industries, from threats, abuse and insults.

The new law will outline civil remedies that can be used to stop harassment - another legal first.

Victims can apply to a District Court for a Protection Order requiring harassers to desist from certain acts. The order could also be used to force the removal of offensive material from a website and victims will be able to sue perpetrators for damages.

Ministry of Law officials said last week that protection orders and take-down demands would be implemented with minimal cost to the victim.

The National Trades Union Congress welcomed the Bill, saying in a statement that it would offer workers, including those who deliver public services, greater protection.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said the labour movement would continue to educate employers and workers on harassment and ensure that companies put in place "proper grievance handling procedures" to deal with such issues.

Social workers such as Ms Seah Kheng Yeow welcomed the move to grant protection orders to harassment victims as well. Her agency, Pave, which fights family violence, has seen many cases of women being harassed and stalked by former boyfriends.

"There was not much they could do, since protection orders could previously be taken out only against spouses and family members," she said.

The proposed law will be debated in Parliament next week.

radhab@sph.com.sg


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