Law creeping up on stalkers spells relief
FORMER journalist Joanne Lee received flowers for her birthday in 2009. They were not from a friend, but a stalker.
For two years from 2008, Ms Lee's stalker would leave her multiple voicemail messages, send her letters, and sometimes call her "wifey". It took a court case to end the harassment.
Another victim is not as lucky. His stalker of 14 years is still at large (see other story).
To provide relief to victims of all kinds of harassment, a Bill is being tabled in Parliament.
For the first time, stalking, whether in the real world or online, will constitute an offence that will carry harsh penalties.
Called the Protection from Harassment Bill, it seeks to "better protect people from harassment and related anti-social behaviour", the ministries of Law and Home Affairs said.
Even a course of action that is seemingly benign, but causes distress, can be considered an offence under the Bill, said Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Law Beh Swan Gin. He gave the example of being delivered roses at the office table every day to the point of it being "scary".
The Bill, to be read in Parliament by Law Minister K. Shanmugam next week, will also protect people against sexual harassment at the workplace and bullying.
These offences are covered under the current Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, but the upcoming one will replace them in a clearer way.
There will be civil remedies and criminal sanctions available to victims.
For example, victims may apply to the courts for a Protection Order, and should there be urgency, an Expedited Protection Order may be granted even before a hearing is held.
Ms Corinna Lim, the executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said that the Bill would be useful because most victims really just want the harassment to stop.
"This is going to give them an affordable and administratively simple tool to stop the harassment," she said.
The courts will also have the authority to make the harasser or third parties, like Facebook and Instagram, remove offending material like nude photographs and hurtful posts.
Even offenders who are overseas will not be able to escape. The identities of anonymous harassers online may also be investigated.
An online moniker or username may be enough to get a Protection Order, said Ms Thian Yee Sze, director-general of the legal group at the ministry.
When it comes to sexual harassment at the workplace, Ms Lim added that some of the responsibility must fall on employers to stop it.
Criminal lawyer Amolat Singh said that the Bill would be a "marked improvement" over the current law, and that it would be more targeted legislation.
He added that it would be able to provide "immediate first aid" to victims.