How Sexual Harassment Laws Vary Around the World

How Sexual Harassment Laws Vary Around the World

Sexual harassment could mean any number of things.

Catcalling, receiving unsolicited sexual pictures and suggestive comments are just a few examples of how people are sexually harassed. The laws and punishments for doing so vary between countries (and in some places, two neighboring cities could have vastly different laws), from recognizing it as a hate crime to loosely enforcing what law is in the books.

Statistics from different countries show that sexual harassment can’t be linked to any one country in particular. On the United Nations’ Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence Against Women and Girls fast facts page, the group states that 83 percent of United States girls between 12 and 16 experience some form of sexual harassment at school, while 20 percent of women in Nairobi had been sexually harassed at work or school. While there are certainly many laws in place that would theoretically deter people from harassing others, its enforcement and stringency is different in every city, state and country.

In the United Kingdom, Nottinghamshire county police made headlines when they officially recognized misogyny as a hate crime on July 13, in conjunction with the Nottinghamshire Women’s Centre. Their definition of misogyny includes physical and verbal assault, uninvited sexual advances and nonconsensual photography.

“Misogyny hate crime, in addition to the general hate crime definition, may be understood as incidents against women that are motivated by an attitude of a man towards a woman, and includes behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman,” the force said in a statement.

As mentioned earlier, the umbrella of sexual harassment covers many things, including online harassment. A Pew Research Center report from 2014 stated that 25 percent of young women and 13 percent of young men in the U.S. had been sexually harassed online. Dealing with cyber-crimes, however, is a relatively new law in the books. It also doesn’t always concern forms of non-direct sexual harassment, as outlined by The Atlantic in one case where a man posted nude pictures of his then-girlfriend on Twitter, before forwarding them to her workplace and family. As is with many other countries, there’s no expedited, non-tedious process for filing a complaint.

Some countries focused on strictly enforcing sexual harassment laws in the workplace in recent years. In Singapore, the Protection from Harassment Act of 2014 clarifies the laws surrounding sexual harassment — a strong response, considering that 54 percent of women reported feeling sexually harassed at their workplaces in 2008. Its criminalization of stalking and other activities deviated from the usual common law judgment on cases.

These three countries are simple snapshots of a few procedures in place for their countries, and while they seem standard, there’s still a long way to go before they fully deter people from violating those laws. Read up on your state or country’s sexual harassment laws to see what’s covered, and if you want to see something stronger in action, lobby your local legislators to make a difference.

Image courtesy of Getty Images.