Parliament’s Legislative Committee on 27 June approved a proposal seeking to amend laws that would change the legal status of sexual harassment from a misdemeanour to a felony.
The draft amended some provisions of the penal code promulgated by Law 58/1937 regarding molesting others and sexual harassment. The amendments introduced by the committee included two articles, 306 A and 306 B of the current penal code.
MP Ashraf Rashad, the parliamentarian who brought forward the proposal, stated that Article 306 A, after its amendment, stipulates that “a penalty of jail for a period not less than two years and not exceeding four years instead of only one year and a fine of not less than LE100,000 and not exceeding LE200,000 instead of LE10,000 or either penalty, shall be imposed on whoever assaults others by words or deed or any other means, including telecommunication, wireless, electronic, or other technical means. The amendments mean that cyber sexual harassment is included,” Rashad said.
“If the offender repeats the felony by stalking and tracking the victim, the penalty shall be imprisonment for not less than three years, and not exceeding five years, and a fine of not less than LE200,000 and not exceeding LE300,000 or either penalty. In case the felony is repeated, the minimum and maximum penalties of imprisonment and fine would be doubled.”
Article 306 B, after its amendment, stipulates that “it is considered sexual harassment if the crime stipulated in Article 306 A of this law is committed with the offender having been determined to obtain benefit of a sexual nature from the victim. The offender shall be punished by being sent to prison for a period of no less than five years instead of one year and fined no less than LE200,000 and not more than LE300,000 instead of LE10,000-LE20,000, or one of these two penalties.
“If the offender was mentioned in the second paragraph of Article (267) of this law, or had an occupational, family, or educational authority over the victim, or exercised any pressure on the victim so that circumstances allowed him to exercise it against him, or the crime was committed by two or more persons, or at least one of them was carrying a weapon, the penalty shall be imprisonment for a period of no less than seven years instead of two years and a fine of no less than LE300,000 and not more than LE500,000 instead of LE50,000 maximum and a minimum LE20,000.”
Rashad stated that the proposed amendments came in response to recent high-profile sexual harassment cases. He added that sexual harassment is a crime that is a dangerous threat to society’s stability and safety.
According to a study issued by the Population Council last year, 40 per cent of females between 13-35 have been physically or verbally assaulted on streets and in public transport. In informal, urban, and rural areas sexual assault was reported at 61.6 per cent, 47.7 per cent, and 32.6 per cent, respectively.
In July last year, the cabinet approved a bill proposed by the Justice Ministry that keeps the identity of sex crime victims confidential, and can only be revealed to the court and to defendants upon request.
Nahla Abdel-Tawab, director of the Egypt office of the Population Council, said the problem in Egypt is that women rarely report cases of sexual assault as they fear the stigma and the “false impression” that reporting harassment is ineffective.
Abeer Salem, head of research at the Egypt office of the Population Council, said policies and programmes should focus on fighting social and sexual violence in order to create safer spaces for females. Increasing people’s social awareness is also essential in order to be able to eliminate all types of violence against women, Salem said, adding that the community should participate in finding radical solutions to sexual harassment of women in public places.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly