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Dr. Yao Shu-Wen on Preventing and Curbing Sexual Harassment

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Dr. Yao Shu-Wen on Preventing and Curbing Sexual Harassment

On June 25, 2015, the Human Rights Protection Committee of the Control Yuan invited Dr. Yao Shu-Wen, Director of the Health and Counseling Center at Soochow University, to talk about the importance of preventing and curbing sexual harassment, based on the Act of Gender Equality in Employment, the Gender Equity Education Act, and the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (aka the Three Gender Equality Acts) and various types of cases. Dr. Yao also touched on the problems facing practitioners and offered some food for thought on possible solutions.

By describing scenarios based on actual cases, Dr. Yao shed light on some tricky questions, including which behaviors should be considered sexual harassment, forced obscene act or sexual assault, what could be the perpetrator’s motives, and how victims react on the spot and what can they do to lodge their complaints. She also explained the applicability of the law under different circumstances and examined the ways in dealing with conflicting laws. Dr. Yao went on to explain the reasons behind the varying answers some participants imagined they’d give when faced with an assault situation. Her humor drew laughers from the audience.

The Three Gender Equality Acts provide different interpretation and rules when it comes to the rights protected, applicable subjects, complaints filing, and effective time period for complaints and penalties, Dr. Yao said.

Fact finding and legal applicability are also rife with controversies. Does the Act of Gender Equality in Employment apply when sexual harassment occurs beyond the workplace and during off-hours, including on the metro on-route to work; when an insurance agent meets with the client to discuss insurance policies; when a civil servant takes an official leave to get a health checkup; when the medical personnel is not on duty? Does the Gender Equity Education Act apply when a teacher harasses someone outside campus? If the answer is “no” to both questions, then should the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act be applied at all times to ensure personal safety for the victims? Or should the perpetrator be charged with the offense of forced obscene act, sexual assault, and offense of stalking under the Social Order Maintenance Act?

Given the problems that lie in defining and proving a sexual harassment claim, it is often the case when the victim and the harasser tells different stories, Dr. Yao said, unless the incident was caught on surveillance camera, which is highly unlikely.

The lack of solid evidence allows the harasser to avoid conviction in the trial. The judge’s ruling often falls short of the victim and the public’s expectation. In practice, volunteer workers can only resort to circumstantial evidence by conducting interview with victims and going through phone records to piece together the events. Individual cases will then be handled with the crime victim’s best interest in mind.

Differences in education, culture and upbringing result in gender difference in male and female’s reaction to and ways of handling danger, Dr. Yao said. As gender equality has evolved from the emphasis on “equality”, to “difference”, to “transformation”, so has the social awareness of human rights protection. Dr. Yao looks forward to greater consideration and effort to further implement the law and give victims the “fairness and justice” that they deserve.