FAST FACTS: How does the Safe Spaces Act protect you?

Michelle Abad

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FAST FACTS: How does the Safe Spaces Act protect you?
The Safe Spaces Act, now fully enforced, protects everyone from sexual harassment both in physical and online spaces, and not just by persons in authority

MANILA, Philippines – The Safe Spaces Act enacted earlier this year now has implementing rules and regulations in force.

It is closely related to the first Anti-Sexual Harassment Act (RA 7877) of 1995.

This “Bawal Bastos” law penalizes catcalling, wolf-whistling, misogynistic and homophobic slurs, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual harassment in public places, workplaces, schools, as well as in online spaces.

According to Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan) lawyer JC Tejano, safe spaces only used to mean private property. When the 1995 law came out, safe spaces were expanded to the public domain – legally described to be in work, educational, and training facilities. 

The new Safe Spaces Act expands them even further, to public spaces like streets and malls, and even in cyberspace.

How is it different from the old law?

The original law has a limited definition of sexual harassment and who can be considered the offender.

The first definition of sexual harassment is as follows: “…committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said Act.”

Only persons in authority could be charged as offenders. There are no provisions for harassment by subordinates or peers.

Now anyone can be an offender.

The Safe Spaces Act covers even sexist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks. That means you can file a case against someone who says something like, “Ang mga bakla, pang-parlor lang dapat ‘yan eh. (Gay men belong to hair salons.)”

The new law does not supersede the original Anti-Sexual Harassment Act. If someone’s offense qualifies under both the Safe Spaces and Anti-Sexual Harassment acts, they can be charged for counts under both laws. Offenses can also intersect other laws like the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act.

Sexual harassment in streets and public spaces

Before the law was enacted, an offense could be committed only in a workplace, educational, or training environment. 

Now there are more physical spaces that are under the protection of the law. Gender-based sexual harassment in streets and public spaces is committed “through any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person regardless of the motive for committing such action or remarks.”

The law protects you if you are harassed in any of the following public spaces:

  • Streets and alleys, public parks
  • Schools, buildings, malls, bars, restaurants
  • Transportation terminals, public markets
  • Spaces used as evacuation centers
  • Government offices
  • Public utility vehicles as well as private vehicles covered by app-based transport network services
  • Other recreational spaces such as, but not limited to, cinema halls, theaters, and spas

Despite these physical spaces specified under the law, Tejano said safe spaces “follow persons.” Whether you are in a private or public place, you have a safe, inviolable, space around your body that can only be entered with your consent, online, or offline.

Online sexual harassment

The law pushes for safer cyber spaces as well. Gender-based online sexual harassment includes acts that use information and communications technology to frighten victims through:

  • Physical, psychological, and emotional threats
  • Unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether on public posts or through private messages
  • Invasion of the victim’s privacy through cyber stalking and incessant messaging
  • Recording or sharing any of the victim’s photos, videos, or information without permission
  • Impersonating victims’ identities
  • Posting lies about victims to harm their reputation, and filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims

Who can file the complaint?

It is a given that the person harassed can file a complaint. However, even persons apart from the victim can file one, since some victims may not want to live through their trauma again, given the processes of filing a case. 

However, “unwanted and uninvited” sexual harassment must be proven, going by the definition of the crime. The victim would also still need to testify to make a stronger case. (READ: Women subjected to shaming, harassment the most under Duterte gov’t – expert)

Who has the responsibility to protect you?

In the new law, privately-owned public places, employers, schools, local government units (LGUs), and national government agencies (NGAs) are responsible for ensuring protection.

Privately-owned places open to the public, like restaurants and retail stores, must adopt a zero-tolerance policy against gender-based sexual harassment in streets and public places. They are obliged to provide assistance to victims by coordinating with the police, making CCTV footage available, and encouraging victims to report harassment at the first instance.

Workplaces and educational institutions are mandated to create an independent internal mechanism or a committee on decorum and investigation (CODI) to investigate and address complaints.

Even without formal complaints, schools are obliged to investigate possible abusers and resolve the situation. Educational institutions are compelled to deal with hostile environments, made known by just “reasonable knowledge” of someone committing gender-based sexual harassment or sexual violence.

They are compelled to investigate even if a victim does not want to file a complaint or does not request the school to take any action.

Educational institutions have the right to strip a guilty perpetrator of his or her diploma, or issue an expulsion order. 

Among other responsibilities, LGUs are obliged to pass an ordinance localizing the law, and to create an anti-sexual harassment hotline.

The DILG, Philippine Commission on Women, and the Department of Information and Communications Technology are the national bodies responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.