Two years after Malta introduced sweeping reforms for its sexual abuse laws, 25 people have been found guilty of committing non-physical harassment.
According to fresh figures by police, 140 reports of this kind of abuse have been filed since 2018. That is nearly six reports a month since 2018.
Police pressed charges the majority of cases, arraigning suspects in 134 of reports made. No information was provided on the age and gender of the alleged victims or perpetrators.
Non-physical harassment is criminalised through article 152A (e) in Malta’s Criminal Code. It defines it as subjecting a person to “any act or conduct with sexual connotations” that includes spoken words, gestures or written material that is offensive, humiliating, degrading or intimidating.
This can therefore include anything from catcalling a person on the street, to writing a sexually degrading comment online or circulating nudes without a person’s consent.
Victims of cat-calling or derogatory comments often don’t feel their stories merit a police report. In fact, just 5% of around 1,000 respondents to Lovin Malta’s survey took action after being sexually harassed. It comes as no surprise then that 85% of sexual assaults fly under the radar of police.
And while acts like cat-calling are normalised across the globe and are seen as less shocking than crimes like rape, it can leave a lasting effect on the psyches of victims.
These acts are clearly against the law and could come with tangible consequences for those found guilty. A person found guilty of this can land a six-month to a two-year prison sentence or a fine of €5,000 to €10,000.
Sexual harassment reforms were a step in the right direction. But they are just a first step in cracking down on the widespread issue. Law reforms are ineffective if victims aren’t empowered to use them. Malta must educate the public on what constitutes sexual harassment and how the law protects them. Additionally, removing time-bars on these crimes could help encourage victims to speak up and find justice.
Want to know more about sexual harassment laws? Read Lovin Malta’s handbook here.
If you have suffered sexual assault, whether it was recently or not, and would like free, professional emotional support or legal assistance, get in touch with Victim Support Malta on + 356 2122 8333 or send an email at [email protected].
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