Heavier penalty needed to deter molesters
Aman nearly slit the throat of a woman on a bus during the morning rush hour on Monday in Beijing’s Tongzhou district after the latter slapped him for “touching her inappropriately”. The incident was just one of the many cases of sexual harassment in recent times, which have seriously hurt the victims’ legal rights and interests, shaken the people’s sense of security, and broken the normal social order.
The horrifying knife attack comes amid a special police drive against molesters plaguing the public transportation network during the summer. Sexual harassment cases increase during the summer because, as many say, women tend to dress light in the summer months. A People’s Daily report says 20 men suspected of groping or making unwanted sexual advances on women in the capital’s subway have been detained during the campaign that was launched on June 16.
However, the 20 suspects may be just a fraction of the total number of sexual offenders in Beijing, as many of the cases are not reported to police. The difficulty in collecting evidence against the suspects and some victims’ reluctance to report sexual harassment, partly out of social taboo, embolden the molesters.
The authorities are obliged to make the public environment safer by, among other things, stemming the increasingly rampant threat to public security. It is therefore laudable that Shenzhen in Guangdong province has started designating women-only cars in metros during weekday rush hours.
But the authorities should also increase the punishment for sexual harassment to deter potential molest- ers. The maximum punishment for even a confirmed molester is 10-day detention and a fine of 500 yuan ($74), according to the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which has remained unchanged since its enforcement in 2005. So legislators need to revise the law and impose heavier penalties on molesters. Perhaps there is need to put the names of confirmed molesters on a “blacklist”, making it more difficult for them to get social welfare benefits and public services. Also, offenders who are part of organized molesting groups should be punished according to the Criminal Law, instead of the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests or public security regulations. It is also important to encourage women to fight back. According to police, many molesters have confessed they may retreat once a woman gives them a stare. And women using public transport should come to their fellow passengers’ help. It is heartening to see more and more women, especially the younger generations in cities, fighting back against molesters, by making use of new media to expose the offenders and reporting to police. On their part, the authorities should install more close-circuit cameras in crowded public places, especially buses and subways, so as to make it easier to gather evidence against sex offenders. One cannot be neutral on the issue of sexual harassment, so the entire society should unite against molesters to protect women.
The author is a columnist for Legal Daily, where the article was first published on July 18.