Sexual harassment: Domestic inquiry should not excuse criminal prosecution

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The Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) is very concerned about the decision of the Attorney General’s Chambers not to charge the suspect, an associate professor, in the recent University of Malaya sexual harassment case involving one of its female students.

It was reported that the deputy public prosecutor took into account the fact that the university had already taken internal action against him, even though the case had been investigated by the police under Section 354 of the Penal Code for outrage of modesty.

The student in question had filed a complaint to the university as well as a police report. These two actions are clear and separate processes.

The domestic inquiry undertaken by the university was an internal investigation within the confines of the alleged perpetrator’s employment.

In contrast, when an alleged crime has been committed, a police investigation would have been undertaken. It is then the role of the Attorney General’s Chambers to prosecute the offence based on the evidence gathered from the police investigation.

While internal or domestic inquiries are treated as a private matter by employers, outrage of modesty and offences under the Penal Code are considered crimes against the state and are prosecuted in the interest of the public.

It takes tremendous courage for a victim of sexual harassment to speak up. Often, the perpetrator is in a position of power and authority over the victim. The WCC recently supported a victim of alleged workplace sexual harassment who filed a complaint to her company as well as a police report. Our client suffered severe stress and, as a result, requires medication for serious mental and emotional trauma.

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While we respect the attorney general’s discretion to decide on any criminal prosecutions, the decision should be based on evidence gathered. In this case, the internal inquiry had led to the University of Malaya taking action against the alleged perpetrator. This in itself cannot excuse the suspect from being charged.

Furthermore, the university has refused to disclose the full details of the action taken against the alleged perpetrator, citing confidentiality concerns. The complainant has been left in the dark by her university and now by the authority tasked with protecting public interest.

For 20 years, women’s groups have lobbied for separate sexual harassment legislation, which will provide victims with the much needed avenues for redress. Until then, unless sexual harassment is taken seriously, victims will continue to face an uphill battle to seek justice.

The WCC calls on the Attorney General’s Chambers to take the necessary action to review its decision.

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