Sexual harassment is still an issue in a lot of countries and has been a focus of the United Nations for the past few decades. Sexual harassment is a very serious act that can happen to any woman (or man), in any country, from any background, in any situation.
But what is the situation in Kuwait? How common is sexual harassment? And do people report such issues?
There is no solid research that answers the questions above, but from my experience as a woman, I would say that sexual harassment does happen in Kuwait (just like it happens in any other country). I have had men follow me (sometimes dangerously) and say things to me to try to get me to take their number. In fact it happens often, but at least I can say that I am blessed to know what my rights are and what I can do in such situations, which is why I want to share them with you today. Thankfully, the law in Kuwait is very strict against sexual harassment from men towards woman.
Question: One of my colleagues at work keeps making me feel uncomfortable but I do not think what he does is enough for me to consider it sexual harassment. For example, he winks at me, or puts his hands on my thighs when talking to me. I really do not know what to do about it and if there is anything I can do legally.
Fajer: Well, there is no right and wrong answer to this question. Many lawyers might even say that I have no right answering whether or not you should seek legal action and instead focus on how to seek legal action, but to me that is not practical. I think when you are seeking advice from someone, you should be able to speak to them about the whole situation, so my advice is as follows:
Weigh it out, if it is traumatizing you or if you feel like you cannot have a healthy working relationship, then yes, you need to do something about it. But your response does not have to be legal action. You can talk to your colleague about it, file a complaint at work (speak to your HR), and so on. If the behavior persists, then yes, you can seek legal action, even if it is just a wink, But remember you will need sufficient evidence, otherwise it is a waste of your time and money.
It is also important to mention that you should not seek legal action because of spite, or revenge or any other negative thought, you should seek it before you feel the need to.
Question: I would like to know for my own information what are the punishments by law for those who sexually harass?
Fajer: The answers differs to the extent of the act of sexual harassment and the circumstances surrounding it. Here are a few examples: If the act is done through hate, threatening or deceiving shall be punished with up to 15 years of imprisonment. If the act is done by a guardian, any guardian and not necessarily a legal guardian, such as a parent, uncle, teacher, caretaker and so, then the punishment will be up to life imprisonment.
It also depends on the state of the victim. If the victim is under the legal age, not mentally stable, is not mentally capable of understanding the nature of the act, then the punishment will be up to life imprisonment.
If the act of sexual harassment is done without hate, threatening or deceiving, then the punishment shall be up to 10 years of imprisonment.
Question: If someone is bothering me virtually and not in person, as in sending me emails with sexual content, is there anything I can do about it?
Fajer: As I mentioned in the first question, this depends on how you feel and how badly it is affecting you. You have to weigh it out. If you think that it is affecting your day-to-day life then you need to take action, and Kuwaiti law does protect you. In fact the new Cyber Crime law specifically discusses situations that can affect victims online and there is a department under the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior specialized in such cases.
For any legal questions or queries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Attorney Fajer Ahmed