New UAE harassment law treats male and female victims equally

The addition of a sexual harassment charge to the country’s penal code builds on an existing law that only saw women as potential victims

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 11, 2013:     People walk along the corniche on the first day of of Eid Al Adha in Abu Dhabi on October 11, 2013. Christopher Pike / The National

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Men can now be recognised as victims of sexual harassment in the UAE, after an amendment was made to the country’s penal code.

A sexual harassment charge was added to federal law, building on an existing charge of “breaching the modesty of a woman” which only applied to women and acts of public sexual harassment.

The new charge expands the legal definition of sexual harassment to include repetitive harassment through action, words or even signs that aim to coax the recipient into responding to the offender’s sexual desires — or the desires of another.

The new charge also toughened the penalty against offenders.

Previously, those convicted of breaching the modesty of a woman would face up to a year in prison, a fine no more than Dh10,000 or both — while the sexual harassment charge classifies this as the minimum punishment for those convicted.

“Not only does this article introduce a new charge but it also acknowledges that men can be victims in cases of sexual harassment,” said Ahmad Hafez, senior associate at Dubai's office of the UK law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.

Previously, Article 359 of the Penal Code — under the Crimes Perpetrated Against Honour chapter — only named women as potential victims of sexual harassment but the amendment now means men can approach authorities to report having been sexually harassed by either sex.

Mr Hafez said the former law specified that the harassment had to have taken place publicly while the amendment now includes all forms regardless of location.

Emirati lawyer Omar Alomar, said the addition signalled a change in the legal approach to sex related offences.

“Some would think it’s the same penalty as that of breaching one’s modesty but it’s not. In sexual harassment, the prison term and the fine amount is the minimum punishment, while in cases of breaching modesty it’s the maximum.”

If sexual harassment is committed by a group, by an individual carrying a weapon, or by someone who has some form of authority over the victim, the penalty is increased to a minimum of two years in prison and/or a fine of not less than Dh50,000.

Men who experienced sexual harassment said the new law made them feel acknowledged and empowered by being legally protection but doubted most men would report cases to police.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 04 DECEMBER 2019. Ahmad Fathy in his apartment in Abu Dhabi. For a story on the changes in sexual harassment laws which has defined males as victim also. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Haneen. Section: National.
Ahmad Fathy was a victim of sexual harassment six years ago. Antonie Robertson / The National

Ahmad Fathy, a writer living in Dubai, said he was harassed by a group of women at a nightclub six years ago.

“I was with two female friends when we ran into a group of guys and women that I knew,” the Egyptian, 34, said.

“The women in the other group started making moves on me. They were drunk and kept touching me in inappropriate places as if to seduce me.”

He said he felt embarrassed and uncomfortable but he would not have gone so far as to report them to police.

“For us Arabs in general, we let things that don’t hurt us pass, at the end of the day nothing bad happened to me, I was not traumatised.”

Not only does this article introduce a new charge but it also acknowledges that men can be victims in cases of sexual harassment

Marwan Salem, a personal trainer in Dubai, said he frequently experiences sexual harassment from his female clients.

“The latest incident was two days ago,” said the Emirati, 29.

“A woman started chatting to me on Snapchat saying she saw my workouts online and asked if I do personal training at people’s homes.

“She asked if I can train her at her apartment. I thought there would by a gym at her building.”

It turned out that she wanted him to train her in her flat because she was divorced and did not want anyone to see her at the gym.

Mr Salem said he refused the offer and told her to find another trainer.

“What annoyed me is that I felt she was harassing me with money, offering to pay for a personal training when she clearly had other intentions.”

He said some women in his classes have made suggestive moves towards him too.

“Some do it verbally, some try to seduce me … through the workout.”

He said he immediately stops training such cases. “I tell them take your money and find another trainer.”