She had been the target of obscene and intimidatory calls more than three weeks ago since December 19 last year, but the Petaling Jaya police had not been able to initiate investigations on the ground that her case had been classified under Section 509 of the Penal Code on "Word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman".
The classification of Teresa’s case under Section 509 of the Penal Code is most disputable, as it should be classified under Section 503 on "Criminal intimidation", as she had been threatened with bodily harm. Under this section, a person guilty of the offence of criminal intimidation is liable to be punished for a jail sentence up to two years or with fine or both.
By classifying Teresa’s case under Section 509 which categorises it as a non-seizable offence, there is not only a lighter sentence of a maximum of one year jail or fine or both, the police could not initiate investigations without an order from the Public Prosecutor.
This is one of the outmoded laws which must be amended so as to furnish proper protection to women from sexual harassment. Firstly, the Public Prosecutor should direct that all cases of Teresa’s nature, where there is sexual harassment involving threat to bodily harm, whether it be threat of rape or other forms of violating the modesty of a woman, a police report should be classified under Section 503 of the Penal Code to reflect the gravity of the offence.
Secondly, the Criminal Procedure Code should be amended so that Section 509 cases do not require an order from the Public Prosecutor before the police can start investigations.
Under Section 509, "Word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both".
It is ridiculous to say the least for police reports under Section 509 of the Penal Code to require an order from the Public Prosecutor before the police can initiate investigations, as this would hamper protection for women and police investigation into sexual harassment cases.
If there are 1,000 reports under Section 509 of the Penal Code, is the Public Prosecutor going to plough through the 1,000 reports before issuing the necessary orders to the police to initiate investigations - with the police in the meantime completely helpless to provide protection for women victims of sexual harassment?
There are now 20 women MPs and they should band together to demonstrate women power in the new Parliament by ensuring that the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code are amended to provide effective protection to women as well as facilitate police investigations into sexual harassment cases.
The time has also come for Bukit Aman to set up a Women Police unit headed by a woman police oficer to specially protect women by dealing with sexual harassment cases, which should also have the responsibility to sensitise male police officers and rank-and-file to problems faced by women whether rape or other forms of sexual harassment.