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Safe Spaces Act: You Can No Longer Share Photos Without Consent

The Safe Spaces Act has put heavier penalties for online sexual harassment than those occurring in physical public spaces.
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Beware: Sharing other people’s photos online could be considered sexual harassment, according to the Safe Spaces Act, a new law in the Philippines. The law prohibits catcalling, wolf whistling, and unwanted sexual advances, but also defines the prohibited acts online.

Many thought that the Safe Spaces Bill introduced by Senator Risa Hontiveros would lapse into law, but on July 15, 2019, President Duterte affixed his signature on the document, effectively making it a law, aptly named Safe Spaces Act. It is an act defining sexual harassment in streets, public spaces, workplaces, and educational institutions.

But according to the law, public spaces can also refer to online environments. It also prohibits making unwanted sexual remarks and comments online, including uploading or sharing someone’s photos or videos without consent. These photos or videos do not have to be explicit or sexual in nature.

The law’s yet-to-be-written implementing rules and regulations should define how consent is given, but this will likely be based on the privacy settings of social networks such as Facebook and Instagram, among others.

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What else are prohibited under the Safe Spaces Act?

Under the Safe Spaces Act, stalking someone on the Internet or posing as someone else (using another person’s photo as your profile picture) could be considered as sexual harassment, as these can cause mental, emotional, or psychological distress, as well as fear of personal safety.

You may also no longer repeatedly chat, message, text, or call or repeatedly attempt to communicate with anyone who does not want to talk to you if that person will feel emotional distress or fear for his or her safety.

The law has put heavier penalties for online sexual harassment than those occurring in physical public spaces.

The Safe Spaces Act defines online sexual harassment as “the use of information and communication technology in terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats.” The law has put heavier penalties for online sexual harassment than those occurring in physical public spaces.

Other prohibited acts online include the following:

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  • Unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether publicly or through direct and private messages
  • Invasion of victim's privacy through cyberstalking and incessant messaging
  • Uploading and sharing, without the consent of the victims, any form of media that contains photos, voice, or video with sexual content
  • Unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim's photos, videos, or any information online
  • Impersonating identities of victims online or posting lies about victims to harm their reputation
  • Filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims

Penalties for violating such prohibitions are imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of P100,000 to P500,000, or both.

Men, LGBT, and children are also protected. It is not only women who are protected under the Safe Spaces Act because it recognizes that anyone can perpetuate sexual harassment and anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment.

For violations that occur in public spaces, there are first, second, and third degree offenses, all of which can also occur in cyberspace. 

First Degree Offenses

First degree offenses are relatively lighter offenses, and can cost you a fine of up to P10,000 and 30 days in jail.

The following are considered first degree offenses under the Safe Spaces Act:

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  • Cursing
  • Catcalling
  • Wolf-whistling
  • Leering and intrusive gazing
  • Taunting, unwanted invitations
  • Persistent telling of sexual jokes
  • Use of sexual names, comments, and demands
  • Persistent unwanted comments on one’s appearance
  • Misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs
  • Relentless requests for personal details such as name, contact, and social media details or destination
  • Any statement that has made an invasion on a person's personal space or threatens the person's sense of personal safety
  • Use of words, gestures, or actions that ridicule on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation; identity and/or expression including sexist, homophobic, transphobic statements and slurs

Second Degree Offenses

Second degree offenses are more serious offenses, and can cost you a fine of up to P20,000 and six months in jail.

The following are considered second degree offenses under the Safe Spaces Act:

  • Groping
  • Public masturbation
  • Flashing of private parts 
  • Making offensive body gestures at someone
  • Other similar lewd actions

Third Degree Offenses

Third degree offenses are the most serious offenses, and can cost you a fine of up to P100,000 and six months in jail.

The following are considered third degree offenses under the Safe Spaces Act:

  • Stalking
  • Sexual advances, gestures, and statements mentioned previously with pinching or brushing against the body of the offended person
  • Touching, pinching, or brushing against the genitalia, face, arms, anus, groin, breasts, inner thighs, face, buttocks, or any part of the victim's body

Victims of online sexual harassment may contact the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNPACG) through its complaint action center at +63 998 598 8116 or call them at +632 414 1560. It may also be reached through Facebook or Twitter.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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